Saddleback Sugarbush

Scientific Name
Protea comptonii Beard
Higher Classification
Common Names
Barberton Mountain Sugarbush (e), Barberton Sugarbush (e), Barbertonse Bergsuikerbos (a), Barberton-suikerbos (a), Compton-se-suikerbos (a), Saddleback Sugarbush (e)
National Status
Status and Criteria
Vulnerable C1+2a(i)
Assessment Date
A.G. Rebelo, H. Mtshali & L. von Staden
Protea comptonii has a small population of 3150-6300 plants. Most subpopulations are small, consisting of fewer than 200 plants. The largest subpopulation in the Barberton region has several hundred plants, but less than 1000 mature individuals. Monitoring indicates that there is continuing decline in KwaZulu-Natal. There has been a 23-28% decline to the population over the past three generations. It therefore qualifies for listing as Vulnerable under criterion C.
Not endemic to South Africa
Provincial distribution
KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga
This species is known from two isolated areas, occurring in the mountains south of Barberton in eastern Mpumalanga, and adjacent areas in north-western Eswatini. It is absent across southern Mpumalanga and Eswatini, but occurs in the hills around Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Habitat and Ecology
Major system
Major habitats
Ithala Quartzite Sourveld, Northern Zululand Mistbelt Grassland, Barberton Montane Grassland
It occurs on quartz outcrops on steep, south-facing slopes in montane grassland, 700-1800 m. It is a long-lived species, and survives fires by resprouting from aerial stems. Wind-dispersed seeds are not stored on the plant, and are released immediately after ripening. It is pollinated by birds.
In the mountains around Barberton, this species' habitat has been fragmented through loss to timber plantations in the past. About 26% of this species' habitat is irreversibly modified, mainly in the Barberton region. Most remaining habitat in the Barberton Mountains is now protected in the Songimvelo and Barberton nature reserves, and there is no longer any significant loss to timber plantations. Subpopulations outside protected areas occur mainly on land owned by commercial forestry companies or mines. There is a renewed interest in mining in the Barberton area, and at least two subpopulations are potentially threatened by habitat loss to prospecting and mining. There is livestock grazing in some parts of the Songimvelo Game Reserve, which is causing a degradation of grasslands, as well as aiding the spread of alien invasive plants. Protea comptonii is unlikely to be impacted by livestock, which prefers grass, but it has declined in Ithala Nature Reserve due to browsing by wild antelope. In Ithala Nature Reserve it is also declining due to too frequent fires (biennial burns). In Eswatini, it is threatened by competition from alien invasive plants, too frequent fires, and habitat loss to mining.

Protea comptonii was formerly common in the Barberton Mountains, but the population has been much reduced and fragmented due to historical habitat loss to timber plantations. It now persists in grassland fragments between plantations, and most subpopulations are small, consisting of a few hundred plants. The largest subpopulation occurs in the Songimvelo Nature Reserve near the border with Eswatini, where there are several hundred plants. It is estimated that there are around 2000-5000 plants in Mpumalanga. It is known from three locations in Eswatini, but at two of these, the subpopulations are continuous across the border with Mpumalanga Province. It is estimated that there are around 200 plants in Eswatini. In KwaZulu-Natal, it is now locally extinct in the Vryheid hills, and only persists in the Ithala Nature Reserve. In this area, there are five to eight small subpopulations, each with 30-180 mature individuals, totalling 1100. It is a long-lived species (generation length 50-100 years), and a past population reduction of 23-28% is inferred from the extent of habitat loss over three generations (150-300 years). It is declining across its range due to ongoing habitat loss and degradation, particularly from inappropriate fire management. The total population is estimated to consist of between 3150-6300 plants.

Population trend
It is well conserved in Ithala Game Reserve. The upgrading of the Barberton road to Eswatini was managed with the conservation of this species in mind.
Assessment History
Taxon assessed
Status and Criteria
Citation/Red List version
Protea comptonii BeardVU C2a(i)2020.1
Protea comptonii BeardNT A2cRaimondo et al. (2009)
Protea comptonii BeardVU Scott-Shaw (1999)
Protea comptonii BeardVulnerable Hilton-Taylor (1996)
Protea comptonii BeardRare Hall et al. (1980)

Boon, R. 2010. Pooley's Trees of eastern South Africa. Flora and Fauna Publications Trust, Durban.

Hall, A.V., De Winter, M., De Winter, B. and Van Oosterhout, S.A.M. 1980. Threatened plants of southern Africa. South African National Scienctific Programmes Report 45. CSIR, Pretoria.

Hilton-Taylor, C. 1996. Red data list of southern African plants. Strelitzia 4. South African National Botanical 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.

Schmidt, E., Lotter, M. and McCleland, W. 2002. Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana, Johannesburg.

Scott-Shaw, C.R. 1999. Rare and threatened plants of KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring regions. KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service, Pietermaritzburg.

Rebelo, A.G., Mtshali, H. & von Staden, L. 2019. Protea comptonii Beard. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version . Accessed on 2024/07/22

Comment on this assessment Comment on this assessment
Distribution map

© S.P. Fourie

© D.R. McKenzie

Search for images of Protea comptonii on iNaturalist