Not all Protea species belong to the fairest Cape. The Drakensberg and many other areas of Southern Africa (usually at higher altitudes) are home to this iconic South African shrub or sometimes small tree. Our Mpati mountain is host to two species of Protea namely Protea caffra and Protea simplex.
These two Natal Proteas have similar flowers, often indistinguishable from one another. Protea caffra is a larger shrub however, sometimes reaching 8m, whereas Protea simplex remains much smaller, rarely exceeding a metre. Protea simplex is also distinguished by its leaves which cluster around the branches – not all pointed in one direction. Its stems are also thinner than the more robust protea caffra. P caffra flowers from October to January, while P simplex flowers from December to March.
Two years ago, after posting some beautiful photographs of our Protea simplex on a facebook indigenous plants group, the Millenium seed bank (working with SANBI) contacted me and asked me to take two conservationists to the site of these proteas in order to collect some of the seed. This was the first time that seed for this particular Protea ( P simplex) would be collected by the seed bank.
A very happy morning was spent walking the mountain and collecting seed and specimens with these two botanical conservationists – Sibahle Gumede and Mpho Mathalauga. Both these lovely and dedicated conservationists were astounded by the diversity the mountain had to offer and were a hive of information – which to the delight of a plant enthusiast like myself, they shared generously.
Another apt name for these proteas are ‘Natal sugar bushes’ because many birds and insects love to feast on the sweet sugary nectar they provide. I decided to honour our lovely P simplex with this painting done in acrylic and water colour onto a canvas board. The bird pollinator painted is a female Malachite sun bird.