The Proteaceae are a family of plant species found mostly in the Western Cape area of South Africa. They are the plant family most distinctive of fynbos.
There are 1000-1400 Proteaceae species in 61 genera worldwide. Of these, around 330 species in 14 genera are confined in Cape Floral Kingdom.
The three largest genera in the family are the genus protea (sugarbush), genus Leucodendron (Conebush) and genus leucospermum (Pincushion). Other genera are Aulax, Mimetes, Orothamnus, Paranomus, and Serruria.
Proteas are named after the Greek sea-god Proteus, who could assume many shapes. Likewise the proteas have many forms.
Most protea species are shrubs or small trees, with flat, hairy or leathery leaves, grey-green in colour. They are adapted to yearly summer dry conditions.
Proteas often have thick bark to protect the plant so that it can regrow after regular veldt fires. Some proteas actually require a fire to open the seed pod and germinate the seeds.
Many have large, stiff, distinctive flowers. Many Southern African Protea species are grown commercially in the Western Cape and around the world, for instance in California where the climate is similar.
Proteas are referred to as sugarbushes (in Afrikaans, suikerbos), meaning that they have abundant sweet nectar in their deep cups, and thus supply food for several species of sugarbird (ie hummingbird) in exchange for a little pollen transfer.
Well-known South African proteas include:
Protea Cynaroides, the king protea, is the national emblem of South Africa. It has the largest flowers of all proteas. The flowers can be up to 20cm (1 foot) in diameter. The plant grows to around 5 foot tall, and can resprout from the tuberous rootstock after a fire.
Leucospermum cordifolium, the pincushion protea is not a protea, but it is a proteacea. It is widely grown worldwide as a cut flower. The flower has a distinctive, um, pincushion appareance, with stiff protruding red or orange styles. The plant grows up to 1.5 meters (three foot) tall.
protea repens, the common sugar bush produces large quantities of nectar, giving the flowers a sticky sheen. It grows over 2 meters (6 foot) tall.
Protea nerifolia, the Blue sugarbush or Oleanderleaf Protea, grows up to 3 meters (12 foot) tall and is easy to grow. This is one of the 'bearded proteas', with the red flowers having a fluffy black fringe.
Because of thier exotic look, Proteaceae flowers can be regularly spotted as set-dressing on Star Trek.
Information sourced on the internet.
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