The Cape Peninsula (around 470 sq km) has 2 285 flowering plant species. Table Mountain National Park alone has 1470 of these. Mountain fynbos dominates the park. It’s characterised by four main groups: protea shrubs with large leaves (proteoids), fine-leaved shrubs (ericoids), wiry, reed-like plants (restioids) and bulbous herbs (geophytes). We’ll introduce you to some plant species you can find within Table Mountain National Park, which includes the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.
Black-bearded Sugarbush (Protea lepidocarpodendron)
This protea has hairy, black and cream-white flowerheads that peek out through the dense foliage. It’s an upright shrub 2-3 m tall, densely bushy and well-branched from a single main stem.
Flowering takes place in late autumn and winter, April to August, peaking in June. It is most abundant on the Cape Peninsula where it is fairly common on the lower slopes from Lion’s Head to Cape Point. Protea lepidocarpodendron is Near Threatened, i.e. it is likely to be threatened with extinction in the wild in the near future. It has lost approximately 30% of its habitat over the past 60 years to property developments, roads and alien plants.
Waboom, Wagon Tree (Protea nitida)
It is the only Protea species to form large trees yielding usable timber. Generally, it is a slow growing, 5m tall tree with white-grey bark and a trunk diameter of up to 400 mm. Baboons would climb up the trees to feed on the nectar of the flowers, or baboon sentries would use trees as lookouts, and therefore the plant was given the name bobbejaansuikerbos. The wood was popular for the manufacture of ornamental furniture. It also made excellent charcoal. These days, however, the greatest use for P. nitida is as a garden specimen.
Common Sugarbush (Protea repens)
This is a sturdy, dense shrub, 1-4 m tall, with linear hairless leaves and fairly large oblong flowers ranging in colour from cream to deep red either during summer or winter, depending on the variant. It has a large amount of nectar produced by the flowers attracts birds, bees and other insects. The variety in plant size, habit, flower size and colour of the genus Protea was the reason it was named after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his shape at will. The species name of ‘repens’, meaning ‘creeping’ is misleading as Protea repens is an upright, much branched shrub, which normally grows to a height of 2.5 metres but can reach a height of 4.5 m.
Information source: pza.sanbi.org
Illustrations from Mary Matham Kidd, Cape Peninsula : South African Wild Flower Guide 3