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Proteas on the Cape Peninsula

Some 47 species of proteas have been recorded as occurring naturally on the Cape Peninsula.

Of these two species are probably false records. Both were collected by Schlecter (details) who is notorious for his record keeping and sown confusion in the literature with his inaccurate records. Thus Spatalla curvifolia and Serruria meisneriana probably never occurred on the Peninsula. An additional species, Leucadendron grandiflorum might not be a good species. It is obviously very closely allied to L. globosum, a species confined to the Elgin apple-growing area. However, it is only known from a single male plant grown in Hibberts garden from seed collected by Niven from Wynberg Hill. As with many glasshouse plants, it is slightly etoliated and is probably somewhat different in appearence from its wild form. In addition, the specimen has not been preserved - only an illustratoin remains. Nevertheless, Niven generally provided accurate localities and and the differences between this plant and males of L. globosum suggest that this is a good species. However, there is little chance of anyone finding this species today.

Two other protea species are well documented from the Cape Peninsula but are almost certainly extinct there today. These are: Protea burchellii which occurred at Sea Point and Devil's Peak, and could possibly sucessfully be reintroduced on the lower slopes of Devil's Peak. Leucospermum vestitum formerly occurred at Green Point (10m), Lions Head (60m) and on Table Mountain (150m). Its habitat is thus now Cape Town.

Several other protea species are quite close to extinction on the Cape Peninsula. Aulax cancellata is only known from a few dozen plants at Silvermine. Protea grandiceps is currently only known from three plants near Devil's Peak. Protea scolopendriifolia is probably extinct from Wynberg area where it once used to be common. Leucadendron macowanii is only known from a few populations at one locality adjacent the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Leucadendron floridum is currently only known from a few populations, several of these being newly established. Leucadendron levisanus is probably extinct on the Peninsula, existing as a few plants on the road verges of the N7 and the northern Suburbs. Serruria trilopha and S. foeniculacea have almost totally eradicated from the Peninsula. Serruria collina was rediscovered in 1985, after only previously having been recorded in 1809 and 1830. S. collina now includes S. flagellaris, an essentially identical, but also rare, plant from further south on the Peninsula.

Several other species are also declining in numbers, including Leucadendron rubrum and Protea scolymocephala. Fortunately, however, many protea species are surviving quite well. Thus the Waboom appears to be making a comeback on the Front Table, and the Silver Tree appears to be holding its own.

An engima

One of the problems it is hoped that the Protea Atlas will solve, is how Mimetes fimbrifolius and Leucospermum conocarpodendron survive together. It should not escape our notice that the hairy form of Kreupelhout occurs where Mimetes fimbrifolius does not: where the two species overlap the hairless form of Kreupelhout grows. Both species survive fire in the same manner: they have thick corky bark, but require that the branch tips escape the fire (by being well above the surrounding vegetation) in order for growth to occur. Both are "big trees" relative to other plants in the area. Both rely on the same birds for pollination and the same ants for seed storage. Why then are they not competing with one another? Why does one species not eliminate the other? Usually the two species do not co-occur, but the subdivision of land between them is subtle, with populations often in very close proximity, but usually not intermingled. If you have any ideas on what is happening, would like to test your hypothesis with our data, or could investigate the matter in greater detail, please write in.

Several other species pairs exhibit more obvious segregation of the habitat. Try and figure out what determines what requirements separate the following species pairs:
Leucadendron salignum vs Ld spissifolium spissifolium;
Ld laureolum vs Ld strobilinum;
Ld macowanii vs Ld floridum;
Protea cynaroides vs Pr speciosa;
Pr lepidocarpodendron vs Pr coronata vs Pr repens;
Serruria hirsuta vs Se vallaris.
Hakea suaveolens vs Ha sericea vs Ha gibbosa

With a little observation, some detective work, and the clues given in the field notebook under habitat, you will find yourself quickly appreciating what makes the different species tick. We will love to hear your theories!

