Overview of Project
Id and Species Lists
Interim Dist. Maps
IDM Zimbabwe - Sugarbushes - Protea
Sugarbushes (the term "Protea" is now used internationally for all members of
the Protea Family) are easy to identify. The flowerhead is characterized by the flat
receptacle with pointed, woody floral bracts (resembling a rasp). These are surrounded by
large bracts (called involucral bracts), so that many people mistakingly think that the
flowerheads are flowers. The flowers (up to a 1000 per flowerhead) occur on the
receptacle, surrounded by the bracts, and are long and wiry, with a basal hairy ovary that
forms the woody fruit.
Protea taxonomy from Zimbabwe is a minefield. If you feel strongly that the status of
species outlined herein is wrong, dont waste your time complaining or talking. Do
something! I would recommend that you proceed as follows:
- Get a permit and collect herbarium specimens from as many populations as you can. This
will provide the proof of any ideas you may have. Find a herbarium that will look after
your specimens in perpetuo.
- Take photographs in the field, and label them carefully. A large part of the problem is
that the features we see in the field disappear on the dead, squashed, gray, dusty
specimens used by taxonomists. Features that you notice in the field, should also be
carefully measured, and recorded, if possible. Remember that they will disappear or become
hard to see later in the herbarium.
- Look carefully at your specimens and photographs. If your argument is to have any
credibility, you will need to show that there are differences between the
taxa/species/subspecies that you are trying to distinguish. If you cannot find any
features, then there is probably no difference. A rule of thumb is that three unrelated
differences is good enough for a species, two or less is good only for a subspecies (no
overlap between populations), variety (as separate populations, but not geographically
distinct) or form (freak plants or where differences occur within a population). A
difference must be measurably different and not overlap much between the taxa concerned.
- Go and visit the problem species throughout its distribution. It is all very well to
show that a taxon on your farm is different from another on your neighbours, but if the
species as a whole is very variable, then you will need to show that the difference on
your farm is greater than the normal difference found within the species. Here lies the
- Dont despair! Visit the taxonomists, or invite them round. Present your arguments
and listen to theirs. Try and sort out their ideas of what delimits a species do
they rely only on morphological data, or are they proponents of speciation by isolation.
It is imperative that we have a single system of classification that everyone feels is
accurate and meaningful. On the other hand it is essential that special and distinct local
forms be given taxonomic recognition. The argument that there is too much variation or too
many local forms is not valid. It is more accurate to say that we do not have enough
taxonomists to tackle the task, or that such detailed studies are - at present - a luxury.
Remember, if it does not have a name it does not exist. Conservationists, horticulturists,
ecologists and biogeographers (and through them, politicians, lobbyists and planners) use
these names all the time. If you feel that the names are wrong or inadequate, then it is
up to you to get them put right. If necessary, do it yourself.
The shortage of taxonomists in the region is a problem. The more ideas, opinions,
discussion and interaction the better. We can never have too many taxonomists, whether
professional or amateur. It is imperative that you document your opinions, taking care to
meticulously record your justification. Science requires that you quantify and categorize
your ideas. Remember that gut feel is the first step. The next step is the exploration,
using measurements and special features, of proteas, of the country, of Africa. There is
no end, no final answer, no ultimate solution. Simply enjoy the voyage of discovery. Do
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