Protea – Symbolizes diversity & courage. Signifies daring and resourcefulness and can stand for change and transformation.
The amazing variety in the size and habit of the plants, and in the size, colour and shape of the flowers of the genus Protea was the reason it was named after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his shape at will.
The Proteaceae are an ancient family, probably one of the oldest groups of flowering plants. Scientific probes into the early history of plant life have shown that the ancestors of today’s Protea were present 300 million years ago.
Protea are best represented in South Africa along the south and south western coastal mountain ranges. The other sub-family is located along the south and south western coastal areas of Australia. No genus is naturally common to both South Africa and Australia. In these areas the flowers are mostly harvested in the wild, though in later years many flower plantations have sprung up for the commercial growing of the flowers. Not all species are commercially viable for one reason or the other.
These beautiful flowers were first grown in the United States in San Diego North County, as well as some ranches in the Santa Barbara area about forty years ago. They were later grown in Hawaii. The climate and soil in these places most nearly duplicates their natural habitat. While most growers in this area are small farmers with 5 acres or less, there are also several large ranches. These beautiful flowers are shipped from here all over the United States, Japan and Europe.
There are many different types of Proteas, here’s some info on a few specific varieties:
Leucospermum cordifolium (Pincushion)
Indigenous to South Africa, it is a rounded spreading shrub up to 2m in diameter and about 1.5m high, with a single main stem and horizontally spreading stems, hard green leaves and 1- 3 large inflorescence’s borne at the end on the stem. The inflorescence’s consist of a large number of small flowers. It is the stiff protruding styles of the flowers which are the source of the common name “pincushion” for this genus. Only a few large, hard, nut-like seeds are produced by each inflorescence. In their natural environment the seeds are collected by ants, stored in the soil, and germinate only after a fire has killed the mature plants and returned the nutrients back to the soil.
Protea cynaroides (King Protea)
The King Protea is confusing at first glance. The enormous red “petals” seem floral enough, although larger than life but when you look into the center of the thing, you find innumerable downy structures arranged in a beautifully geometrical spiraling pattern. The King Protea is native to South Africa. In fact, in 1976 it was declared the national plant of that country. King Protea needs well-drained soil that’s slightly acidic (pH 5.0 to 5.5), and they need fresh air. They are bug-resistant by nature but prone to fungus problems.
This protea has the distinction of being the first of it’s kind to be mentioned in botanical literature. Discovered in 1597, illustrated in 1605; yet it wasn’t until 1810 when it was officially recognized as a distinct species and therefore described and named. Protea neriifolia is a very widespread species and grows from sea level to 1300m altitude in the southern coastal mountain ranges of South Africa. The blooms of Protea neriifolia are actually flower heads that contain a collection of flowers in the center, which are surrounded by large & colourful bracts.