Exporting Mandela's proteas
Claire Fulton29 January 2006
When a cool breeze blows down the Elandsberg, it stirs the blooms of thousands of proteas and strelizias on the young 80-hectare Longmore Flower Estates.
Among them are three very special hybrids in short supply on world markets. They are the red king Madiba protea, the Radebe's Sunrise pincushion and the strikingly yellow Mandela's Gold strelizia.
Longmore Flower Estates is a black empowerment success story in the heart of Cacadu district, just outside Port Elizabeth. It was started by four dynamic people who pooled their severance packages to buy a failed state-owned flower plantation.
Within four months they had turned the business around, and today Longmore exports to Holland, sells locally, and has secured new markets in Germany.
"We are an independent flower producer specialising in unique protea and strelizia hybrids," says general manager Zyta Soomar.
With the support of government, Longmore has launched satellite cut flowers skills training programmes in the Longmore and Tsitsikamma regions aimed at equipping previously disadvantaged farmers to become flower producers.
At the same time, production capacity at Longmore is being increased.
"We have two satellite estates in the developmental stages that will form part of the first flower trail in the Eastern Cape," says Zyta. In the meantime, private tour buses are allowed on to the estate, she says.
The flower trail will stretch about 100 kilometres from the Greater Coega area in the east to the border of Baviaanskloof in the west.
Already one guest accommodation unit has been completed at Longmore which has gentle slopes under blooms at the start of the scenic Gamtoos Valley.
According to orchard manager and founding partner Dennise Koert, 28 varieties of cut flowers are planted at the estate.
This variety ensures picking all year round, with the main season from January to April. After harvesting, blooms are cold stored, graded, packed and fridge-freighted to Cape Town for export to foreign markets via sea and air.
Special varieties at the estate are:
Protea cyneroides ("Madiba") - a striking, deep red king protea named after Nelson Mandela, known to millions by his clan name, Madiba.
Srelitzia reginae ("Mandela's Gold") - The National Botanical Institute at Kirstenbosch, Cape Town introduced this rare and spectacular yellow-flowering strelitzia to horticulture in 1994 – the year that Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
Leucospermum Radebe sunrise - this new and rare yellow pincushion is a hybrid developed at the estate. The new plant was named after South African Transport Minister Jeff Radebe, who helped make the Longmore dream a reality.
This article was first published in Eastern Cape Madiba Action, summer 2006/07 edition. Republished here with kind permission of the author.