A Guide to the Genera
The genera of southern African Proteaceae can most
readily be recognized by their characteristic flowerheads. Other features which can be used to check identification
include the leaves, perianth
bracts and, when
available, seeds. The key provided
will identify the genus of any specimen of southern
African Proteaceae without any difficulty.
Flowers in twos per floral bract, two seeds per flower
Flowers single per floral bract, one seed per flower ........... 3.
Leaves in starlike whorls of 6, flowers in dense spike-like racemes, a large,
resprouting, riverine tree........... Genus BRABEJUM
Leaves alternating down the stem, flowers in little clusters in terminal leaf
axils, fruit are hard, round
follicles which split into two halves to release two winged seeds........... Genus
Sexes on separate plants: female plants with cones and male plants with smaller
fluffy cones or bright yellow, spike-like racemes with stalks...........
Sexes on the same plant: no male
and female flowers, cones never present ...........
Flowerheads in female plants comprised of conspicuous cones,
formed by woody bracts subtending the florets.
The cone base is covered by an involucre of small,
brown basal bracts. Leaves
below flowerhead larger and more colourful than other leaves.
Males similar to females but without woody bracts ...........
Flowerhead in female plants cup-shaped,
formed by flattened branchlets resembling woody bracts,
surrounding 7-15 flowers on a short column.
Male flowerheads consisting of bright yellow,
spike-like racemes on a short peduncle ...........
Leaves divided into many needle-like lobes...........
Leaves entire, tip often toothed, not divided into needle-like lobes...........
Divided needle-like leaves with a flat upper edge, often dimorphic with both a
needle and flat leaf form. Flowerheads
of several small heads (capitula) each containing four flowers, arranged in
terminal spikes........... Genus
Divided needle-like leaves round in cross-section, never dimorphic.
Many-flowered flowerheads in loose terminal clusters or in dense racemes........... Genus
Flowerheads comprised of several small heads (capitula),
each being 1-9 flowered, involucres
grouped into a terminal lax panicle or raceme.
Usually small shrubs........... 8.
Flowerheads either a many-flowered spike or capitulum, not a compound capitulum,
or, if compound, then consisting of many axillary capitula with leaves clearly
separating capitula........... 9.
Flowerhead small, globose or cylindrical, a panicle comprising many 4-9 flowered
involucres. Perianths straight in bud, all four perianth lobes equal.
Fruit usually glabrous........... Genus
Flowerhead usually elongate, a raceme of 1-3 flowered involucres. Perianth
unequal in bud, the top perianth segment larger and ladle-shaped.
The pollen presenter is conspicuously spoon-shaped.
Fruit hairy ........... Genus
Flowers in terminal or axillary capitula...........
Flowerhead a lax spike, with sessile flowers on a lengthened axis.
Trees. Leaf margins
undulate. ........... Genus
Perianth not separating into 3 fused and one free segments, or if so, then
involucral bracts inconspicuous ...........
Capitula surrounded by large, often colourful, involucral bracts, perianth
consisting of three fused segments and one free segment. Leaves with thickened
edge, never toothed........... Genus
Flowerheads axillary, surrounded by large, highly coloured involucral bracts,
sometimes hidden by leaves ........... 12.
Flowerheads not surrounded by large, highly coloured involucral bracts, if
involucral bracts present then green or papery in texture...........
Flowerhead compound, consisting of many axillary capitula with brightly
coloured involucral bracts, each capitula subtended by a leaf which may
exceed the involucral bracts in length and take over the bright-colour display
Flowerhead simple, pedunculate, axillary, with brightly coloured large
involucral bracts........... Genus
Flowerheads axillary, not very
small, with prominent styles
protruding well beyond the perianth ...........
Flowerheads terminal, floral bracts becoming large and woody after pollination,
hypogynous scales present ...........
Flowerheads very small, terminal, with an involucre of thin, non-descript,
papery bracts, hypogynous scales usually absent ........... Genus DIASTELLA
Genus FAUREA Harvey: The
genus Faurea is characterized by the
flowers borne on spikes.
