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Proteas of Tropical Africa

The Protea Atlas Project was never intended to cover the entire African continent. Indeed our computer data base can only cope with species from -9o59.99' S (i.e. 10N of the equator) to the South Pole and from exactly -9o59.99' W of Greenwich Meantime to 99o59.99' E (i.e. Liberia to Bangkok). So most of Africa south of the Sahara and Madagascar are included in the maximum possible coverage.

However, an immediate problem arises - there are some code conflicts: Protea rubrobracteata and Protea humifusa. This is not insurmountable, as the two species' pairs do not overlap. Please use the code Pr rctt and Pr hmfs for these species, and the first four letters for the remaining species. Nigel Forshaw's Protea Atlas SRS Database package now includes all these species.

Another problem is simple logistics: With only a handful of records from Zimbabwe and Zambia, we doubt that we can develop or sustain interest out of South Africa. Of course, this is a great pity. And if it were not for land mines, I know of quite a few South Africans who would happily atlas in Angola. Indeed, some are almost crazy enough to visit the country now, just to see the amazing proteas on offer there.

There are 16 Protea species not covered in SASOL Proteas. They were not included in the book as we were unable to obtain suitable photographs. Fortunately, all the major groupings of Tropical Proteas do occur in southern Africa, so that the sections are not described further here. Details of characteristics and key features of the different groups are listed in SASOL. The species are:

Grassland Sugarbushes

The subspecies of Protea caffra (mafingensis and kilimandscharica) are discussed in SASOL. Protea petiolaris also has two subspecies (see SASOL).

Two other species of Grassland Sugarbushes exist:

Pr minima: A small plant, hidden in the grassy savanna, with branching underground stems. Central Angola.

Pr linearifolia: A small, resprouting protea, with 40 mm wide heads from Afromontane grassland at 2000 m. Tanzania - Kipengere & Njombe.

Mountain Sugarbushes

All the species are described in SASOL, but Protea madiensis has a subspecies occidentalis from West Africa (Sierra Leone to Cameroon), which differs in having hairy, longer petal limbs. The two subspecies overlap in Nigeria and Cameroon. Pr rupestris only just occurs in southern Africa, being common from western Angola to Tanzania.

Savanna Sugarbushes

Only two Savanna Sugarbushes (Pr gaguedi and welwitschii) occur widely in southern Africa. Just as savannas are more developed further north, so this is the largest group of African Proteas - a further 7 species exist.

Pr argyrea: An erect, dwarf plant, resembling gaguedi, but with broad, deep pink, hairy bracts to the flowerhead. Southwestern Zaire and western Zambia.

Pr dekindtiana: A large-leaf, creeping protea in grasslands. Angola Huila Plateau.

Pr ongotium (Evava dos anharas): A large-leaf, short-stemmed protea, closely related to Pr dekindtiana. Angola Huambo.

Pr matonchiana: A large-leaf, "stemless" protea, closely related to Pr ongotium, but petals with very short limb. Zambia Northwest Prov.

Pr flavopilosa: A spreading tree to 3m tall, with large leaves. Angola Lubango.

Pr micans: This is a widespread and variable species with the following subspecies recognized, mainly on leaf size and petal limb length: micans, trichophylla, lemairei, suffruticosa and makutuensis. It is quite distinct with silversilky hairs on the leaves. Central Angola eastwards along the Zaire-Zambia border and along the rift valley to Rwanda and Malawi.

Pr heckmanniana: A silver-leaf protea, related to micans, but with smaller heads. Two subspecies (heckmanniana and angustifolia) are recognized. High grasslands of Malawi and south-western Tanzania.

Red Sugarbushes

Five or six species of Red Sugarbushes occur in Africa, with only Pr enervis in southern Africa.

Pr kibarensis: A resprouter with erect stems from an underground rootstock in rocky mountain grassland and with long silky hairs on the petals and fringing the bracts. Two subspecies occur: kibarensis from Kibara and Kundelunga in Zaire and cuspidata from Nyika and Mafinga in Malawi and Zambia.

Pr paludosa: A sprawling resprouter (as with Pr enervis) in mountain grasslands - poorly known and easy to overlook. Subspecies paludosa - Huila Plateau Angola; kolweziensis in Manika and Mitwaba in Zaire, with secundifolia between the above two subspecies (Angola, Zaire and Zambia).

Pr poggei: A mat-like protea with sharply-pointed involucral bracts and markedly oblanceolate leaves. Four subspecies, all occuring on Kalahari sands, are known: poggei (West-central Zaire), haemantha (south-central Angola - within sight of Namibia in the south), mwinilungensis (Mwinilunga, Zambia) & heliophila (Huambo & Bie, Angola).

Pr praticola: A mat-like protea with grey leaves - very poorly known. Mbongo, Tanzania. Beard recognized a new species humifusa for a more-pointed leaf form from Mt Rungwe, which has been "with some hesitation" upheld in the latest review for Tropical East Africa. [The name humifusa Hort ex Meisn. is a nomen nudum for Pr humiflora, so is this name valid?]

Moorland Sugarbushes

Apart from Pr asymmetrica and Pr wentzeliana, two more additonal species occur:

Pr baumii is most unusual in occurring in dambos and swamps - most other proteas cannot take severe waterlogging! Subspecies baumii occurs in southern Angola, robusta in a band from central Angola to Tanzania.

Pr wentzeliana is obviously a problem species. Beard recognizes Pr wentzeliana, rubrobracteata and neocrinita, which Chisumpa & Brummit regard as only one species. According to Beard rubrobracteata has cup-shaped flowerheads (wentzeliana has the bracts opening to a plate-like position), and the tepals of neocrinita are nearly hairless (hairy in wentzeliana). The current feeling is that two species should be recognized: wentzeliana and rubrobracteata, although the latter may be recognized as a subspecies. Under this concept, typical Pr wentzeliana is a low shrub. with widely splayed involucral bracts, confined to southern Tanzania and Malawi.

Pr rubrobracteata: A branching shrub to small tree, with smaller, cup-shaped flowerheads, flowers and bracts pinkish red. Mpwapwa, Iringa & Njombe districts, Tanzania.

Keys are provided for those Proteas of East Africa and Proteas of West Africa. Note, however, that the Tropical species are far more variable than the Fynbos and temperate Grassveld species and some caution is required in using these simplified keys.

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