Burchell's Sugarbush

Scientific Name
Protea burchellii Stapf
Higher Classification
Protea pulchella Andrews (later homonym), not of Schrad. & J.C.Wendl. (1796), Protea pulchella Andrews var. undulata E.Phillips, Protea pulchra Rycroft, Protea subpulchella Stapf
Common Names
Burchell's Sugarbush (e)
National Status
Status and Criteria
Vulnerable A2c+3c+4c
Assessment Date
A.G. Rebelo, H. Mtshali & L. von Staden
Protea burchellii is endemic to the Cape Floral Region of South Africa. It has experienced a minimum of a 30% decline in the past three generations (45 to 60 years) as a result of 73% of its habitat being transformed mainly for agriculture. Habitat loss continues, particularly as a result of expansion in wine and olive production across this species' range. There is an ongoing reduction to the population, with future reduction over the next three generations also likely to cause a decline in excess of 30% to the population. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable under criteria A.
South African endemic
Provincial distribution
Western Cape
It is endemic to the Western Cape Province of South Africa, occurring from the Hottentots Holland to Olifants River Mountains and on the lowlands from the Cape Flats to Hopefield. Isolated subpopulations occur on the Witzenbergvlakte, Piketberg and in the upper Breede River Valley.
Habitat and Ecology
Major system
Major habitats
Peninsula Shale Fynbos, Swartland Alluvium Fynbos, Northern Inland Shale Band Vegetation, Western Coastal Shale Band Vegetation, Leipoldtville Sand Fynbos, Hopefield Sand Fynbos, Atlantis Sand Fynbos, Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, Breede Alluvium Fynbos, Peninsula Granite Fynbos, Swartland Shale Renosterveld, Breede Shale Fynbos, Cape Winelands Shale Fynbos, Elgin Shale Fynbos, Swartland Silcrete Renosterveld, Swartland Granite Renosterveld, Peninsula Shale Renosterveld, Western Ruens Shale Renosterveld, Breede Shale Renosterveld, Boland Granite Fynbos
This species' habitat is variable, but it predominantly favours richer soils, 100-900 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.
Protea burchellii is threatened by habitat loss to timber plantations and agriculture, mainly from cereals, vines, olives, fruit and buchu cultivation. It has also lost its habitat to gravel mining, and urban development around Cape Town and Stellenbosch. About 73% of its habitat is already irreversibly modified, and there is continuing transformation of its habitat (4% habitat loss recorded between 1990 and 2014). Very few subpopulations are protected. Increase in wine and olive production are the main cause of its recent and continuing decline. In the Hottentots Holland and Jonkershoek it has lost habitat to commercial timber plantations in the past, and remaining subpopulations are mainly threatened by escaped pine seedlings and other invasive species spreading uncontrolled into remaining wild fynbos, where they outcompete native species. Field observations noted hybridization with P. laurifolia and P. neriifolia. In 1996 massive mortality occurred in the Stellenbosch area following a Sulphur fire in December 1995 at Somerset West (Rebelo 1996).

The loss of P. burchelliiís habitat reflects its ecotonal distribution and the ongoing loss of granite fynbos at lower altitudes. However, it is still very common all over its range, and is still common enough for its status as a threatened species to appear, at first sight, odd. Its continued loss should be carefully monitored as it is suspected to be ongoing and severe. A population reduction of at least 30% is estimated based on a 73% habitat loss predominantly to agriculture. Given that it occurs in habitats only marginally suitable to cultivation, most habitat loss probably occurred relatively recently within the past 45 to 60 years. P. burchellii was common on the lower slopes of Table Mountain and at Sea Point and Devils Peak, but it appeared that it went extinct at the turn of the century (Anon, 1992). It was re-introduced in the early 1900s (Moll, 1992), and although thriving it is currently hybridizing with P. laurifolia and P. neriifolia, alien proteas that were established at the same time. It was also introduced at Silvermine for quarry rehabilitation, where it is hybridizing with the natural P. lepidocarpodendron. However, although the species has been reintroduced, the Cape Peninsula genotype is considered extinct.

Population trend
It is conserved in the Wittebrug, Waterval, Pella, Paarl Mountain, Hottentotís Holland and Helderberg Nature Reserves, and in the Elandsberg Private Nature Reserve.
Assessment History
Taxon assessed
Status and Criteria
Citation/Red List version
Protea burchellii StapfVU A2c+3c+4cRaimondo et al. (2009)

Anonymous. 1992. Channel-leaf Featherbush Aulax cancellata again! Rediscovered on the front of Table Mountain. Protea Atlas Newsletter 14:5.

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.

Moll, E. 1992. Burchells Protea Protea burchellii and others on Table Mountain. Protea Atlas Newsletter 15:6.

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. 1996. Acid Rain. Protea Atlas Newsletter 30:12.

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

Rebelo, A.G., Mtshali, H. & von Staden, L. 2020. Protea burchellii Stapf. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version . Accessed on 2024/04/17

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Distribution map

© D. van der Colff

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