All species in Africa are trees and occur in savanna and forest
habitats. The leaves are
lanceolate, and vary in size between the species. The perianth parts are
all fused at the base into a tube, with one perianth segment free distally.
The ovary is covered by long silky hairs.
The fruit are hairy and have persistent styles.
Genus PROTEA L.: The
genus Protea is easily recognized by
the involucral bracts which surround the
flowerheads (hereafter refered to as heads), the florets with three completely
fused and one totally free perianth parts, and hairy, woody fruit
almost indistinguishable from the ovaries.
Additional features include a long narrow pollen presenter almost
always joined to the style by a knee‑joint, leaves which vary from
linear to broad blades with simple tips, thickened red or yellow edges with a
black mucron on the tips; perianth parts often with awns and densely
aggregated into tight heads; involucral
receptacle hard, woody and showing clear spirals when florets are removed.
The generic name Protea
is a conserved name. In its
historically correct treatment it should be the genus of the Silver Tree (now Leucadendron
argenteum). Strictly, using the
rule of priority, the correct name for what we call Protea
is Leucadendron L. However, the
two names were swopped in 1810 and are now firmly established.
Genus AULAX Berg.: The Featherbushes
characterized by having male and female plants, by the female plants bearing a
female flowers and fruit in a woody
cupule formed by short incurved branches, and male plants bearing male flowers
in lax, terminal,
spike‑like racemes. The
female florets have the perianth fused with the ovary, all four perianth
segments free and linear staminodes. The
male florets have perianth limbs united to form a basal tube with symmetrical
free lobes, and a conspicuously thick style apex functioning as the
pollen presenter. Hypogynous
scales are absent in both sexes. The
fruit is an compressed obovoid achene, truncate at the base and with long,
dense, white long hairs, largely confined to the edges and the median ridge.
As in Protea,
and unlike Leucadendron, the majority of fruit contained in a Featherbush cone
are duds ‑ viable seeds may be found in only 5 per cent of fruit,
although usually there are many more than this.
Genus SERRURIA Salisb.:
genus Serruria can easily be
recognized by their dissected leaves
which have cylindrical segments. The
flowers are subtended by a conspicuous bract, and consist of four free
perianth segments united only at their bases. Flowers are grouped
into flowerheads which may usually be discerned as a lax or dense raceme of terminal clusters of florets, or only a single
terminal cluster of florets. Involucral
bracts (surrounding the terminal clusters) are infrequent and loosely arranged
on the stem below the terminal cluster of florets.
The fruit is a small hard nut, sparsely covered with hair and
containing a basal elaiosome.
Spiderheads are largely confined to the winter
rainfall area and extend as far east as Mossel Bay along the coast.
The Spiderheads were last revised in 1912, and
therefore their taxonomy is certainly outdated.
New species have been discovered and described and several more await
description. Furthermore, those
species described in 1912 are not all valid.
The species accounts below outline the species as I currently understand
them, and must be considered preliminary. Spiderheads
form two major groups (the solitary capitulum group and the multi‑headed
racemose group) which may in fact comprise two genera.
Hopefully, Dr John Rourke will revise the genus within the next ten
genus Paranomus is best
distinguished by its leaves which vary from entire to dissected. The dissected leaves
have a grooved dorsal surface ending in a mucron, and are always slightly
curled upwards. The 'entire' leaf
morph is unfortunately not found in all species, but in the species in which
it occurs, it is characteristic of older branches, especially those bearing
flowerheads. These leaves do not
have a netowork system of veins like other protea leaves, but a simple
parallel venation similar to primitive plants.
The flowerheads are
spike‑like, with every bract containing a set of four flowers, each
subtended by its own leathery bract. These
bracts become woody with age,
forming tiny round shells. The
florets contain four free perianth segments, which are usually hairy on the
outer surface. The ovary is
surrounded by stiff, white hairs, and the style may be hairy or hairless.
The fruits are a smooth nut, surrounded by a ring of hairs at the base
and containing a persistent style.
