Flower Glossaryflowers

Flower Glossary: Protea

by Grace Bonney

designsponge protea flower glossary
This week has been a celebration of ‘flowers I previously disliked’. First there were carnations (which I now love in all their neon purple glory) and today: Protea. Every now and then I would walk home past my corner store and catch a few of these poking out between bouquets of dyed carnations and sad-looking roses. They always felt like such thorny, woody aliens to me. I always appreciate flowers for their soft petal-y delicateness and here were these huge prehistoric things scratching outside of their plastic packaging. But when I started researching them more deeply and investigating different varieties, I was blown away by their history and how beautiful they can be. I mean look at these! And these! Stunning. I can’t wait to find a way to work these into my floral rotation at home. xo, grace

Additional Information about the Protea:

  • Full Name: Protea
  • Growing details: Proteas are flowering plants that need full sun and a dry climate, so they do best in areas like Southern California where the climate is conducive to their heat needs year-round.
  • Varieties: There are several varieties of Protea, form the soft and delicate ‘Blushing Bride‘ Protea to the tough (and huge!) King Protea. You can see more varieties here.
  • Size: Protea have large floral heads range from 3 to 12 inches in size.
  • Cost: Price ranges depending on variety, but the most standard varieties are available from $3 to $8 per stem. Protea dry extremely well so you can easily extend their usage!
  • Fun facts: 300 million-year-old fossils show that Protea are one of the oldest plants in the world!

Photograph by Maxwell Tielman

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  • Protea nerifolia (the variety I often see in shops) have always seemed so exotic to me. I think it’s the feathery bracts (sometimes mistaken for the petals) with their fuzzy black tips. I love the nerifolia in pale pink. They do have a very distinct smell–it’s not at all a sweet floral scent, but green and almost savory.

  • Even having been around proteas my whole life I think they are
    An acquired taste but I currently love them as a a design motif.
    South African designers use them often. My parents are fortunate to have a protea garden – that even has a king protea in it. Funnily enough we never picked them and bought them inside. They harbor a wealth of insect life.

  • We also have them growing wildly on the farm where we stay in the Western Cape (South Africa) and you often have to give them a good shake or two to get all the bugs out! I’ve always loved them and actually planned my wedding date around their flowering season! They look absolutely stunning just placed alone in an antique silver goblet or with dried dodder wrapped around it.

  • HI Grace, the Protea is our national flower here in South Africa (Africa) and they make the most amazing flower arrangements. Once they’re cut they can live for months in very little water & indoors making for very economical arrangements. Its interesting that you have noted it symbolizes transformation. Our major transformation from Apartheid ruled RSA to a Democratic RSA only happened in 1994 (Nelson Mandela we salute you!) , but the flower has been the National symbol since the Dutch colonized our land. So it has been a transformation one after another!

  • I remember seeing the Protea flower for the first time, more than 20 years ago, on my first visit to my ex’s native South Africa. Such beautiful flowers! And I treasured the bouquet that I took home to Monaco for many years after. At that time, it was still a very exotic flower in Europe.

  • It is such a beautiful flower. Just bought one single flower recently as a birthday present for a dear elderly friend. It brought hapiness, with it`s beauty.
    Have seen first in South Africa many years agao, whenever I do see it here in flower arrengements, it is a greeting to me from it`s homeland.

  • Absolutely love Proteas! I also have some seeds but have yet to try growing them. Although I do know that they make my nasal allergies go insane so perhaps best to stay away :(

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