The genus is named for the Greek sea-god Proteus who could change
into many different shapes. The name refers to the great diversity
within the genus. The specific name derives from an old name for
eastern and central regions of South Africa, Kaffraria, where the
The common sugar bush is one of three proteas which occur in the
Witwatersrand area. It is the most widely distributed protea in
South Africa and may be found in grassland and woodland throughout
Gauteng, in parts of Kwazulu Natal, Lesotho, Northern Province,
Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape as far south as the Katberg mountains
and in Zimbabwe. It is usually found growing in large colonies especially
on rocky ridges.
grows as a shrub or small tree with a somewhat rounded crown and
is common in the natural areas of the botanical garden. The grey-green
leaves are elongated with nearly parallel sides. They are leathery
in texture and may be up to 250mm in length.
flower heads (which may be mistaken for individual flowers) can
be borne singly or in clusters. They reach up to 80mm in diameter
with the outer bracts (resembling petals) varying from reddish to
pink or cream in colour. Many tiny, single flowers are clustered
together in the flower head. When pollinated each flower forms a
small nut which is covered in rich reddish brown hairs.
The thick bark has a chunky, corky texture. It protects the mature
plant from the fires that are essential to the maintenance of the
grasslands in which the common sugar bushes grow.
Caterpillars of Capys penningtoni (Pennington's protea) and
Capys disjunctus butterflies feed on the flowerbuds. The
copious nectar (from which the plant derives its common name - sugarbush)
attracts birds and insects such as beetles which pollinate the flowers.
Growing Protea caffra
Cultivation has so far proven to be difficult. The germination
of seed in cultivation is possible, however, transplanting quickly
kills the seedlings.
Mature sugarbushes in gardens where the original, natural vegetation
has been retained also eventually succumb. This may be due to the
disturbance of the roots, too much water and sensitivity to fertilisers.
It is best to avoid any cultivation around the base of the plant.
The bark is used reportedly used for medicinal purposes.
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden