Plant story - endangered plant capeflats conebush has been successfully collected for conservation

Capeflats conebush (Leucadendron levisanus) is endemic to the western Cape area of South Africa and is Critically Endangered. The seed of this plant species is now safely stored in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank.

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01 Jan 2010

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Yellow flowers of Leucadendron levisanus

Yellow flowers of Leucadendron levisanus (Photo: P. Smith)

Plant profile

Found on sandy soil and river flats in the western Cape, this bush grows to about 2 m in height and flowers in October and November. Although now critically endangered, it was once common on the southern Cape Flats on damp, sandy soils at 0-100m elevation.

The "seeds" (achenes) stay on the parent plant and are shed in response to fire, which kills the plant. The required veld fires now seldom occur in the localities where it is found.

Under threat

Its present day distribution is centred on the Cape Flats from Fish Hoek to Eesterivier to Mamre, but sadly the Fish Hoek population no longer exists due to housing development. It is also threatened by the spread of the Australian invasive Acacia saligna.

The species is now classified as Critically Endangered in the South African Red List (2009 edition).

Rescue attempt

This plant species was collected by the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership in October 2001 at Plattekloof, when only five plants were found and 358 seeds were collected. The Fish Hoek population was collected in 1991 when the area was under development and established at Rondevlei Reserve and at Kirstenbosch. The Fish Hoek population was isolated from all other populations by the Muizenberg mountain range although it looks the same. It has been preserved in the threatened plant stock beds at Kirstenbosch. Further populations have been identified at Kenilworth Racecourse, Rondevlei Nature Reserve (ex Fish Hoek), Durbanville Racecourse, and scattered populations still occur as far north as Atlantis and Mamre.


Since 2006, hand pollination of 21 seed-raised plants at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank has produced fruiting cones. Seed has set and been banked - though in small quantities. To increase the ratio of female to male plants from one in four, further cuttings have been taken. Some of these plants have reached flowering size and will soon be contributing to the regeneration programme.

Leucadendron levisanus has also been propagated by SANBI from the Fish Hoek collection and re-established on the Cape lowlands at Tokai near Constantia. This land represents the critically endangered Cape Flats and fynbos, and is preserved as part of the Table Mountain National Park. The Tokai lowlands are the focus area of concerted restoration by Kirstenbosch and the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. The restored plants are thriving at Tokai and producing seed.

Story by Paul Smith and Anthony Hitchcock (2009) | More plant stories

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Without plants there could be no life on earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction. Too often when we hear these kind of statistics there is little that we can do as individuals, but thanks to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership and the Adopt a Seed, Save a Species campaign there is something that you can do to ensure the survival of a plant species.

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