Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Proteas - King & Others

The name 'Protea' was derived from the name of a Greek god, Proteus, who could change his appearance or shape at will, because proteas have such a variety of forms in plant & flower size, habit as well as colour. If I compare the photos I took so far of our National Flower, the King (or Giant) protea, the above "holds true" for this flower alone! [Compare other King protea-photos - SEE below]

Although protea blooms look like flowers they in fact are "flower-heads" that contain many small individual flowers - therefore what looks like petals are modified leaves! The King protea has flowerheads measuring up to 30cm across & the colour varies from near white to soft, silvery-pink to deep rose-pink or crimson.

Another look at a King protea & "bud" - apart from the wide variety, the leaves of these plants also differ: they are either leathery & mostly narrow, whilst others are needle-like. 92% of the protea species occurs "naturally" only in the Cape Floral Kingdom or fynbos (Afrikaans; literally meaning "fine bush") region of South Africa.

A King protea "bud" - the Proteaceae family (to which proteas belong) are considered as 1 of the oldest families of flowers on Earth. Its "ancestors" already grew on the Super-Continent of Gondwanaland - so there are "shared" subfamilies amongst the continents, which seperated from each other about 135 million years ago: e.g. Africa shares 1 genus of Proteaceae with Madacascar, whereas South America & Australia share many (common) genera = indicating that they seperated from Africa BEFORE they seperated from each other!

No - this isn't yet another photo of a King protea. Instead it's a Protea Caffra (or Highveld protea) - a hardy plant (bush/shrub/small tree) that survives in regions with sub-zero tempteratures (at night) & thrives in the summer rainfall region. Its name is derived from Caffraria = the 17th Century geographical name for the north-eastern regions of South Africa.

This is (what I assume?) a protea bud of the Sugarbush protea family - I'm certainly no flora-expert & only enjoy sharing my photos & (limited or research-acquired) knowledge in this field, because I saw that my previous blog-entry on South African flora "attracted" more new visitors than most of my other blog-entries. Proteas are said to be "social" plants - meaning they occur in close proximity of other species, therefore forming close-knit communities.

The Sugarbush is 1 of the most widely distributed proteas in the Cape (fynbos & Renosterveld) Region & is usually a bushy shrub. It got its common name (instead of scientific name, Protea repens) because these flowers are particularly rich in nectar.
Did you know that until 1976, the Protea repens (= the "true" sugarbush) was South Africa's National Flower? It also inspired the well-known S.A. song (by Fred Michel): "Suikerbossie ek wil jou he..."

The flowers (= flower heads) of the Pincushion protea are usually yellow, orange or red & are mostly visited by sugarbirds & sunbirds - birds which mainly pollinate proteas, other than beetles in some cases, whilst fire also often helps to distribute seeds.

"Budding twins" of the Pincushion variety of protea.

One of the "pollinators" = a female Cape Sugarbird on a Bearded Grey-leaf sugarbush protea.

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