Leucadendron (cut flowers)

24.05.17

The genus Leucadendron is native to South Africa and a member of the Proteaceae plant family. This is an ancient family of flowering plants that dispersed and diversified throughout Gondwana before the supercontinent disintegrated. With about 1600 species, Proteaceae is one of the plant groups that dominate the southern hemisphere flora.

Overview

Leucadendrons vary in size from small to tall shrubs, and have long woody stems, with short side stems covered leaves and terminating in a flower head. Leucadendrons are in demand around the world for their attractive ‘flowers’, which consist of a cone-like flower head enclosed by coloured leaf-like bracts (not petals) at the top of the stems. As the flower head matures late in the season, the central large woody cone may become more prominent. Leucadendron stems have quite a long vase life, up to 20 days. While several Leucadendron species are cultivated as cut flowers and marketed as ‘wildflowers’ in Australia, it should be noted that they are native to South Africa and not Australia.

Growers entering the cut flower industry are encouraged to do extensive research on the inherent risks and challenges throughout the value chain.

The wildflower industry, including leucadendron producers, is a mature industry in Australia. It has an active research & development (R&D) program that assists industry members develop better production techniques, works towards industry-wide standards and identifies marketing opportunities. The wildflower industry is represented by WildFlowers Australia, which represents a diverse range of industry participants, including growers, buyers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, and research and extension specialists.

Facts and figures

  • Leucadendrons are a member of the Proteaceae family and are native to South Africa
  • Several species, varieties and hybrids within the Leucadendron genus are used as cut flowers
  • Leucadendrons are susceptible to phytophthora root rot
  • They are grown on beds under irrigation
  • They require regular pruning for maximum production
  • Leucadendrons can have quite a long vase life

Production status

The Australian wildflower industry (including but not solely leucadendron) is located mainly in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and south east Queensland.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Leucadendrons are used as cut flowers for their vibrant colour. The “petals” are actually modified leaves, and when picked at a more mature stage, the central cone is the main feature. Depending on species and cultivar, the flower is presented as a single or multiple flowering stem. It has a vase life of about 20 days.

Leucadendron is used extensively in floral arrangements, in bunches, bowls and hand-tied bouquets, either singly or mixed, with traditional or other wildflowers.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Growing regions for commercial leucadendron production have been mainly the southern coastal regions of Western Australia, the coast of south east South Australia, coastal Victoria and the southern and central coastal regions of New South Wales and the southern coast of Queensland.

Soil type

Leucadendrons, like all Proteaceae prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soils that are low in phosphorus. They grow well in rich soils with winter dominant rainfall; and they can tolerate quite high rainfall as long as the soil is well drained.

Climate

Leucadendrons prefer Mediterranean climates, with winter dominant rainfall and dry summers, and they tolerate higher rainfall environments than other South African protea species.

Varieties

There are many Leucadendron cultivars and hybrids available, and growers should consult specialist nurseries, flower wholesalers and exporters for advice about the latest selections and market demand.

Examples of cultivars available as at 2014 are:

  • Leucadendron ‘Pisa’ with multi-branched stems with silvery green leaves, each terminating in a flower head featuring yellow to lime-yellow bracts – available in August–November
  • Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’ with a long upright stem, dark green leaves and large wine-red goblet-shaped flower head at the tip; the central large woody cone becomes more prominent as the flower head matures late in the season – available in February–December.
  • Leucadendron ‘Jubilee Crown’ with multi-branched stems densely covered with narrow green leaves, with a strawberry pink to red round cone – available in  August to December.

For further information on Leucadendron varieties for cut flower production refer to the publications What Cut Flower is that? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionalsQuality Specifications for Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’ and Quality Specifications for Leucadendron ‘Jubilee Crown’.

Planting and crop management

The planting rows for leucadendrons should be cultivated, or deep ripped if required, mounded to ensure good drainage if necessary, and mulched with organic or non-organic material. Irrigation lines should be installed before mulching. Leucadendrons are susceptible to wind, and windbreaks should be established well before planting.

Planting is best done from late April to early May, well before the winter period reduces the soil temperature. Source planting material from reputable nurseries and ensure plants are disease-free. Irrigation is critical for the establishment of leucadendron plants, and to produce maximum yield throughout the productive life of the plantation.

