Protea barbigera: Queen Protea

If there were to be a contest to choose the queen of shrubs protea would win hands down. In the opinion of many botanists as well as amateurs it is the most beautiful plant of all.

This genus comprises approximately 100 species distributed chiefly in South Africa, though some reach as far as tropical Africa. They are the species growing closest to the equator though remaining in the southern hemisphere.

Protea barbigera, called queen protea, is one of the loveliest members of the genus. A shrub up to 2 m (6 ft) high, it is indigenous to the high mountains of South Africa, but also tolerates the moderate conditions of lowland country and is thus widely grown in the gardens of its native land. The flowers are borne in heads surrounded by woody bracts. It is apparently quite variable for near Franschboek specimens were found with melon-pink bracts, and near Du Toit’s Kloof (likewise in South Africa) specimens with yellow bracts and deep orange hairs on the margins.

Most commonly imported to Europe are the flowers of Protea cynaroides which are covered with white hairs and surrounded by deep pink bracts. The inflorescence is the largest of the whole genus; it measures up to 30 cm (1 ft) in diameter and is extremely long-lived, often lasting as long as two months in a vase without any change. It is lovely even when dried and is excellent for dried flower arrangements.

The high-mountain species with an underground stem and sessile flowers are also noteworthy. These may have thin, needle-like leaves (P. lorea, P. tenuifolia, P. restionifolia); twigs reminiscent of heathers (P. acerosa); or large, cabbage-like leaves (P. acaulis, P. amplexicaulis, P. convexa).

Only the tall shrubby species with spectacular flowers are suitable for cultivation, but it is necessary to satisfy their requirements, namely a relatively cool location such as a conservatory, ventilation, a moist atmosphere and rather heavy soil, composed, for example,

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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