Protea: The most exciting flower

Protea: The most exciting flower

EThere are few things that can still really surprise modern people. Not even the announcement of a bombshell tell-all book by a member of the British royal family has sparked any real excitement. We’ve been through a media flood of cat memes, fireworks videos and clips from Cristiano Ronaldo, confusing his future gaming homeland Saudi Arabia with South Africa, oversaturated and jaded. What do you really see for the first time?

Johanna Kuroczik

Editor in the “Science” department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.

However, such a moment of true surprise caught up with me recently. As you can already guess, it was about plants. I was browsing the flower shop when I discovered the monster flower. The stalk was more like a stick, the flower as big as a child’s head. She looked like a pink pineapple with orange tufts. The inside of the basket-shaped and probably still half-closed flower consisted of light pink threads that, unlike the robust outside, were cuddly soft. In fact, as a seasoned researcher, I found out the flowers are called sugar bushes. However, not because of their soft, fluffy resemblance to cotton candy, but because they attract birds with their sugar-sweet nectar.

Many colors, little fragrance

The pink giant flower is a protea. The Swedish botanist Carl von Linné gave the flower this name in 1735, as a reference to the Greek god Proteus, who can change his shape at will. Because no protea flower looks exactly like the other. I can only speak for the bucket in the Frankfurt flower shop, but travel blogs about South Africa confirm Linnaeus.

Protea is native to the southern Cape country. Of 130 known species, more than half grow around Cape Town. The world’s largest variety of sugar bush can be found on Jonaskopf, a mountain two hours from Cape Town. In spring they bloom in all colors: pink, white, red, orange and yellow. The protea is so pretty, says a story from South Africa, that it doesn’t need to spread scents – and in fact sugar bushes are odorless.

Even without fragrance is the king protea, Protea cynaroides, the national flower of South Africa. In addition to all kinds of hotels and restaurants, the national team is also in the cricket named after her. According to a newspaper article, there was also a debate about naming the rugby team Proteas. But the officials were strictly against it: after all, rugby is an expression of brute force, the players push, throw each other with all their might and fight for the ball. Real guys! They can’t possibly be called like a pink flower.

South Africa's rugby team preferred to be named after springbok, the national animal, rather than the pink nationa flower.

South Africa’s rugby team preferred to be named after springbok, the national animal, rather than the pink nationa flower.

Image: AFP

South African cricketers have no need of such displays of outmoded notions of macho masculinity. They play, after all, a sport in which each game can traditionally be interrupted for tea time, and are often quite chubby for professional athletes. The Proteas research made me watch a cricket game for the first time and I was then relieved to read that it wasn’t because of my media indifference: cricket is officially dull. Even in England, the national sport was ranked third among the most boring sports in a poll. Maybe because the rules are quite complicated or because a classic game lasts five days. Five days! A game! Incidentally, the longest game of all time took place in 1939 between the Proteas of South Africa and the national team of England. It lasted nine days and only ended because the English had to start their return journey. That’s a surprising fact!

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