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Proteas of the Natal Drakensberg

Condensed from A field guide The flora of the Natal Drakensberg by Donald Killick, Ball & Donker, Johannesburg 1990.

The two common species of Sugarbushes in the berg are Pr caffra and Pr roupelliae. These are most conspicuous in the river valleys, where they form "orchard communities" of Protea Savanna. The species may occur together or separately, but according to Killick, Pr caff c is more common in the north and Pr roup r in the south. Whereas Pr caff c is quite catholic in its requirements, Pr roup r is usually found on the Clarens Sandstone-derived soils, often near the distinctive cliffs formed by this formation. On the Little Berg both species are confined to patches on koppies, rocky outcrops and stony ridges where they are safe from fire. Although Killick states that burning practices determine the density of Protea savanna, he does not state how.

Four other species occur in the berg:

Pr subvestita - occasional on streambanks in the montane and subalpine belts, locally dominant in subalpine fynbos, which can be found on steep slopes which are protected from too frequent fires.

Pr dracomontana - often co-dominant (with what?) in Fynbos on the north-facing slopes of the Little Berg above 2 050 m.

Pr simplex - occasional in montane grassland.

Pr nubigena - only at the Witches above Policeman's Helmet Ridge at 2 300 m.

Killick provides a key to the species based on "vegetative" (non-floral) characters.


1 Plants less than 1.2 m tall goto 2

1 Plants more than 1.2 m tall goto 3

2 Leaves more than 15 mm wide P. dracomontana

2 Leaves less than 15 mm wide goto 4

3 Leaves hairless, green P. caffra

3 Leaves villous (at least upper), greyish goto 5

4 Stems unbranched from underground rootstock P. simplex

4 Stems much branched P. nubigena

5 Small tree, leaves 75-140 mm X 20-40 mm P. roupelliae

5 Shrub with slender branches, leaves 40-80 mm X 12-50 mm P. subvestita

Please note that PRECIS lists two other species in the Drakensberg - Protea welwitschii from Sani Pass, 11 km from Hotel, and Protea gaguedi from Wakkerstroom District, Volksrust [see your Africa edition 3 IDM]. Both might be identification errors, but are worthwhile following up! They can be recognized from the above species by their hairy young stems, and silky-haired involucral bracts. Growth varies, but in the Berg the habit would be a dwarf shrub, resprouting from an underground rootstock.

Please note that Pr parvula is known from Oshoek and Goedgevonden in the Wakkerstroom district and it may well occur further south. It can be distinguished from Pr simplex by its leaves pointing upwards (like the teeth of a comb) along horizontal stems and by its longer flowerhead stalk.

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