Mimetes hirtus, the marsh pagoda, is one of only thirteen species of these pagoda flowers in the Proteaceae family.
This plant is dependent on sunbirds for pollination and on indigenous ants for underground seed storage. Every seed has a fleshy attachment or elaiosome eaten by the ants without damaging the seed’s capacity for propagating the plant. The ants carry the seeds into their nests for use of the elaiosome, giving the seed a chance of surviving the fires that form a normal part of fynbos life.
Seeds are released some months after the flowering season. And the ants may carry the used seeds out of the nest again after the edible parts have been consumed. Much is thus left to chance as to which seed will deliver its full growth promise one day. Life is a serious affair built upon a probability game for all!
The hairy leaves of M. hirtus give rise to the specific name, hirtus meaning hairy or shaggy in Latin. They are lanceolate, sessile and densely stacked on the branches. The flowers of M. hirtus grow in crowded heads of up to 14 on each columnar, terminal spike. They are surrounded by conspicuous bright yellow bracts with red tips that enclose the styles, also red.
The leafy branch in picture, not yet flowering, was photographed at Kirstenbosch.
These plants have a small distribution area in marshy fynbos patches of the south-western coastal area of the Western Cape (www.plantzafrica.com; Manning, 2009).