Many Protea species store their seeds in a safe – that is in a safe, hard cone. This safe-storing is called serotiny. So the seeds must be precious to the plant and worth protecting from thieves. The seeds are important in two respects. Nitrogen and phosphorous are highly concentrated in them making the seeds an attractive food source for rodents, birds and insects in an otherwise nutrient-poor environment. Many serotinous proteas are killed by fire, but the seeds survive in their safe cones. The heat of the fire makes the cones pop open and the seeds fall out on the ash-fertilised ground where they germinate to form the next generation of proteas.
Photo: Protea repens seed cones by Anina Lee