Walk Report – May 2018

– By Tim Attwell (21 April 2018)

The great thing about the Hanneshoek Trail is its accessibility. It’s easy going, short and gets you into one of the most Protea rich areas around. Because you can take your time, that’s what we did.

Situated on the lower mountain slopes above the Kleinmond Golf Course, this gem of a walk plunges you almost immediately into one of the most spectacular stands of Protea compacta, aka Bot River Protea, that you will find anywhere.

It’s easy for us residents of the southern coastal part of the Kogelberg to be a bit blasé about this apparently abundant local beauty, until we pay attention. SANBI’s Red List of South African Plants lists it as ‘Near Threatened’. The reason, they say, is a 35% reduction of its range in recent years due to urban expansion, agriculture and invasion by alien plants – and population decline is expected to continue. SANBI’s hugely informative website, Plantzafrica (pza.sanbi.org), tells us that Protea compacta’s natural habitat is ‘a relatively narrow zone along the south-western Cape coast…with virtually all plants found between sea level and 100 metres’. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that puts them smack in the path of coastal property development. So we paused a moment to marvel at their abundance before it’s too late.

Protea compacta Bot River Protea

But P. compacta was not the only purpose of our walk. The area also showcases several other Protea species which we hoped to see – it being the beginning of autumn and that time of year when Proteas really start coming into their own.

Well, it was a bit like pitching up at a party too early. There was a lot of preparation going on, but the music hadn’t started. Buds there were aplenty, of Protea longifolia (long-leaf Protea), P. lepidocarpodendron (black-bearded Protea) and P. neriifolia (narrow-leaf Protea). Full flowering was still a few weeks away.

Now here’s a thing; P. lepidocarpodendron, like its beautiful cousin P. compacta, is also Near Threatened, and for the same reasons. But wait! There is more. P. lepidocarpodendron has a tendency to hybridise with P. neriifolia, which of course poses a threat to both species. And sure enough, we were presented with a number of hybrid puzzles on the Hanneshoek Trail. ‘Is it P. lepidocarpodendron? No, wait! It’s P. neriifolia.’ Well, it turns out it was both.

The jury is still out on whether or not hybridisation is a harmless phenomenon – and the argument can get quite heated! Especially between nurserymen and botanists, who call such hybrids ‘frankenflora’. We do know that the historical distributions of P. lepidocarpodendron and P. neriifolia made it unlikely that they came into contact in the old days. Human agency has brought that about. Hmmm…much to ponder.

Saltera sarcocolla Brickleaf or Vlieëbos

As we wandered and pondered, we did stop to admire other stuff like Saltera sarcocolla (Brickleaf or Vlieëbos), Tritoniopsis lata, Erica sessiliflora and Erica cerinthoides and, of course other representatives of the protea family, Protea repens (Sugarbush, Suikerbossie) – white and red varieties – a charming old friend, Protea cordata with its brown flowers hidden at the base, Diastella fraterna and Aulax umbellata, male and female.

Aulax umbellata, Featherbush – female

And we got back in time to do the Saturday morning shopping!