The following species occur naturally on the Cape Peninsula. Many additional species have been misguidedly planted in our nature reserves. Therefore please check of species against illustrations in Vogts (1982). Mary Matham Kidd illustrates about half the species.

Following the species are codes explaining their distribution. Thus "Ct" refers to the Table Bay foreland, "Tm" to Table Mountain, "Cb" to Constantiaberg, "Si" to Simonstown, "Nr" to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, and "Fl" to the Cape Flats. "Am" refers to species occurring on all the mountain areas (Tm, Cb, Si and NR), "Al" to those occurring in both lowland sites "Ct" and "Fl", and "Aml" to species common everywhere.


Leaves in star-like whorls of six, often with bumpy galls. Fruit a hairy brown nut. Flowers cream, delicate, numerous. B. stellatifolium Wild Almond Tm


Leaves needle-like with a channel on the upper surface. Cupule with segments unbranched except at tip. A. cancellata Channel-leaf Featherbush Cb


Leaves needle-like. One floret per involucre. Both involucre and head stalked. Bracts swelling red after pollination. S. curvifolia White Pedunculate Unispoon (?)


1. Stems creeping on ground. Leaves secund (all pointing vertically), hairless. Florets with one free and three fused petals. L. hypophyllocarpodendron hypophyllocarpodendron Green Snake-stem Pincushion Aml

1. Stems erect with leaves on all sides. Plants 1-4m tall. goto 2

2. Leaves with 1-4 teeth, hairless. (Anthers with a short stalk. Involucral bracts hairless. Pollen presenter ovoid. An erect shrub. Bark smooth.) L. vestitum Silky-haired Showy Pincushion X! Ct

2. Leaves with 7-14 teeth. (Anthers fused basally to petals. Involucral bracts hairy. Pollen presenter conic. A gnarled tree. Bark fissured.) L. conocarpodendron goto 3

3. Leaves grey due to fine, crispy hairs. L. c. conocarpodendron Grey Treepincushion Tm

3. Leaves green, hairless. L. c. veridum Green Treepincushion Cb,Si,Nr


1. Leaves oval, 2-6 mm wide. Stems creeping. D. divaricata divaricata Peninsula Silkypuff Am

1. Leaves needle-like, 1 mm wide. Stems creeping. D. proteoides Flats Silkypuff Ct,Fl


1. A resprouter with several erect stems arising from a rootstock. Leaves hairless when mature, 3-toothed. Heads with cowl-leaf. M. cucullatus Common Pagoda Am

1. A stout, compact, much branched tree. Leaves fringed with hairs, 3-toothed. Heads with cowl-leaf. Am M. fimbrifolius Tree Pagoda

1. An erect, sparsely branched shrub. Leaves hairy, 1-toothed. Heads red and yellow with leaves inconspicuous. M. hirtus Marsh Tube Pagoda Cb,Si,Nr,Fl


1. Leaves pinnately divided, hairless. Branchlets hairless. H. drupacea Sweet Needlebush Am

1. Leaves needle-like goto 2

2. Leaves hairless, 10-30 mm long. Branchlets hairless. H. sericea Silky Needlebush Am

2. Leaves hairy, 50-100 mm long. Branchlets hairy. H. gibbosa Rock Needlebush Am


1. Multi-stemmed plants resprouting from an underground rootstock. goto 2

1. Single-stemmed plants, no underground rootstock. goto 5

2. Branches above ground, erect or sprawling goto 3

2. Branches mostly below ground. goto 4

3. Leaves with a long thin stalk, green. Involucral bracts with white, crispy hairs. P. cynaroides King Protea Aml

3. Leaves tongue-shaped, green. Involucral bracts with brown beard. P. speciosa Brown Bearded Protea Am

3. Leaves oblong, grey. Involucral bracts forming shallow bowl. P. nitida Wagon Tree (Young & dwarf forms Si)

4. Leaves tongue-shaped, 6-70 mm wide, borne on short creeping stems. Heads rounded. P. acaulos Common Ground-protea Aml

4. Leaves needle-like with a groove, 2-5 mm wide, borne in tufts. Heads oval. P. scorzoneriifolia Channel-leaf Dwarf-protea Fl

