The Protea family has been around for a very long time. Varieties have developed and changed significantly over the years and as result we now have about 80 genera and 1600 species! We find the history of these amazing plants incredibly interesting and hope you enjoy discovering more about how they came to be found in so many gardens across the world!
Due to the fact that varieties in the protea family can be found in many areas throughout South Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Madagascar, there is strong belief that the family of plants spread throughout the southern hemisphere on fragments of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana when it split. The highest diversity is in Australia, followed by Africa.
Through the use of DNA sequence data, botanists have discovered that the Proteaceae family of plants lived on the ancient super continent Gondwana almost 120 million years ago!
As the continent broke up, some of the varieties spread to countries we now know as Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and other southern hemisphere countries. However, some of the varieties are much too young to have been around when Gondwana split, therefore this group of plants has dispersed across oceans to create new varieties in this large plant family. The spectacular genus Protea is undoubtedly Gondwanan proven by the DNA sequence data.
What’s in a name…
This varied genus of plants is named for the sea-god of ancient Greek mythology, Proteus, who was known for his ability to change his appearance at will.
It’s said that the proteaceae family was named after him because of the incredible variety of shapes, sizes and textures it presents itself in.
It’s all in the roots…
There are numerous Proteaceae genera however some are more well know than others; Aulax, Banksia, Brunia, Grevillea, Hakea, Leucadendron, Leucospermum, Macadamia, Mimetes, Serruria, Waratah and of course Protea.
The most well know protea is the King Protea which is also the national flower of South Africa.
What makes them all part of the same family despite looking so different, is their root system. These plants have proteiod roots which are a specialised root system which form clusters of closely spaced, short roots. They enhance nutrient uptake and as a result, plants with proteoid roots can grow in soil that is very low in nutrients.
The first recorded Protea cultivations can be dated back to 1910 in South Africa were large scale protea plantation were planted to provide cut flowers.
By the 1970’s protea cultivation had taken off, Protea were being commercially cultivated in California, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This lead to the formation of the International Protea Association.
Judy Skatssoon ABC Science http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2006/09/20/1744327.htm
"Plants From Ancient Gondwanaland Spread By Continental Drift And Transoceanic Dispersal." <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070808101526.htm>.
Protea Cultivations. Gerhard Malan 2012