Leucadendrons respond to a well-balanced fertiliser program. Moderate nutrient application rates are essential to produce stems with sufficient length, the right thickness and quality flowers. Fertiliser may be applied by top dressing or by fertigation through the irrigation lines.

Leucadendrons will need to be regularly pruned to improve yields, produce high quality blooms, extend the commercial life of each bush, improve the plant structure, achieve better disease control, and improve the manageability and harvesting of the plants.

For further information on planting and crop management of leucadendrons, refer to the publications New Crop Industries Handbook and chapter 6 of Getting Started in Wildflower Growing. For information on irrigation, refer to the publication Wildflower Irrigation Handbook.

Weeds, pests and diseases

Weed control must start well before planting. Weed control options available once the crop is established include careful application of knockdown herbicides, hand weeding around the plants and in-row mulching.

Phytophthora root rot is a significant problem for leucadendrons and control of this root rot pathogen is difficult. Prevention is the best option through the selection of disease-free plants, effective drainage and keeping the plants as healthy as possible. Good plantation hygiene practices should also be used, e.g. clean tools and machinery to prevent possibly infected soil and organic material entering the plantation.

The industry body WildFlowers Australia has general advice and useful information available on pest and disease management for wildflowers. For further information on weeds, pests and diseases of leucadendrons refer to the RIRDC publications New Crop Industries Handbook and chapter 6 of Getting Started in Wildflower Growing.

Infrastructure Requirements

Irrigated agriculture and horticulture enterprises generally have compatible infrastructure to adapt to growing leucadendrons. Infrastructure and equipment for planting and crop management include machinery for site preparation, tractors for mowing and towing flower trailers, fertiliser spreaders, pesticide application equipment and irrigation infrastructure and equipment.

Harvesting and pruning equipment may include various hand picking tools, hedge trimmers, and/or machinery adapted or designed for mechanical pruning and harvesting.

For processing and preparing stems for market, the basic equipment and infrastructure required is a packing shed with a cool room and facilities to apply appropriate fungicide and insecticide treatments to the harvested stems.

A reliable source of high-quality water for irrigation will be required to achieve maximum production and hydrate harvested product.

Harvesting & Processing

Leucadendrons are hand harvested when the plants are around two years old. Generally the stems are picked daily, in the coolest part of the day, and should be placed in water or a post-harvest solution and held in the shade.

To retain quality and maximise vase life, the stems must be processed (bunched and graded) within an hour of harvest and then cooled to 2–4°C by either forced-air cooling for 20–30 minutes (if boxed) or holding overnight in a cool room (if in buckets). Alternatively, field heat may be removed by placing stems in buckets of post-harvest solution and cooled to 10°C, before processing the flowers, and then the cooled to 2–4°C in forced-air cooling (if boxed and ready for transport) or in a cool room overnight. Flowers for export may need to be dipped in fungicide or fumigated.

For further information on harvesting and processing of leucadendrons refer to the publications Postharvest Handling of Australian Flowers from Australian Native Plants and Related Species—A Practical ManualQuality Specifications for Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’Quality Specifications for Leucadendron ‘Jubilee Crown’Quality Specifications for Leucadendron ‘Pisa’ and the New Crop Industries Handbook.

Markets & Marketing

There is a wide range of market opportunities for wildflower (including but not solely leucadendron) growers. Markets can be local, regional, national or international. Each has its own range of management requirements.

At the local level, wildflowers can be sold to local florists, farm or roadside stalls, farmers’ markets, restaurants, motels and resorts. Ideally, the farm will be located within an hour’s drive of these customers, and deliveries can be made twice a week. Regular supply and excellent service will be critical to maintain the market.

Individually or in cooperative arrangements, growers may sell to florists that require a year-round supply of a variety of lines. Flowers need to be packed in flower boxes and delivered direct to florists over a large geographical area. Setting up an effective and economic transport network is critical, as is keeping in close contact with customers about orders and payments.

If the flowers are produced close to a capital city, there is the opportunity to sell at flower markets, such as the Sydney Flower Market at Flemington or the National Flower Centre at the Melbourne Markets. Growers may sell their product from a stall at the market, engage an agent to sell their product or sell to a wholesaler.

Growing for export requires careful planning, based on thorough market research and an export marketing plan. Some export advisers recommend that growers learn how to sell flowers on the domestic market successfully, before taking on the export market. Only top-quality product should be exported, therefore the farm production system will need an excellent quality control system.

