South African flowers open towards North Pole

If you are unsure about the direction from which Santa Claus arrived in his gift-ladened sleigh hauled by eight flying reindeer, then I can think of no better way than to visit the fynbos near Cape Town in South Africa to observe the opening pattern of Leucospermum patersonii.

The Silver-edge Pincushion is one of 48 species of Leucospermum, another genus in the spectacular Proteaceae family, all of which occur in the Western Cape area apart from a few that extend further east (one into Zimbabwe).

Leucospermum patersonii is from the Western Cape only, particularly on the coastal limestone around places such as Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, at Betty's Bay, about 90 km by road south-east of Cape Town. The Silver-edge Pincushion is one of the few Proteaceae to thrive in alkaline soils.

The specimens I've photographed are both naturally occurring in the surrounding fynbos vegetation (these first two orange-coloured flowerheads) and planted within the botanic garden collection (the last three red-coloured flowerheads).

So not only is it a pretty specimen, you can use the flowers to determine true (or approximate) north, and hence locate the direction of the North Pole. Whether this is easier than looking for moisture loving mosses on the south side of a tree trunk is perhaps debatable but both are fun.

All this only works in the Southern Hemisphere but of course you can reverse the instructions north of the equator because it's all to do with the prevailing direction of sunlight. The flowers on the north side open first, presumably due to the extra warmth. At least this is what I was told by a guide at the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden.

You see this pattern at all stages in the development of this flowering head, with the colouring starting on the north side as well.

The flowers are orange or red and, as you'd expect with this colour, they attract bird pollinators such as the sunbird I featured last week. Bees and beetles visit to get some nectar but don't carry off any pollen.

That's it for this species. Well it is Christmas after all! Seasoned greetings and all that.