Thistle Sugarbush

Scientific Name
Protea scolymocephala (L.) Reichard
Higher Classification
Common Names
Thistle Sugarbush (e)
National Status
Status and Criteria
Vulnerable B1ab(iii,iv,v)+2ab(iii,iv,v)
Assessment Date
A.G. Rebelo, D. Raimondo & L. von Staden
Protea scolymocephala is endemic to lowland areas of the Cape Floral Region and has an extent of occurrence (EOO) of 18 030 km², and area of occupancy (AOO) of 576-604 km². It has been impacted by agriculture, inappropriate fire management, alien invasive plants and a host of additional pressures across its range and the population is declining. More than 50% of the population occurs as small subpopulations in isolated remnants of vegetation. Ongoing monitoring is needed to determine the reduction rate of this species. It currently qualifies for listing as Vulnerable under criterion B.
South African endemic
Provincial distribution
Western Cape
It is endemic to the Western Cape Province, South Arica, where it occurs from Gifberg to the Cape Peninsula and through the Overberg to Hermanus.
Habitat and Ecology
Major system
Major habitats
Saldanha Flats Strandveld, Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos, Nardouw Sandstone Fynbos, Graafwater Sandstone Fynbos, Bokkeveld Sandstone Fynbos, Hangklip Sand Fynbos, Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, Atlantis Sand Fynbos, Hopefield Sand Fynbos, Leipoldtville Sand Fynbos, Lourensford Alluvium Fynbos
Protea scolymocephala is a sandy flats and coastal lowlands species, often occurring near drainage lines and seepage areas, 0-400 m. Mature individuals are killed by fires, and only seeds survive. Wind-dispersed seeds are stored in fire-resistant inflorescences, and released after fires. It is pollinated by birds and rodents.
About 46% of this species' habitat is already irreversibly modified, predominantly due to historical habitat loss to agricultural expansion around Aurora, Hopefield, Atlantis, and on the Cape Flats. Loss is also due to urban expansion in the Cape Town, Atlantis and Gordon's Bay areas. There is ongoing habitat conversion with a further 7% lost between 1990 and 2014. Landcover change data drastically underestimates actual loss of habitat which has been compounded by severe degradation of habitat by competition with invasive alien plants. With no spatial data showing degraded areas, proportion of habitat lost can not be accurately measured but is suspected to exceed 30% in the past three generations. Additional threats include lack of appropriate fire management, either from too infrequent or frequent fires, increased mole rat activity associated with disturbance, mowing of road verges and under power lines, and unexplained population decline. Ongoing monitoring is needed as increasing prolonged droughts in the Western Cape increase pressure on groundwater resources, on which this seep-preferring species is dependent.

With severe habitat loss and degradation occuring across this species range, all remaining subpopulations occur in isolated fragments. More than 50% of the subpopulations are small and declining. Subpopulations in the northern part of its range are small and remain in severely degraded fragments, whereas in the south the majority of the subpopulations are small but a handful of large subpopulations (100-1000 plants) do remain. These are also all declining, however, due to inappropriate fire management and competition with invasive alien plants.

Population trend
This species is found within the Riverlands, Pella nature reserves and in the Table Mountain National Park.
Assessment History
Taxon assessed
Status and Criteria
Citation/Red List version
Protea scolymocephala (L.) ReichardVU A2cRaimondo et al. (2009)

Goldblatt, P. and Manning, J.C. 2000. Cape Plants: A conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.

Manning, J.C. and Goldblatt, P. 2012. Plants of the Greater Cape Floristic Region 1: The Core Cape Flora. Strelitzia 29. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Raimondo, D., von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. and Manyama, P.A. 2009. Red List of South African Plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Rebelo, T. 2001. Sasol Proteas: A field guide to the proteas of southern Africa. (2nd ed.). Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.

Rebelo, A.G., Raimondo, D. & von Staden, L. 2020. Protea scolymocephala (L.) Reichard. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version . Accessed on 2024/04/17

Comment on this assessment Comment on this assessment
Distribution map

© C. Merry

© C. Paterson-Jones

© C. Paterson-Jones

Search for images of Protea scolymocephala on iNaturalist