The king protea (Protea cynaroides) is a popular tropical flower that florists use when they want a bold focal piece in a bouquet or arrangement. You may have seen arrangements featuring one huge, colorful flower resembling a crown, with beautiful springs blooms arrayed around it; odds are good these were a king protea. Besides its status as a tropical bouquet staple, the king protea is the national flower of South Africa and has some fascinating features.
King proteas grow along the coast on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. They have the largest flower heads in the genus Protea, ranging from 5 to 12 inches in diameter. The flower heads are actually composite flowers, with multiple smaller flowers arranged in the center surrounded by large, colorful bracts on the outside. They have thick stems which extend deep underground; a survival mechanism for wildfires, since these stems can sprout subterranean buds that will then grow into new plants after a fire.
What’s in a Name?
Proteas are named for the Greek god Proteus, who was known for his ability to change into many forms; a fitting name for a flower that comes in a plethora of colors and shapes. Cynaroides takes its name from the artichoke’s genus, Cynara, due to the resemblance of the flower heads to an artichoke. Horticulturists have identified 81 different varieties of king protea, and a single plant usually grows between 6 and 10 flower heads in a season.
While the flower itself is native to South Africa, horticulturists around the world have taken cultivars and grown it due to its desirability to florists. It’s successfully grown in the southern United States, and is known for its ability to grow in harsh environments. It really is a resilient plant that’s renowned for its beauty and huge flowery heads.
Planting and Care
Growing king proteas requires plenty of sunlight and soil that drains well, since they don’t thrive in heavy clay-like soil or soil that stays damp constantly. They are hardy plants and can also handle frosts of between 25- and 30-degrees Fahrenheit, but should be protected from any temperatures or frosts below that. They also need a lot of air circulation around them and their bases, so they can’t be planted to close to each other. A top layer of mulch helps to protect their delicate root system and trap moisture for watering.
If you’re planting king proteas, don’t expect any flowers for the first season. They’ll bloom the second season and they are perennials, meaning they’ll return during one season each year. Their blooming season depends on the climate where they’re growing, but they usually only bloom for a few weeks out of the year. They thrive on little water, and usually watering once a week is enough to keep them healthy. Overwatering will kill them quickly. They also need to be pruned regularly when they’re young, and they’ll spread out as they get older.
Cut king proteas can last for up to 16 days when properly cared for. If they are part of a bouquet or flower arrangement and they need to be kept alive for long-term, placing them in a good-sized vase with water and plant food is a must. Their life can be extended by trimming the end of their stems once a day and placing back in their water, but don’t expect them to last much more than 2.5 weeks.
King proteas are a beautiful flower beloved among horticulturists and florists for its huge, colorful head that makes a bold statement in any arrangement or bouquet. One king protea surrounded by colorful spring blooms will make a gorgeous arrangement. They’re native to South Africa, but they are grown in the United States to be used in floral arrangements everywhere, and they can be grown by gardeners in many different environments as well.
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