Proteas

The protea family — Proteaceae — is one of the 3 characteristic fynbos families, and includes some of the most impressive flowers. The family includes an estimated 1700 species. The family includes some well-known genera, such as Protea, Leucospermum, Leucadendron, Serruria and Mimetes.

Baardsuikerbos

Black-bearded protea, Protea neriifolia
Black-bearded protea, Protea neriifolia

Protea neriifolia

This protea “was first discovered in 1597, was illustrated in 1605, and has the distinction of being the first protea ever to be mentioned in botanical literature”.[1]

Sightings: Cecilia Forest [June]

Black-bearded Sugarbush

Black-bearded Sugarbush, Protea lepidocarpodendron
Black-bearded Sugarbush, Protea lepidocarpodendron

Protea lepidocarpodendron

Sightings: Devil’s Peak [July]

Broad-leaved Sugarbush

Protea eximia (was Protea latifolia)

Spotted this gorgeous protea on the roadside whilst travelling on the back roads of Greyton. It looks nothing like a Sugarbush Protea, the flower head being more equal in size to a King Protea, and the size of the bush being large and tree-like in the fashion of a Waboom.

Sighting: Greyton [October]

Common Sugarbush

Protea repens

This Protea was South Africa’s national flower until 1976 — before the honor went to the King Protea. In Afrikaans it is known as the Suikerbos which is a common enough term: as in Suikerbossie Restaurant, and in the song “Suikerbos ek wil jou hê”. The Sugarbush generally occurs in large thickets. The flower varies in color from a pale yellow hue to bright pink.

Sightings: abundant at Silvermine [April], Lion’s Head [April], Genadendal Trail [June], Stanley’s Light Trail, Ladismith [April]

King Protea

Protea cynaroides

I cannot help being impressed each time I see a King Protea — South Africa’s national flower. This unmistakable protea can be flowering all year round in different areas.

Sightings: plentiful on back table of Table Mountain [April-May]; Greyton Private Nature Reserve; Day #2 Outeniqua Hiking Trail [August]

Mimetes pauciflorus

This beautiful plant is easily recognised as a member of the Mimetes genus of the family Proteaceae.

Sightings: Day #2 Outeniqua Hiking Trail [August]

Pagoda Bush

Mimetes cucullatus

The Pagoda Bush grows to a large-sized multi-stemmed shrub. The colorful parts of the plant are the bracts, not the flowers (same for most proteas). The white fluffy parts (see photo) are the actual flowers.

Sighting: Perdeberg Trail, Kogelberg [September]

Overberg Pincushion

Leucospermum oleifolium

We spotted these really pretty pincushions in the valley below Sleeping Beauty in the Langeberg Mountains behind Riversdale.

Sightings: Sleeping Beauty [August]; Perdeberg Trail [September]

Protea Coronata

Protea coronata

Protea coronata

The Protea coronata is easy to spot — it is the only protea on Table Mountain with a white centre. The head is tightly formed, and often obscured by leaves at the end of the stem, which are a beautiful, deep color, looking as though they had been steeped in red wine overnight.

Sightings: Vlakkenberg [March], Cecilia Ravine [June], Lion’s Head [April]

Protea laurifolia

Protea laurifolia
Protea laurifolia

I am not too certain that I have identified this protea correctly.

Sightings: Beaverlac [October]

Protea obtusifolia

I was super-excited when I saw this protea on the hill behind Cape L’Agulhas. A quick search online produced the following names: Bredasdorp protea, Limestone protea, Limestone sugarbush, Bredasdorpsuikerbos. The bracts are the most vividly coloured of any protea I have ever seen, and have a border of fine, silver-white hairs along the edge.

Sighting: Cape L’Agulhas [September]

Protea serruria

Protea serruria, Beaverlac, Cederberg
Protea serruria

Not entirely sure yet which species of Protea serruria this is — will have to do some more checking…

Sightings: Beaverlac [October]

Queen Protea

Queen protea, Protea magnifica, Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve
Queen protea, Protea magnifica

Protea magnifica

These beautiful proteas truly deserve both names “queen” and “magnifica”. Thriving at high altitude, they are able to withstand cold weather. The leaves are silvery in a similar fashion to the leaves of the Silver Tree.

Sightings: Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve [December]

Rocket Pincushion

Leucospermum reflexum

This spectacular protea could just as easily be some form of alien jellyfish, swimming in a sea of leaves. Found only the Cederberg Wilderness Area, the yellow form is extremely rare in nature, but both colours are commonly cultivated.

Sighting: Ramskop Wild Flower Garden [October]

Sickleleaf Conebush

Sickleleaf Conebush, Leucadendron xanthoconus
Sickleleaf Conebush, Leucadendron xanthoconus

Leucadendron xanthoconus

This is the most abundant protea on the Peninsula, and often colors an entire mountain slope in yellow.

Sightings: Table Mountain [August]

Silvertree

Silvertrees, Leucadendron argenteum
Silvertrees, Leucadendron argenteum

Leucadendron argenteum

Most fynbos consists of small plants and shrubs, and the Silvertree is one of the few that reaches any great size. They generally reach a height of between 5 and 7 metres, with some growing a lot taller.

They occur naturally on Table Mountain, with satellite populations in Paarl and Stellenbosch that may have been planted early in the Cape’s history.

Like all Leucadendrons, this tree is dioecious, with separate male and female plants.

Sightings: Lion’s Head, Kirstenbosch

Snow protea

Protea cryophila

We found a few of these rare proteas on our Driehoek to Crystal Pools and Sneeukop Hike. In fact, we found a number of interesting plants at the top of Engelsmanskloof where it reaches the area known as Die Trap (The Step).

It is very rare and only occurs at altitude in a small area of the Cederberg Mountains.

Sightings: Sneeukop

Wagon Tree

Protea nitida

This is commonly known as a Waboom (Afrikaans “wa” = “wagon”, “boom” = “tree”). It can grow to the size of a tree, and supposedly the good folk trekking across the country uprooted them and tied them to the back of their wagons to act as brakes on steep descents. The largest bushes I have ever seen were the massive tree-sized specimens in Uilsgatkloof in the Central Cederberg. Very common on the Cape Peninsula.

Sightings: Pipe-track [late – April]; between Vlakkenberg and East Fort [May]; Cecilia Ravine [June]; Uilsgatkloof, Central Cederberg [November]

Common Wild Flowers of Table Mountain Field Guide to Fynbos iSpot logo
  1. PlantZAfrica