Exporters told how to keep ‘blood sugar’ of proteas high

2014-09-15 00:00

JUST like people, the protea can also suffer from “low blood sugar, according to a recent study by the Stellenbosch University (SU).

But instead of the human traits of feeling light-headed or nauseous, this low “blood sugar” levels will manifest as black spots on the leaves of this indigenous fynbos flower.

Flower cultivators and producers are now encouraged to cut the flowers in the afternoon, to allow it to build up the levels of glucose and carbohydrates. The Department of Horticultural Sciences at SU has now shared this advice with protea-lovers after the results of the research was published in the journal Acta Horticulturae.

According to a statement, the tough overseas market will not accept flowers with stained leaves.

“Such blackening of leaves occurs especially during winter and early spring, when the export prices for proteas are at their highest. This means that flower cultivators and producers have to employ extra hands to cut the damaged leaves from the stems,” according to the statement.

“The blackening has to do with a lack of glucose and carbohydrates in the leaves of the cut flower stem. Blackened leaves occur when a flower is picked when such sugar levels are low, and the plant does not have enough reserves to keep the floral in top quality.”

Nicole Windell did the research as part of her MSc in Horticulture, which she obtained in 2012 at the SU. She was assisted by protea experts Dr Lynn Hoffman and Prof Gerard Jacobs of the Department of Horticultural Sciences.

“Proteas do not store high levels of carbohydrates in their leaves. Instead, these fynbos flowers rely on daily photosynthesis, whereby sunlight in the course of a day helps convert carbon skeletons into energy-rich carbohydrates such as glucose. If this does not happen, the plant starts to consume its own energy reserves,” the research found.

Although Windell based her research on the protea-cultivar Sylvia, it can be relevant to protea species, Hoffman said. — WR.

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