Monday, March 31, 2014

South Africa 2. The Fabulous Proteaceae

A beautiful species of Mimetes, which I've seen
identified as either M. cuculloides or
M.  fimbrifolius
The spectacular South African spring owes much of its glory to the flowering trees and shrubs of the Proteacaeae.  This is an  odd family related most closely to the sycamore (Platanaceae) and lotus (Nelumbonaceae) families.  Strange bedfellows indeed!  The Proteaceae is strictly southern hemisphere and most diverse in Africa and Australia, with about 80 genera and 1600 species.  Australia has many colorful species of Banksia and Grevillea, as well as edible macadamia nuts.  We'll get to some of those in a later installment.  In South Africa, the diversity of this family is almost too much to contain within a single blog posting.

In bud, the flowers of Protea cynaroides
are enclosed in a cone-like series of

The flowers of the Proteaceae are mostly small, with tubular, nectar-filled bases, and most often grouped into compact heads. Many are surrounded by petal-like bracts, turning them in to compound flowers resembling those of the sunflower family. The Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden has a comprehensive collection, but many can be seen in the shrublands of the Fynbos in the region around Capetown. As is my custom, I will allow them to speak for themselves.  Enjoy!
The bud of Protea cynaroides opens like a large
sunflower to reveal the many small flowers packed inside.

One has to view the mysterious, dark, Protea nana  from below
to see its flowers. It is pollinated by rats attracted by its yeasty odor.
Protea scolymocephala looks like a member of the sunflower
family (Asteraceae) until you examine it closely.
Most members of the genus Leucospermum, like the
L. glabrum pictured here, do not have enclosing
bracts as do the  Proteas.
A pure yellow form of Leucospermum
The outer flowers of Leucospermum reflexum form a skirt at the base of
the flower head.
In Leucospermum oleifolium several small flower
heads share a bed of yellowish bracts.
In Leucodendron, like this L. elimense, the yellow-white
 bracts are conspicuous, but the flowers are not.
Leucodendron argenteum has green bracts and yellowish flowers.