5. Involucral bracts not bearded, bracts hairless. goto 6

5. Involucral bracts bearded. goto 8

6. Heads chalice-shaped. Seedheads like inverted ice-cream cones with florets not visible. P. repens Common Sugarbush Aml

6. Heads bowl-shaped. Seedheads with florets exposed. goto 7

7. Large shrubs over 1.5 m tall. Leaves grey. Heads 80-160 mm diam. P. nitida Wagon Tree Am

7. Small erect shrubs to 1m tall. Leaves green. Heads 35-45 mm diam. P. scolymocephala Thistle Needle-leaf Protea Aml

8. Leaf edges parallel, hairless. Beard purple-black. goto 9

8. Leaf oval or lance-shaped. Beard white or pink. Y

9. Bract outer surface hairless, greasy. Leaf with black mucro. P. burchellii Burchell's Spoon-bract Protea X! Ct

9. Bract outer surface hairless. X

X. Outer bracts similar to inner, hairs below beard white.P. neriifolia Oleander-leaf Bearded Protea (?) Ct

X. Outer bracts brown, inner pink or cream, hairs below beard black. P. lepidocarpodendron Black Bearded Protea Am

Y. Leaf hairless, oval, 50-80mm wide. Head orange/red. P. grandiceps Red Bearded Protea Tm

Y. Leaf hairy, lance-shaped, 8-30mm wide, purple when flowering. Head green. P. coronata Green Bearded Protea Tm,Cb Tm


Key to sections based on fruit

A. Fruit hairless. goto B

A. Fruit hairy. goto C

B. Fruit flattened with winged edge, > 5 mm wide. ALATA: (2,5,X)

B. Fruit triangular in cross-section, < 5 mm wide. TRIGONA (Y)

B. Fruit rounded with sharp-ridged edges and a keel. VENTRICOSA (8)

C. Fruit mottled, tip pointed. VILLOSA (6)

C. Fruit rounded, petals forming a plumed parachute. LEUCADENDON (4,7)

1. Multi-stemmed from an underground rootstock (resprouters). Usually < 1 m tall. Fruit winged (Sec Alata). goto 2

1. Single stemmed, erect bushes. Usually > 1 m tall. Fruit various. goto 3

2. Cones hairless, often reddish. L. s. spissifolium Common Spearleaf-Conebush Am

2. Cones hairy, silver, often partially enveloped by boat-shaped leaves. L. salignum Common Sunshinebush AMl

3. Leaves wider than 10 mm. goto 4

3. Leaves narrower than 10 mm. goto 6

4. Leaves grey/silver, densely silky haired. L. argenteum Silver Tree Tm

4. Leaves green or yellow, hairless when mature goto 5

5. Female cones hidden by leaves. Stems yellow, matted-haired. Leaf light green. Cone with 8-10 florets per spiral, bracts hairless. L. laureolum Laurel-leaf Sunshine-conebush Am

5. Leaves below female cones splayed wide open. Stems purplish red, long-haired. Leaf dark green. Cone with 10-13 florets per spiral, bracts hairy about middle. L. strobilinum Peninsula Sunshine-conebush Cb,Tm

6. Leaves < 15 mm long. Cones 20 mm diam. L. levisanus Cape-flats Tile-conebush Fl,SI

6. Leaves > 20 mm long. Cones > 20 mm diam. goto 7

7. Cones shaped like a spinning top (pointed at top with a tuft of florets). Male plants with very much smaller leaves than females. L. rubrum Spinning-top Silver-conebush Tm

7. Cones egg-shaped. goto 8

8. Cones with separated bracts. Fruits released within 4 months of flowering. Leaves below head larger than normal leaves, covered with gum. L. grandiflorum Wynberg Crown Conebush E! Tm