The identification of the 18 Paranomus species requires a X10 magnification hand lens,
although groups may easily be discerned. Important features for the identification of Paranomus species include the position, length and density of hairs
on the style, the size, shape and number of flowers in the spikes, and the leaf
shape and size.
R.Br.: The Powderpuffs
genus Sorocephalus is easily
recognized by its globose flowerheads,
consisting of numerous heads (involucres) each consisting of 4‑9
florets, subtended by
inconspicuous bracts. The perianth is symmetrical, and fused for the lower half.
The perianth is straight in the bud, short (8‑25 mm), and styles
are straight and filiform. Leaves
are simple, small, either needle‑like or with a groove on the upper
fruit is a hairless nut with an lobed base. The three main divisions into which the genus is divided are based largely on
fruit morphology (which are difficult to find in the field) and leaf shape.
Other features required for distinguishing species are the number of
flowers in the flowerheads, the presence of hairs on the perianth limbs, the
pollen presenter shape and the shape of the bracts.
The Powderpuffs are extremely badly known.
Many species are known from only a few localities and very few herbarium
specimens. Mountaineers and
ramblers could contribute significantly to our knowledge of this genus.
Genus SPATALLA Salisb.: The Spoons
genus Spatalla is most easily
recognized by the undivided leaves, three
or one flowered involucres, the perianth which is always curved away from the
centre of the involucre, one perianth segment may be much larger than the
other three free perianth segments, and by the prominent spoon‑like
are hairy cylindrical nuts with a truncate and stalked base.
The Spoons are clearly related to the Powderpuffs.
A legacy of their ancestry are the four floral bracts which subtend the
3 or 1 flowered involucres. Normally
one would expect a single floral bract per flower.
Reduction of floral bracts does occur in the Unispoons, but never
attains a 1:1 relationship characteristic of the Powderpuffs.
Features used for the identification of Spatalla species include the flowerhead shape and type, the shape,
size and hairyness of the bracteoles, the presence of hairs on the style, pollen
presenter shape, and various leaf characters.
R.Br. The Pincushions
genus Leucospermum is most easily
identified by the long styles which protrude from the flowerhead, creating the
impression of a pincushion. The flowerheads
are axillary, never terminal, and the involucral
bracts are small and inconspicuous. The
three outer perianth segments are partly fused to form a tube at the bottom of
the flower, while the forth segment is mostly free and often elongated.
The leaves may have a
many‑toothed apex: virtually all Proteaceae with more than
three glandular teeth to the leaves are pincushions.
These teeth are apparently nectaries, but their function is unknown.
The hairs on Leucospermum leaves are
of two types: long, thin hairs (trichomes) which occur in all other local
Proteaceae genera, and short, curly hairs which are confined to pincushions.
These curly hairs give the leaves the appearance of being covered by a
thin layer of white or grey wool which can be rubbed off.
Care is needed to distinguish Leucospermum from Diastella
and Vexatorella, but the axillary
flowerheads, inconspicuous involucral bracts and the partly fused outer three
perianth segments are unique to the Pincushions. With the exception of the Flat‑, Louse‑ and
Sandveld‑ Pincushions, Pincushions have large flowerheads which cannot be
confused with either the Vexators or the Silkypuffs.
Genus VEXATORELLA Rourke The
genus Vexatorella can most easily be
mistaken for a Leucospermum (section
Diastelloides), from which it can
easily be distinguished by its terminal
flowerheads, which may be grouped into a panicle. The leaves always have a single callus on the tip.
The four perianth segments
separate symmetrically and are only fused in the tube region.
Flowers are sweetly scented. The floral bracts become lignified after flowering, a feature shared
with L. secundifolium.
The fruits have a persistent
style, and are hairless with an elaiosome surrounding the fruit and
forming a little stalk.
Genus DIASTELLA Salisb. The
genus Diastella can easily confused
with the smaller Leucospermum
species. Silkypuffs rarely grow
taller than one meter. Their
leaves are linear to oval, usually without teeth.
