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Soul of Yellow, Protea in Kirstenbosch, South Africa | by Rana Pipiens
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Soul of Yellow, Protea in Kirstenbosch, South Africa

Leucospermum cuneiforme, common wart-stemmed pincushion protea; called 'cuneiforme' for its wedge-shaped foliage; Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa.

This is one of the many kinds of beautiful proteas of the South African coastal region which extends from Vanrynsdorp in the West to Port Elizabeth in the East; it flourishes especially well on acid, low nutrient soils such as those of the coastal hills and mountains. A close relation, the King Protea is the national flower of South Africa. After the apartheid era, the ANC-government changed the name of the official sporting organisations from Springboks to Proteas, with the exception of the rugby union name which retained the original name. Proteas immediately caught the eye of the first European settlers. Paintings of some 24 kinds were made by the first official botanist of the Company Gardens of Cape Town, Johannes Hartog (1663-1722), or possibly by his collaborator Heinrich Bernhard Oldenland (1663-1697). These were sent to Holland where they were brought to the attention of Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738), director of the Hortus Botanicus of the university at Leiden. He transformed the paintings into engravings and printed them in his catalogue of plants (1720). The great taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus shortly afterwards devised the name Protea for these magnificent flowers. He chose this derivation of the name of the Greek god Proteus on account of the many forms that god in myth was taken to assume (regrettably Boerhaave mixed some of the paintings up thus confusing Linnaeus a bit in his naming of individual kinds). The Kew Gardens near London began growing these colorful plants in the early 1780s. As for Hartog, he was a naturalist not only of plants but of animals, too. Also an intrepid explorer, he took part in an expedition to the then remotely interior Namaqualand, but he was also in the area of Hermanus. Everywhere he went he collected seeds and plants. He fell into some kind of disgrace after the tenure of Van der Stel as governor of the Cape, spending time in 'Dutch' Ceylon, and he finally expired far from home in Surinam, South America.

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Taken on December 26, 2007