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Phleonomus: A Christmas Fairy Story

I found the following story, narrated by Gerald McCann, in Veld and Flora Volume 61 part 3 of December 1975. I do not know where Christmas fits in, but perhaps next year we will have a Christmas story with a bit more of a punchline than: " have a bath regularily, else you will stink!"


A Christmas Fairy Story

Once upon a time, at the court of the King Protea - Protea cynaroides, where you find the most noble and beautiful Proteas, the King Protea issued a decree - "That, because the Proteas were of the Royal family of flowers, they would not stoop to the level of other flowers and use scent to make themselves attractive".

He further decreed that the Proteas were to wash each morning and bathe themselves with the early morning dewdrops so as to remain fresh and beautiful during the day. The decree was carried throughout the Protea kingdom by the Sugarbirds. However, before it was made final, a little Protea craved an audience with the King. This little one, Swartland Sugarbush Protea odorata, was allowed in and pleaded, "Please, your Majesty, I cannot bathe in dewdrops because if I do, I will drown". As she was so small, the size of a five cent piece [the old ones], the King relented and made an exception. Swartland Sugarbush Protea odorata would be the only one allowed to use scent among the whole Protea family.

Shortly afterwards, the King Protea went on a journey to the Queen Protea Protea magnifica who lived in the Cedarberg among the high crags. The Court was left in charge of Protea aristata who was so named as he was the most aristocratic of all the remaining Proteas. Protea aristata was a haughty fellow who decided that washing in dewdrops was nonsense and that, as he was the most handsome of all the Proteas, he could do as he liked. In due course he started to exude an unwashed smell and this also happened to the others who followed his example.

When the King returned he lifted his royal nose and said: " Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and the Proteaceae" and he pointed his Royal finger at Protea aristata. The Court was convened and at the trial Protea aristata was found guilty of disobedience. He was banished from the Royal Court, and today he is found in the Great Swartberg where his beauty is not admired and his smell does not trouble the King.

This decree was also imposed on his girl-friend Stink-leaf Sugarbush - Protea susannae who grows along the National Road in the Albertinia district. For the rest of her existence she was also condemned to carry this offensive unwashed smell with her.

Another of the noblemen of the Court who had disobeyed the decree, Clasping-leaf Sugarbush - Protea amplexicaulis, was an erect, tall Protea. He was banished to the mountain ranges and was sentenced to hide his face under mats of leaves on the ground, and to keep it there for ever and ever. This protea is a dark nugget brown colour and has his face right against the ground . He also has a smell.

The last one to suffer banishment was the teenager Mountain-rose Sugarbush - Protea nana. It was such a lovely name, and when the King looked into her face , he decided he could not punish her severely. He thus decreed that from then on she should always hang her head in shame and blush for her association with the "aristocrat", hence her Afrikaans name of "Skaamroos"


  • Protea odorata, despite the name meaning "smelling nice" has no perceptible scent!
  • Protea susannae was named after John Muir's wife. It is important to note that he did not give the name. The name was given by Phillips, who was presumably not aware that it is called the Stinkleaf Sugarbush.
  • Protea amplexicaulis's smell is not from the leaves, but the flowerheads. This "smell" - like wet, dirty socks left for a week or so in a corner under your bed - is attractive to mice and rats which pollinate the plants.

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