This is a beautiful shrub with silvery leaves and distinctive flowers.
Mimetes can be easily distinguished from all other Proteaceae.
The beauty and brilliance of their flowerheads, which are displayed
at the end of long, flowering branches, places Mimetes among
the most handsome and strikingly beautiful of all proteas.
Mimetes hottentoticus is a single-stemmed, erect shrub attaining
a height of 3 m. The loosely overlapping, oval leaves are silvery
and silky in texture. The flowers are arranged in between the leaves
at the ends of the branches. These 'floral leaves' surrounding the
flowers are oblong in shape and display a silvery pink colour, making
them brilliantly luminescent. The 60-70 mm long styles are the outstanding
feature of this species. They are brilliant red with a touch of
yellowish white just below the black pollen presenters, which form
a decorative 4 mm head. These prominent, match-like styles on a
silver Mimetes are so unique that the species can never be
confused with any other member of the genus. Mimetes hottentoticus
flowers from January to May (late summer to autumn), but peaks mainly
Distribution and ecology: Mimetes hottentoticus grows
on very high, steep, damp, southern slopes of the Kogelberg, ranging
from 1 000-1 260 m above sea level. The area is subject to high
rainfall over 2 000 mm a year, and this moisture is augmented by
regular envelopment in cool clouds rising from the sea.The southeast
cloud that regularly envelops the Kogelberg and the altitude play
an important role in cooling the habitat during the summer months.The
species has a very restricted habitat.It is confined to an area
of just over 5 kms2 on the Kogelberg Reserve, which is about 75
km southeast of Cape Town.
This species is known from only three populations, with the largest
population of plants on the upper southeast slopes of Kogelberg
Conservation status: Rare.
The plants grow in nutrient poor, acidic, sandy soils derived from
quartzitic rock. The plants are pollinated by long-tailed sugarbirds.
The nut-like seeds are released 2-6 months after flowering. The
seeds include a fleshy lump at the base of the nut called an elaiosome,
which is a rich food source that attracts indigenous ants. The ants
drag the fruits into their nests where the seeds are safely housed
until fire clears the competing vegetation. The heat of the fire
combined with the removal of covering vegetation and addition of
moisture stimulate the seeds to germinate.
Name and discovery: Mimetes derives its name from
a Greek word meaning 'to imitate'. This probably refers to the leaves,
which in size, shape, and arrangement are remarkably like those
of some species of other genera such as Leucospermum. For
example, the ends of the leaves of Leucospermum are toothed,
which is noticeable in five Mimetes species.
Thomas Pearson Stokoe (1868-1959), legendary mountaineer and plant
collector at the Cape, first encountered this species in its natural
habitat in November 1921. He subsequently returned to the locality
and collected flowering specimens at the end of February 1922. Specimens
were sent to Dr. E. P. Phillips at the National Herbarium in Pretoria.
This new discovery from the Kogelberg became known as Mimetes
hottentoticus, named after the Hottentots Holland Mountains
near where it occurs.
Growing Mimetes hottentoticus
Mimetes hottentoticus, like most Proteaceae is relatively
short-lived. The plant's life span rarely exceeds thirty years.
It has proved to be difficult to grow, as it is susceptible to various
root-affecting fungal diseases such as phytophthora. In 1977 Phillip
van der Merwe of the Cape Department of Nature Conservation pioneered
a technique of grafting this species onto Leucospermum conocarpodendron
rootstock. This pincushion displays the degree of hardiness needed
to protect the plant from diseases in the soil.
Grafting Mimetes: The technique is simple. There are a number
of different types of grafts, but the preferred one is called the
cleft graft because it provides a strong union between the rootstock
and the top part of the plant called the scion. The cleft graft
involves choosing a healthy rootstock with a stem approximately
15 mm in diameter and the wood still green. A fresh young shoot
is selected from the plant to be grafted. The shoot should be either
the same diameter as the rootstock or may be a bit thinner.
Equipment required is sharp clean scalpels, grafting or budding
tape (plastic), a broad-spectrum fungicide and wax or tree sealer.
The top of the rootstock plant is removed with one clean cut. A
single sharp vertical incision, about 30 mm is made into the top
of the cut surface of the rootstock. The cut surfaces are washed
with fungicide. A fresh, sturdy shoot approximately 60-100 mm long
is cut from the Mimetes plant and the basal leaves are removed.
The stem is pared on either side with single clean slices producing
a tapering wedge. This is inserted into the vertical cut and firmly
bound in position using the tape. Tree sealer or wax is used to
seal the cracks at the union to prevent water from penetrating the
graft and causing disease. A clear plastic bag is placed over the
graft to keep the humidity levels higher and prevent desiccation.
Hoops of wire support the plastic bag. The plant is then placed
in a protected position under cover. The area should not be too
warm, but the light conditions must be good.
The grafts must be closely monitored over the next few weeks. The
union between the rootstock and scion will take a number of weeks,
but a successful graft should be evident in three months. The plastic
is slit and slowly removed to allow the graft to adapt to its surroundings.
It is important that the rootstock is chosen from a disease-resistant
species and also a plant that assumes the same proportions as the
plant to be grafted onto it. If a large Protea such as M. hottentotticus
is grafted onto a smaller protea it will outgrow the rootstock in
diameter at the union, become too heavy, and the top part of the
plant will fall over.
The plant grows best in containers and when provided with light
shade in summer. This is probably because Mimetes hottentoticus
grows in cooler conditions at a relatively high altitude and also
receives the fresh sea breezes during the summer.
Dr Louis Vogelvoel has been one of the successful cultivators of
this species in his garden in Rondebosch. He has rooted cuttings
at his home and has displayed container grown specimens at Cape
Initiatives towards survival
ex situ conservation: Mimetes hottentoticus
can be grafted onto hardy rootstock and kept in collections at botanical
gardens, however the species is relatively short-lived and survival
is dependent on constant monitoring by experienced horticulturists.
Our experience is that this only works in the short term and it
is not a viable conservation solution. Storage of seeds in the Millenium
Seed Banks at Wisley is a much more viable option.
in situ conservation: protection of the natural
habitat is by far the best way to ensure survival. This includes
good field management practices and limited access to the sensitive
environment where this plant grows. In this respect the Cape Nature
Conservation Board is doing a good job. Particular care should be
taken to prevent over-burning of the habitat, which will result
in the depletion of the seedbank and ultimately in the loss of this
- REBELO, A.G. (Tony). 1995. Sasol Proteas. A field guide to
the proteas of southern Africa. Fernwood Press, Cape Town.
- ROURKE, J.P. & LINCOLN, T. 1982. Mimetes. An illustrated
account of Mimetes Salisb. and Orothamnus Pappe, two notable Cape
genera of the Proteaceae. Tiyan, Cape Town.
- ROURKE, J.P. 1984. A revision of the genus Mimetes Salisb.
(Proteaceae) Journal of South African Botany 50: 171-236.
- VOGTS, M. 1982. South Africa's Proteaceae. Know them
and grow them. Struik, Cape Town.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden