King Protea, King Shugarbush Protea cynaroides
Order: Proteales. Family: Proteaceae
© SharifaProtea cynaroides
is part of an ancient plant family, the Proteaceae, which had already divided into two subfamilies before the break-up of the Gondwanaland continent about 140 million years ago. DescriptionProtea cynaroides
is a multi-stemmed upright shrub with thick stems and large dark green, glossy leaves. Most plants are one metre in height when mature, but may vary according to locality and habitat from 0.35 m to 2 m in height.
The "flowers" of Protea cynaroides
are actually flower heads with a collection of flowers in the centre, surrounded by large colourful bracts. The flowerheads vary in size, from about 120 mm to 300 mm in diameter. Large, vigorous plants produce six to ten flower heads in one season, although some exceptional plants can produce up to forty flower heads on one plant. The colour of the bracts varies from a creamy white to a deep crimson.
The flowers in the centre of the flower head open over a fairly long period of time. The flowers are pollinated by Scarab Beetles and Protea Beetles and many other insects, as well as by birds. The birds are attracted by the nectar as well as by the insects visiting the flowers.
The large flower heads produce a disappointingly small amount of good seeds, only 1 - 30 percent of flowers result in seed. The plant's need to produce nutrient-rich seeds in a nutrient-poor environment is thought to limit the amount of seeds it can produce. The seeds are quite large nuts, covered by hairs and stay in the old flower head for a year or more. They are released after a fire and dispersed by rodents and birds.DistributionProtea cynaroides
has one of the widest distribution ranges of all the Proteaceae and occurs from the Cedarberg in the northwest to Grahamstown in the east. Habitat
It occurs on all mountain ranges in this area, except for the dry interior ranges, and at all elevations, from sea level to 1500 m high. The combination of the different climatic conditions with the large range of localities has resulted in a large variety of leaf- and flower sizes, as well as flower colours and flowering times. The different forms retain these characteristics even when grown under the same conditions on a commercial scale. Protea cynaroides
occurs in fire prone vegetation, where natural fires occur every ten to thirty years. This 'Mediterranean' type of vegetation grows in soils with very low amounts of nutrients. These nutrients are used up by the plants during their lifetime and need to be returned to the soil to provide the food for a new generation of plants. Protea cynaroides
is adapted to survive the fires by its thick underground stem, which contains many dormant buds; these will produce the new growth after the fire.
Links: Protea Atlas
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden