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IDM Cape Peninsula - Sugarbushes - Protea

Identifying Sugarbushes is easy. Most people have no difficulty at all with the most common species. Thus the Wagon Tree (Waboom)- Protea nitida, King Sugarbush - Protea cynaroides, Blackbearded Sugarbush - Protea lepidocarpodendron, Red Sugarbush - Protea grandiceps, Green Sugarbush - Protea coronata, Common Sugarbush - Protea repens and Thistle Sugarbush (Witskollie) - Protea scolymocephala are all relatively well known.

That said there are some problems on the Peninsula:

Blackbeard Sugarbush - Protea lepidocarpodendron vs Narow-leaf Sugarbush - Protea neriifolia

The first problem is the perennial one of the Blackbeard Sugarbush - Protea lepidocarpodendron versus the Narrow-leaf Sugarbush - Protea neriifolia. There should be no problem because only the Blackbearded Sugarbush occurs naturally on the Cape Peninsula. But Protea neriifolia has been extensively planted, and one can no longer be certain of the identity of plants on the Peninsula. The following features (more details in PAN 9:8) should help clarify the matter:

  1. The colour of flowerheads and the colour of the "beard" (the long fringing hairs on the involucral bracts) are irrelevant. Both species exhibit a similar variation in colour.
  2. Protea neriifolia has the outer (lower) involucral bracts which are very similar, although edges are brown, in colour to the inner involucral bracts; Protea lepidocarpodendron has the outer involucral bracts brown-grey in colour, contrasting with the coloured inner involucral bracts.
  3. Protea neriifolia has white hairs on the outside of the inner involucral bracts just below the beard. Note that these hairs are nearly microscopic, and give a white "sheen"; Protea lepidocarpodendron has black hairs ("a black sheen") on the outside of the inner involucral bracts just below the beard. Beware: with time this pigment washes out, so that in year-old seedheads it may not be possible to be sure!
  4. Protea neriifolia has a tapering leaf base with hair-fine margins; Protea lepidocarpodendron has a leaf base that usually tapers abruptly, oftea folded like an ear-lobe, the leaf margins are prominent and horny.
  5. Protea neriifolia has inner involucral bracts where are erect or lightly bend inwards; Protea lepidocarpodendron typically has inner involucral bracts strongly curled inwards with the tips almost facing down into the flowerhead.

In conclusion: look at the colour of the hair below the beard, differences between inner and outer involcural bracts and the leaf bases, and you cannot go wrong. Be very cautious when there are no flowerheads on plants.

Red Sugarbush - Protea grandiceps vs Brown Beard Sugarbush - Protea speciosa

The second problem arises from a compulsion to rediscover the Red Sugarbush - Protea grandiceps on Table Mountain. There are four Bearded Sugarbushes on the Peninsula, with a fifth species, Protea neriifolia widely introduced. Of these only two have wide leaves: Protea grandiceps has oval leaves and Protea speciosa usually has oblong leaves. Unfortunately, the latter species has atypically oval leaves on Grootkop, resulting in many erroneous rediscoveries of Protea grandiceps. Confusion can easily be prevented by noting the habit of the plants. Protea speciosa is a multistemmed plant (with an underground rootstock which survives fires and resprouts) with stems very sparsely branched, whereas Protea grandiceps has a single basal stem, branching extensively with age and size (and killed by fire). Since Protea speciosa is the only multistemmed member of the Bearded Sugarbushes, and this is easy to observe even in young plants which have not yet flowered, identification should not pose a problem to atlassers. It does mean though that potentially good records of Protea grandiceps have been dismissed by more experienced proteaphiles.

Wagon Tree - Protea nitida and Dwarf form

There is also a minor problem with the identification of the "dwarf" variant of the Wagon Tree - Protea nitida. All populations of Protea nitida possess dwarf forms: these are the young plants which are developing from the bole phase (with an underground rootstock and multiple stems) to the adult phase. Typically the adult phase is a tall tree with a single basal stem, which survives fires by resprouting from buds beneath the bark of the aerial shoots (a unique feature among Cape Sugarbushes). However, some populations never possess the adult form. All the plants remain perpetually in the bole phase. This is unlikely to be because of lack of opportunity to develop into the adult phase - some of these plants are quite old! Why these populations exist is unknown: it may be genetic or historical: scientists would like to investigate this phenomenon further. These are the populations that should be coded as Pr niti d.

Channelleaf Sugarbush - Protea scorzoneriifolia

A single species Channelleaf Sugarbush - Protea scorzoneriifolia  is thought to be extinct on the Peninsula. Its favoured habitat was clay soil, especially where clay occur in association with sands. Being a rhizomatous species (i. e. with stems underground like a fern) and producing tufts of leaves that resemble reeds, it is very inconspicuous. It may still occur in the Tokai area as it is easy to overlook. However, during flowering (September to October) the flowerheads - popping straight out from the ground are conspicuous. It is recorded from Constantia as "found wild abundantly in the sandy plains". There have been no records from the Peninsula for the past 185 years (Boerhaave in 1720 and Salisbury in 1809). Fifty years is the accepted time frame to declare the species extinct on the Peninsula. But will some atlasser find it somewhere?

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