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Protea nubigena CLOUD PROTEA in the Drakensberg

Protea Atlas LogoAccording to those people who introduced me to the Cloud Protea it is to be found in an area of less than 1 ha. After exploring the area several times, this is also my impression. The population seems to consists of 3 or 4 sister populations, each within 30-50 m of the others and each consisting of between 10 and 50 plants. Each plant is actually a little bush with about 20 basal "stems". The population looks healthy and is going strong with lots of flower heads and fruit heads each year. There seems to be little problem with germination, although I haven't found any seedlings in its habitat: all small plants are mere off-branchings from the mother plant. Nevertheless, the difficulties imposed by the inaccessibility of the terrain make it very difficult to look around in the area in a thorough way. There may still be (and I hope so very much) some other pockets in this part of the Drakensberg where Pr nubi thrives. It may be that on Butterfly Ridge, below the Sentinel, they are at their highest altitudinal limits (2350-2400 masl). Perhaps one should look for them further down, next to water courses. Their habitat is quite different from the surroundings: it is on a very steep rock face (about 60-65o slope), but with an accumulation of deep black soil. It receives sunshine only in the first half of the day. The accompanying vegetation is that of moist places or boulder-bed scrub (i.e. Cliffortia filicaulides and nitidula, Erica algida and Ranunculus baurii (=cooperi), which may suggest the presence of the species at other moist places or adjacent boulder scrub. This almost vertical cliff face has escaped fires. Almost all fires are man-made and very frequent in the whole of the Drakensberg area. Therefore also this accumulation of fine soil, derived from both biotic and abiotic material, is quite unusual.

However, my line of research is not so much the botany, but more the arthropod fauna of the proteas. I can thus say that there are also a few new and interesting species of insects associated with the Cloud Protea. But that I shall deal with in a future issue.

You may be aware of the number of huge blazes in the Drakensberg area, from Sani Pass to Mont Aux Sources, burning thousands of hectares of natural vegetation. On large areas there will thus be no proteas flowering this coming season. All the fires were man-made, a lot of them by officials of the Natal Parks Board - whose nature conservation policy is to burn whole "pristine wilderness area" on a biennual rotation. This policy kills young proteas! I wonder whether one shouldn't strongly suggest that the Natal Parks Board revise their present burning policies.

Istvan Pajor, Cathedral Peak

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