8. Cones with bracts closely pressed together. Fruits usually retained in cones for release after fire. Leaves below heads not covered in gum goto 9

9. Fruit flattened with winged edge, > 5 mm wide. Leaves larger below heads. X

9. Fruit triangular in cross-section, < 5 mm wide. Y

X. Leaves hairless when mature, green. Stigma of male flowers with constriction below tip. Cone reddish, bracts hairless on upper half. L. coniferum Mucro-leaf Sunshine-conebush Cb,Si,Nr

X. Leaves silky-haired, grey. Male stigma club-shaped. Cones silver, hairy. L. xanthoconus Sickleleaf Conebush Am

Y. Leaves below flower heads not modified, green, resemble Rooikrans leaf. Female stigma 1.5 mm long. Seeds retained in cones. L. macowanii Acacia-leaf Stream-conebush Si, Fl

Y. Leaves below flower heads forming a yellow cup. Seeds released after 7-9 months. Female stima 0.5 mm long. L. floridum Flats Trigosperm-conebush Am,Fl


1. Flower heads a raceme comprising several small heads joined by a common stalk. goto 2

1. Flower heads comprising a single, compact head. goto 6

2. Stems trailing on ground. Leaves secund (all pointing upwards) goto 3

2. Stems erect or spreading, not trailing. Leaves symmetrical around stem goto 4

3. Leaves 2-3 tipped. Flower head comprising 3-6 heads of 4-10 florets. Floral bracts > 1/3 floret length. Style straight. S. decumbens Peninsula Whipspiderhead Si,Nr

3. Leaves with 10-40 tips. Flower heads comprising 8-15 heads, each with 5-12 florets. Style curved. S. collina Lost Curly Spiderhead Cb,Si,Nr

4. Florets curved in bud, cream. Style curved. Many (4-8) heads, each with 15-40 florets, joined by a short (5-10 mm long) stalk. S. glomerata Cluster Curly Spiderhead Cb,Si,Nr

4. Florets straight in bud. Style straight. Flower heads comprising heads, each with 3-10 florets, joined by a common stalk. Leaves very fine. goto 5

5. Peduncle 80-140 mm long. Involucral and floral bracts + 1/2 length of florets, with distinct ridge. Petals hairless. S. meisneriana Dainty Stalked Spiderhead (?)

5. Peduncle 3-15 mm long. Involucreal and floral bracts few and small, not ridged. Petals hairy. goto 6

6. Heads dark pink to cream, comprising 10-15 heads, each with 5-10 florets, on a short basal stalk. Erect to sprawling shrub. S. fasciflora Common Pin Spiderhead Aml

6. Heads cream. Habit sprawling. Florets inconspicuous, hardly visible even in full flower. Heads of 1-5 heads, each with 3-8 florets, with a short basal stalk. S. inconspicua Cryptic Pin Spiderhead Si

7. Heads without a stalk, solitary. goto 8

7. Heads with a conspicuous 10-20 mm long stalk. goto 9

8. Florets pink, all tepals hairy. Leaf hairy, tips spayed out. S. hirsuta Hairy Sessile Spiderhead Si

8. Florets yellow, one tepal hairless. Leaf hairless, tips neatly together. S. villosa Golden Sessile Spiderhead Cb,Si,Nr

9. Plant erect, single stemmed at base. 1-many heads per branch. Involucral bracts conspicuous, linear.

S. foeniculacea Rondevlei Involucred Spiderhead Fl = (aemula?) Tygerberg Involucred Spiderhead

9. Multi-stemmed from underground rootstock. Stems creeping or erect. Single head per branch. goto X

X. Leaves divided into x tips. Involucral bracts sparse haired. Stems usually erect. S. cyanoides Wynberg Involucred Spiderhead Fl,Cb

X. Leaves rarely with more than 3 tips. Involucral bracts dense haired. Stems often creeping. S. trilopha Trident Involucred Spiderhead Fl

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