Pincushion protea in pebblestone vases

Flower Focus on Protea: Beautiful Flowers with “Roots” to the Cretaceous Period

Protea have become a hot commodity on the domestic cut flower market because of their exotic look, desirable size, and the variety of their textures and colors. These prehistoric blossoms have real star power when it comes to presence in a vase as their large, woody stems and attractive foliage allow them to be displayed alone. Protea can also easily be preserved as a dried flower. Not many flowers can boast that!

These exotic beauties are native to South Africa, although subfamilies are now found in South America, Australia, and Eastern Asia. Evidence from fossils suggests that Protea ancestors grew in Gondwana, in the Upper Cretaceous Period, 75-80 million years ago. The common types of Protea that we see today are hybridized cultivars that are grown in nurseries in Mediterranean or sub-tropic climates, including California, where the bulk of these crops are cultivated for our own region. Following are four representatives of the Protea family and how to find them.

King Protea

The King Protea is the national flower of South Africa and has the largest bloom of the Protea family, hence its royal name. Protea Cynaroides is an unusual flower and has a long vase life in arrangements. It also makes for an excellent dried flower. The King Protea has adapted to survive wildfires with its thick underground stem, which contains many dormant buds that produce new growth after a fire. All of these things make this particular Protea a superior choice.

king protea in rose gold cylinder vase

Pincushion Protea

Pincushion Protea get their name from the colorful “pin-like” protrusions coming from the flower. In actuality, Leucospermum Cordifolium flowers are a composite bloom made up of many small flowers and colorful bracts, which are modified leaves (like Poinsettia). The brightly colored stalks that emanate from the flower head, or the pins in the pincushion, if you will, are actually the pistils of individual flowers. This variety of Protea makes very long-lasting cut flowers and although they can be dried, they do not retain their look as well as some of their sisters. 

yellow pincushion protea in pebblestone vases

Pink Protea

Pink Protea are more commonly known as either Pink Ice Protea or Pink Mink Protea. Protea Neriifolia are one of the most common types of Protea found as a cut flower. They are recognizable from their pink cone-like flower that is covered in “petals” that resemble feathers. They also have woody stems and long green foliage. In this particular varietal of Protea, the leaves tend to turn brown before the flower starts to fade. If you like the natural look of this, then you can leave the leaves in tact. For those who don't like the look of browning leaves, I suggest removing the leaves when initially designing with them.

Bottle Brush Protea

The Bottle Brush Protea variety is scientifically known as Banksia. These unusual flowers have dense, fuzzy inflorescences made up of tightly packed small flowers. The rugged appearance created by their serrated leaves and large flower heads give Banksias a distinctive appearance of great value in floral design. This particular variety of Protea is native to Western Australia. More than 12 species of Western Australian Banksias are suited to cut flower production. Flowers range in color from red to orange/white.

banksia protea in glass container on ottoman

Although the above varietals of Protea are well-produced in the domestic cut flower market, finding them can sometimes be a bit of a chore. Below are a few online resources where you can order Protea directly. Or, if you're in a time crunch, or designing with Protea for a special event, it is always best to procure Protea in advance from your local florist. These unique beauties often cost quite a bit more than the average cut flower, but keep in mind their historical “roots,” the journey they have traveled for your enjoyment, the longer vase-life that many varietals have, and the fact that most can be dried for long-term enjoyment. Their exotic look is worth the extra effort every time!

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Owner, Floral Underground

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