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The inward spirals show the Craftman's skill,
Precision and perfection in the round;
Like frozen movement, double swirling still
About the boss; like music without sound -
The cadence scored into an upward flight;
Like birds ascending, like the centre true
Of winedark ripples on a pool of light;
Or patterns of dance. This flower grew
A cornucopia of seed within
A battlement of petals shining bright,
The centre of its turning world to spin
Forever in its silence and delight;
And still this spiral, just in passing by
Spins nebulae of giddy thoughts on high.

Ann Steele

Lure of the Protea

Where silver rocks reflect the mountain streams,
The Protea holds aloft its stately head -
Majestic flower to prompt the thoughts of men,
According to their nature and their dreaming.

To some it seems a giant artichoke,
While others link it to the ancient god
for whom tis named -
The ruby glow and allied silky beard
evoke the mystery of primeval days;
A traveller, who ranges far from home,
will quicken at its sight and yearn
And envy sugarbirds,
that dip into the gleaming cup,
while swaying gently in the wind.

Sima Eliovson

Protea Taxonomy

Will you name this child:, the parson said
Pouring some water o'er his head.
You will: and say proudly what you call
The precious child, which starts to bawl.
Charlie, Mary, Johnnie or James
Or some more complicated names;
The choice is yours and none can say nay,
and so the child goes on its way
Through life with joy or indignation
Known by its parent's appellation.

But, if you want to name a plant
You'll soon find out that you just can't
Have unbounded freedom of choice
You must first consult another voice.
The botanists, you'll soon discover
Can cause you quite a lot of bother.
Taxonomy is a science, no doubt
Which only a few know much about:
It's a power to guide a tidy cause
To allocate names within the laws
Made by an early systematist
Who happened to be a botanist.

Only hybrid bastards are exempt
(Botanists treat them with contempt).
Choose any romantic name you want
In any language - except you can't
Use any Latin appellation,
A tongue reserved for application
To plant whose parents never hath
Strayed from the straight and moral path!

H.L.D. Wood
(Thanks to Maryke Middelmann for this poem)

There was a hero, (once upon a time)
who found a simple answer to a test
that wiser men had failed, a pantomime
absurdity, he caught the moon at rest
reflected in a brimming bucketful
of water; so our hero won his prize.
Our modern folk tales have a stronger pull
of science, and the everstarry skies
are better known. But yet this moon-like flower
lights up the mountain with her countenance,
nor wanes with every month, because her hour
is constantly renewed. The green advance
of cluster satellites is full delight
unstudied and untamed upon the height.

Protea cynaroides - once you have said that it looks like the moon, what else can you say?

Ann Steele, Sept. '93

Protea nana at Kluitjieskraal

The scaly anteater designed this cap,
this helmet, that protects a little flower
grown upsidedown - a weatherwise mishap
that keeps the pollen's undisputed power
by rainstorms undiluted. Winter's rage
is past, this crimson gem takes centre stage.

Ann Steele

A Day in Nuy

We once had an outing to Nuy,
Where it came to the end of the day.
After Pr niti and salignum
Our guys were getting very glum
The Vexatorella had eluded thum!

Tony said " UP" and Stephen too,
Determined to find Vexators - a few.
As it was past four,
Getting cold, what's more
The ladies declined we knew the score!

"Promise to be back by six" they said.
"Fat chance!" we thought, but off they sped
Up the slope,
Full of hope
As the moon peeped over the mountain top.

We watched until they were out of view
And had some anxious moments too.
As darkness came,
so did they,
Stumbling and tumbling all the way!

We echoed Rebelo's ""What did you get!"
"No Vexatorella - But we got very wet"
Grinning like mad
They told what they had
Which was more than they thought they would get!

Val Charlton




Damian Garside (from: Standpunte 31:4, 12-13 August 1978

Smoke of your pink candelabra
will furnish the air with enough
aggression. Brandish presumption of
portrait, petals darken
to lilac, crimson at
the tips.

Still life
World a whim to your
palette. Grateful, openly receives
your gratuitous lips.

Your stems brown to that flame
never surely
display to advantage.

And you. So liberal
with your kindnesses
have made it emblematic
symbol more real and impoverished
than the thing

but its charity
that somewhere in there
resides the gentle heart
of things


how deceptive
their serrated jaws formidable


by extension
or by inspiration

lead a tawdry fuel flavour
aspire to greater

This sap all akin. How can
this crude oil breed mixed flesh,
many-coloured flame?

I leave it with you
Oh sly one

Smoke of your brandish
furnish the air

with enough arrogance

By your premise
all is possible.

Rape of the Blushing Bride

Frank Batchelor named his beautiful Serruria florida X barbigera (now phylicoides) hybrid: ‘BRIDESMAID’)

Rapturous with sweet allure
the ‘BLUSHING BRIDE’, aloof and pure.
Was gossip for permissive minds
Of proteas blessed with evil minds.

Monoecious need no double bed
Like other types of newly wed.
Sex motivations – a la Freud
In her make-up were null and void.

Though males of the other plants would plead
She spurned their obvious lecherous need.
No A1 leuco sperm came near
No leucadendron would she bear.

No pity would she show to Phylla
(The mere idea might even kill her).
His ardent advance appraised as spurious
Made protea SULabashed and PHURious.

So if such a BRIDE were never laid
How come her seeds produced a "MAID"?
A case for immaculate conception
Received unanimous rejection.

You can blame the bees or even the birds
But the judge summed up with these few words.
"Barbigera" must take the blame
for putting ‘BLUSHING BRIDE’ to shame.

But why condemn when compassion leans
To results that can justify the means?
With cynical sympathy, just say rather:
"It’s a clever child that knows its father".

H.L.D. Wood, 1979

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Proteas in art

The three poems below are from "Elementary lessons in Systematic Botany: based on familiar species of the South African flora" by H.M.L. Bolus, published by T. Maskew Miller in 1919, Cape Town.

The Star Prize

Wilde-amandel, it was you
Whom centuries past van Riebeek knew.
A hedge so green and strong he made,
To guard his friends from thieving raid.

You really are BRABEIUM-PRIZE!
And, as your leaves are set star-wise,
Your Christian name is STELLATI-
FOLIUM - Oh! it makes one sigh.

You've many cousins twice-removed
Among the proteas, much beloved;
By running streams you're wont to live
And to poor folk brown nuts you give.

You are an only child, Star-leaved,
And from man's axe have ill received;
But now, indeed, we mean to prize
Our BRABEIUM, with leaves star-wise.

Protea Song

Hooray! Hooray! 'tis protea-time,
They're flowering, low and tall -
Then away to Flats, or mountain-climb
To find and know them all.

On mountain-sides the waa'boom grey
Now fades, now stands out clear;
While higher grow, 'twould take a day,
"Brown-beard" and "king-protea."

On sandy flats the sugar-bush,
(The sticky one, I mean),
Will bind the sand, with many a "rush,"
As any wattle, I ween.

Long life to all the brave proteas -
With beards, or none at all!
And may they, with the coming years,
Find friends to love them all!

Suikerbosje Sugarbush

Oh! I would be a Protea strong,
With flowers in a cup;
And I would hear the birdies' song,
Whene'er they came to sup.

For honey I would give them,
When winter days are here,
And there are fewer flowers to gem,
And make the earth more dear.

Then fashion me a glistening cup,
Wide open to the sky:
A cup that later will close up,
Until the fruits are dry.

So now I need no petals bright,
To deck my honey-feast,
For I have leaves of pink and white
To greet my bidden guest.


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