The beautiful varieties of Protea spp. In the Western Cape, South Africa, are a joy to see.

Protea bud

I was reminded of this during a recent visit to Cape Town, where many of these flowers are for sale by the bucketful at the moment.

It is the versatility of the protea genus that led Carl Linnaeus to name it after the Greek god, Proteus, in 1735. Proteus had the ability to change his shape at will. His name is also linked to the word PROTEAN, which means either to display considerable variety or diversity, or refers to a person or thing that readily assumes different shapes or forms.

King Protea

I wonder if clouds can be described as being protean.


Shape-changers / shape-shifters are not only common in mythology and folklore, but in modern cartoons too. I was watching some of the latter on television with an eight-year-old and was struck by her unquestioning acceptance of the various characters’ abilities to change their shape or form to suit the action required of them. Granted, some of us grew up with Superman (Clark Kent nonetheless had to divest himself of his outer clothing in a telephone booth before soaring off) and Batman.

Then there is the diet of shape-shifters who use their protean abilities to change from a human form to an animal form or the other way round. We learn about them from our mothers’ knee: an innocent example comes to mind of the princess kissing the frog!



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