The Cape Floristic Region is known for its extraordinary plant diversity and for the gems that can be found amongst it. One of these gems is Protea stokoei, a pink beauty which can be found on certain mountain ranges of the Cape.
Protea stokoei grows to a height of 2 m, but under ideal conditions can grow to a height of 3 m. It is an erect shrub and is sparsely branched. As in many proteas, the leaves are thick and leathery and are oval in shape. They are 90–160 mm long and 10–60 mm wide, with a round, almost pointed tip and red margin. Young leaves are hairy, but as they mature they tend to lose this feature.
It is a winter-flowering species and flowers mainly in May and June, however some flowers can be seen until October depending on the habitat. The so called flowers are flowerheads surrounded by colourful bracts and contain numerous thread-like flowers. The flowerheads are oblong, 90–130 mm long, 50–70 mm wide and look similar to those of Protea speciosa. They never open fully. The flower bracts are soft pink with brown-bearded tips.
Protea stokoei is listed as endangered. It is serotinous, meaning that it keeps its seedheads unopened until a fire passes through and only then releases the seeds. In order for this species to survive it needs to flower and set sufficient seed before the next fire. According to Tony Rebelo :
Protea stokoei is an exception, and flowers at about 7 years for the first time, thus the veld will be ready to burn at about 11 years for this species to maintain a constant population. Too-frequent fires will reduce the population and too-long fires will result in it shading out all the other plants. Some populations flower at younger ages, but this is about average. It is exceptional and one of the slowest of the species. Its habitat though is one in which fires often skip its rocky outcrops, so that often it only burns every second fire. (Tony Rebelo pers. comm. May 2010)
Distribution and habitat
It can be found on the Kogelberg, Hottentots Holland and Groenland mountain ranges. It grows in peaty, well-drained soil in areas with high rainfall.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
In 1921 E. Phillips first identified Protea stokoei as Protea speciosa due to their similarities, however after further investigation, he saw the differences and named it after Thomas Pearson Stokoe, a man well known for his discoveries and mountaineering in the Kogelberg and Hottentots-Holland mountains, as well as for his contributions to science and the horticultural world.
In 1735 Carl Linnaeus named the proteas after Proteus, a mythological Greek god who could change into many forms, just like the many different forms and species one finds in the Proteaceae family. Proteas represent the biggest genus of the family in South Africa and most of them can be found in the winter rainfall region.
Sugarbirds are the only known pollinators of this species; they seem to enjoy the sweet nectar and often visit the flowers during the flowering season.
Uses and cultural aspects
Protea stokoei is known for its striking flowerheads which have a good vase-life. If one can get it to grow, it makes a very good garden specimen.
Growing Protea stokoei
As this is a difficult species to propagate and grow, asexual propagation or smoke treatment are the preferred methods.
Sow seeds in March (autumn) as this is the time of year when the temperature fluctuates and dormancy in seed is broken. Fill a seed tray with fynbos soil (which consists of 25% pine bark, 25% loam soil and 50% coarse river sand) as the rooting medium, evenly sow seeds and cover with a fine layer of soil. The old-fashioned, tried and tested smoke treatment is used at the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden to assist with germination; however smoke discs can also be used. It takes about 3 months before any signs of germination will appear. Once germinated, spray the seedlings with a fungicide in order to prevent any loss. Plant seedlings into individual planting bags and feed with a liquid fertiliser in order to strengthen the roots and for general growing needs.
The best time to plant your plants in your garden is during the autumn months (in the winter rainfall areas) as this gives the plant enough time to stabilise and prepare itself for the harsh dry summers. Protea stokoei grows best in cool areas and needs to be protected from frost. It is a slow-growing plant and is said to flower even more slowly.
Even though the plants grow in naturally moist areas, they are susceptible to root rot. Therefore, select a cool area in your garden which has well-drained, composted soil. Plant amongst other fynbos species such as Protea speciosa, Mimetes cucullatus, Erica fastigiata and Leucadendron gandogeri.
References and further reading
- Johns, A & Slingsby, P. 2009. T. P. Stokoe, the man, the myths, the flowers. Baardskeerder, Muizenberg, Cape Town.
- Eliovson, S. 1965. Proteas forpleasure. How to grow and identify them. Howard Timmins, Cape Town.
- Matthews, L. 1993. Proteas of the world. Bok Books, Durban, in association with David Bateman Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
- Robelo, T. 2001. Proteas. A field guide to the proteas of Southern Africa, edn 2. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg.
- Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden