The Protea has the honour of being both South Africa’s official wild flower and having the same botanical and common name. Although specimens grow as far apart as Table Mountain National Park in South Africa, and Mount Kenya National Park in Kenya, 93% of species occur only in the Cape Floristic Region.
This stretches in a coastal corridor to the north and east of Cape Town, and is the exclusive home of one of six floral kingdoms of the world. Here the plant the Afrikaners call their Suiker Bossie / Sugar Bush grows in magnificent abundance to the delight of wild sugar birds.
Protea South African National Flower
A Brief History of Proteas
The Protoceae floral family to which proteas belong traces its roots to the mega-continent of Gondwana in the upper cretaceous age 80 million years ago. The birds had always known about it when a botanist ‘discovered’ it in 1735. He was amazed at the variety of shapes and sizes, and named it for the Greek God Proteus who, it is said, could change his form at will. I can live with his decision for there are more kinds of Proteas than I could imagine even if I googled.
The King of Flowers
My first love is the King Protea South Africa that has the largest flower head in the family, and is the inspiration for South Africa’s Proteas cricket team. The original species grows into a small tree on the Table Mountain chain, where it survives blazing summer heat, howling gales and freezing winters. Nursery gardens have bred 81 garden varieties. To me, once a king always a king, and here it is. Twelve inches / 30 centimetres of tip-to-tip natural beauty.