Skip to content

5 interesting facts about South Africa’s national flower, the protea

As we honour Heritage Month, we take a look at this incredible plant species and what makes our national flower so unique.

Bookmark article to read later

By Alyxandra Carolus | September 23, 2022 | Gardens

South Africa is blessed with an abundance of biodiversity with unique fauna and flora - but the protea is one of the jewels in the proverbial floral crown. You’ve seen it in bouquets, floral arrangements, spotted them around the Garden Route and might even have a variety or two in your own garden. It’s renowned for its unique shape and hardy nature, while being a sought after floral species around the world.

As we honour Heritage Month, we take a look at this incredible species that has distinct variations all through the country and what makes it so unique.

The name of the protea is inspired by Greek mythology

Our beloved national flower was discovered in the 1700s by Carl Linneaus, a Swedish botanist who gave the species the name Proteaceae.

If you’re a Greek mythology enthusiast, you might recognise that the name is derived from Proteus, the son of Poseidon.

It can survive under a variety of conditions

The protea is one tough floral species, and is known to adapt to plenty of soil varietals. This is due to it’s complex root system that allows to adapt and also has a long vase life. South African climates are prone to change, with heavy rains and periods of drought as we’re a water-scarce region. Despite this, the protea has over 1500 species.

The king protea is our actual national flower

While we’ve established that there are quite a few proteas to choose from, the King Protea is the official national flower and was chosen in 1976.

The giant protea or king sugarbush is officially named the Protea cynaroides. The plant is known for having the biggest flower head in the species. It flowers throughout the year, and can endure hardy conditions but will only flower after around four to five years

The protea is built to endure wildfires

As you know, the Western Cape is known for blazing fires over the warmer seasons, and the protea has adapted to these conditions. The plant species actually thrives when wildfires occurs, as it stimulates germination for mature plants.

This plant is a no-go for animals (and humans)

Did you know? The entire protea plant (seeds, nectar and flower) are poisonous and should not be consumed at all. Whether it’s a human being, cat or beloved pooch - keep this plant away from prying hands and paws.