The name Protea was derived from the Greek god Proteus, which could change many forms.
This is certainly a fitting name for the Proteaceae family of flowering plants which can flower in many forms.
The Proteaceae family was one of the first flowering plants to form on earth about 125 million years ago.
South Africa and Australia have the highest concentrations of these plants still living today.
Proteas would have extended all over the continent of Antarctica in Gondwanan times until Antarctica started to freeze about 40 million years ago when cold ocean currents encircled it sealing its fate and ending the life of all vegetation on the continent.
There are many well-known plant Genus in the Proteaceae family including Banksia, Grevillea and Hakea. However, when people hear the word “Protea” they usually relate it to the stunning South African Genus Protea, Leucospermum or Leucadendron for all their colour and size.
South African Proteas are very easy to grow in the right conditions.
Those conditions are being a very well-drained soil with full sun and very minimal water and low phosphate fertilizer.
These plants have developed special roots called Proteoid roots which are clustered and matted to extract nutrients on the poorest soils.
The problem with having such a sensitive root system is that they are susceptible to “overdosing” on large amounts of fertilizer.
Water logging is also a problem when planted on thick clay soils with poor drainage, as fungal diseases can cause sudden death in the plants.
Proteas have a shallow root system that does not like to be disturbed when gardening. Mulch can also be an issue if the mulch hasn’t been aged for a significant amount of time.
This issue is more commonly known as nitrogen drawdown where the mulch uses the nitrogen in the soil to decompose thereby depriving the plant of nitrogen.
This issue affects all plants and not just the Proteaceae family. To counteract this issue, a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer can be added.
The African proteas have very few pests and diseases to be concerned about. The main issue is finding a well-drained location and the resultant spectacular flowers speak for themselves.
Being closely related to Banksias and Hakeas, certain varieties of African Proteas have been identified as an alternative to providing a source of food for the endangered white tail Carnaby cockatoo.
Proteas are being promoted by Shires like the City of Mandurah with information sheets on providing food for the native fauna.
They are farmed in the floriculture industry all over the world. The King Protea (Protea Cynaroides) is the national flower of South Africa and by far the largest and most spectacular of all the proteas.
The Cape Floristic Region in South Africa’s south west is home to the clear majority of African Proteas.
The area is identical in climate to the south west of WA which makes these plants ideal for our hot dry summers and cold wet winters (mediterranean climate).
Once established, the Proteas produce better flowers with no maintenance than if the plants are regularly fertilized.