Flowerheads are small, globose, terminal (or both terminal and axillary)
capitula, 10‑20 mm in diam.. One
to three rows of papery or membranous bracts extend to or beyond the florets,
enveloping the flowerhead at base. The
perianth is 6‑10 mm long, and subtended by a linear
to filiform floral bract, covered with silky hairs.
All four perianth segments are free almost to the base. Hypogynous scales are usually absent.
Pollen presenter linear acute. Fruit
is a typical Leucospermum nut.
Genus MIMETES Salisb. The Pagodas
genus Mimetes can readily be
distinguished from all other Proteaceae by the dense heads of flowers formed by aggregating tubular, axillary,
stalkless flowerheads (technically a pseudanthia), each containing 3‑22 (35) florets and subtended by a leaf, into a
large cylindrical flowerhead (technically a conflorescence).
The perianth segments are almost entirely free and symmetrical.
The style is hairless and is adorned by a distinctively‑shaped
pollen presenter in each species. Leaves
are 1‑3 toothed. The fruit
is ovoid to cylindric, usually hairless to minutely hairy, with a prominent
elaiosome at both ends joined by a thin ridge down one end.
14 Mimetes species are easy to
identify and are readily separated into four major groups.
Genus OROTHAMNUS Pappe The
genus Orothamnus is distinct from
all other genera in that the flowerheads
are pendulous, and are surrounded by large, hairy, pink involucral bracts,
which resemble the petals of a rose.
The Marsh Rose is most closely allied to the Tube Pagodas, with the
flowerheads of Orothamnus equivalent to the Mimetes
pseudanthia. The major difference
between Orothamnus and Mimetes
is that the Marsh Rose has terminal flowerheads, not axillary as in the
Pagodas. The stem then continues growing upwards from an axillary bud,
in this fashion several flowerheads may be produced during the flowering
season. The genus is confined to the Kogelberg and Kleinmond mountains, with a single
population near Hermanus. There
is only one species in the genus.
Genus LEUCADENDRON R.Br. The
genus Leucadendron is easily
identified by the woody cones borne
on some plants in each species, and the plants
of separate sexes. About half
the plants (the females) in any population produce cones which bear seeds,
whereas male plants bear cones for the short flowering seasons and never
produce seed. Cones consist of
spirally arranged floral bracts, which cover and partially hide a floret.
After flowering the bracts become hard and woody, forming the
conspicuous fruiting cones.
The perianth segments are fused into a tube with only tips free. In male
florets the ovaries are reduced. In
female florets the style is straight or slightly curved, with a large terminal
portion, usually with a slit on the top for receiving pollen.
Male plants are usually more branched than female plants and are often
slightly larger with smaller leaves and cones.
Male florets are subtended by an inconspicuous floral bract. The
perianth segments are free on top
half of floret, but fused into a tube below.
The style is always present, and serves as a pollen presenter, but
other female organs are reduced.
The identification of Conebushes is difficult as it
relies very heavily on fruit morphology. Fortunately,
many species store their fruit for most of the year in the female cones.
In species which do not store their fruit, cones laying on the ground
should be collected if it is intended to identify the species.
In addition, several other characters are required, from both male and
female plants, to identify most species. These
include: cone shape and size, the habit of the species and the leaf size,
shape and hairyness.
Genus BRABEJUM L. The Wild Almond
genus Brabejum is the only naturally
occurring African member of the Proteaceae to bear two seeds per flower. This
feature is a characteristic of the Australian Proteaceae to which this species
is most closely related. The
genus can also be identified by the florets
being borne in dense, spike‑like racemes, florets with long stalks, the
leaves in whorls of 4‑6, and the large, densely velvety,
Genus HAKEA Schrad. The
can be recognized by their hard,
needle‑shaped leaves, the flowers which are not borne in a head, but
generally occur axillary as a few flowers, sometimes grouped into catkins.
The flowers differ from most African Proteaceae in that each
flower bears two seeds. Hard,
woody follicles bearing two seeds, protect
the seeds from fire.
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