Few growers are large enough to meet these requirements alone, which has given rise to the formation of grower co-operatives that allow several smaller producers to market their product together and thereby gain more power in the marketplace.

The most important export markets for Australian wildflowers and foliage are Japan (36%), the Netherlands (30%), the United States (16%), Germany (6%) and Canada (4%). Western Australia accounted for 34% of the total value of exports in this period, Queensland 28%, Victoria 24%, and New South Wales 13%.

Reliable industry statistics are not available so the true number of growers is unknown, particularly as many are part-time growers with other business or farming interests, who may grow one or several species of wildflowers, depending on their individual circumstances. Most flower wholesalers include wildflowers as part of their range and several specialist flower exporters focus on wildflower products. There are thousands of florists and supermarkets who sell the flowers within Australia.

Excellent information and advice on understanding markets for Australian wildflowers is contained in the publication Getting Started in Wildflower Growing. The industry body, WildFlowers Australia, offers a range of contact information for businesses along the supply chain including nurseries, growers, wholesalers and exporters.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

The greatest risk associated with cut flower production is not researching the enterprise sufficiently before investing and establishing the business. Extensive research should be carried out on what species (and varieties to grow) and into which market/s the flowers will be sold. Equally important to market research, is gaining a clear understanding of the personal attributes needed to be a successful flower grower and to operate a profitable flower-growing business; and a good understanding on capital investment and time to earn returns on investment. Chapters 1 and 2 of the publication Getting Started in Wildflower Growing provide excellent guidelines for working through these considerations.

Once the business is established, many of the risks and challenges of cut flower production are associated with markets and marketing. These include understanding market requirements and volumes; competition from cheaper product available on the export market; unfavourable exchange rates; judging demand and securing orders prior to harvest; and oversupply of product driving down prices so that returns to the grower are less than the cost of production.

While excellent horticultural management will go a long way to achieving consistent flower quality, there are several potential risks (weather, pests and disease) that can only be managed to a limited extent; though good managers will be better prepared to cope with these. Crop damage, especially close to harvest time, can significantly reduce the number of stems suitable for selling and therefore that season’s income.

Logistical challenges and risks are faced when supplying flowers to florists. The flowers need to be delivered directly over a large geographical area. Therefore, setting up an effective transport network is critical, as is keeping in close contact with customers about orders and payments.

Regulatory considerations

Regulatory considerations include those that apply to all Australian farming operations, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements).

There are no regulatory considerations specific to growing leucadendron.

Publications

Publications/information

Emerging animal and plant industries: Their value to Australia RIRDC report (2014)

Getting Started in Wildflower Growing – How to grow native Australian and South African species for the cut flower market RIRDC publication (2013)

What Cut Flower is that? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionals RIRDC publication (2013)

Wildflower Irrigation Handbook RIRDC publication (2013)

Improved Market Access for Australian Wildflowers through Ecolabelling RIRDC publication (2012)

Postharvest Handling of Australian Flowers from Australian Native Plants and Related Species – A Practical Manual RIRDC publication (2010)

Quality Specifications for Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’ RIRDC publication (2010)

Quality Specifications for Leucadendron ‘Jubilee Crown’ RIRDC publication (2010)

Quality Specification for Leucadendron ‘Pisa’ RIRDC publication (2010)

Improved Export Market Access for Australian Wildflowers through Integrated Pest Management RIRDC publication (2009)

Improving profit for flower growers RIRDC publication (2004)

New Crop Industries Handbook RIRDC Publication (2004)

Evaluation of Phytophthora tolerance in Leucadendron – RIRDC Publication (2003)

Other resources

Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources – for information on exporting agricultural products

Flower Association of Queensland Inc – Queensland industry organisation

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority – for information on the use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture

Industry Bodies

WildFlowers Australia represents the wildflower industry, including growers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, flower and foliage buyers, research and extension specialists and plant growers.

Image Gallery

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Selection of Leucadendron at markets (source B. Gollnow)

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Leucadendron (source B. Gollnow)

Related Publications

03.03.09

Emerging Animal and Plant Industries - Their Value to Australia (2nd Edition)

16.07.13

Getting Started in Wildflower Growing - How to grow native Australian and South African species for the cut flower market

06.12.13

What Cut Flower is That? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionals

18.02.13

Wildflower Irrigation Handbook