Proteas vary greatly in form but are generally woody shrubs that produce medium to large-sized velvety, furry flower heads. An important protea traded around the world is the king protea (Protea cynaroides), which commonly has silvery pink bracts surrounding a dome of silvery pink florets (though selections with other colours are grown). The flower head varies in shape from a very wide inverted cone to a more narrow funnel shape. The leaves are generally large and rounded, and typically bright green. As well as using the flower in cut flower arrangements, florists may use the lower leaves in arrangements (separate to the flower).
Many protea species are cultivated for cut flowers and, while they are marketed as ‘wildflowers’ in Australia, it should be noted that they are not native to Australia. The name ‘protea’ commonly refers not only to plants in the genus Protea, but also to plants in two other genera from South Africa — Leucadendron and Leucospermum. For the purpose of this page, only the genus Protea is discussed.
All growers entering the cut flower industry are encouraged to do extensive research on the inherent risks and challenges throughout the value chain; and as proteas are a long-term investment, beginning commercial production in their third year of growth, this is particularly relevant.
The wildflower industry, including protea producers, is a mature industry in Australia. It has an active research and development (R&D) program that assists industry members develop better production techniques, works towards industry-wide standards and identifies marketing opportunities. The wildflower industry is represented by WildFlowers Australia, which represents a diverse range of industry participants, including growers, buyers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, and research and extension specialists.
Facts and figures
- Proteas are native to South Africa but are quite often incorrectly classed as Australian natives
- Initial selection of protea species and variety is critical as they are first harvested in their third or fourth year of cultivation
- They are susceptible to phytophthora root rot
- Many are susceptible to post-harvest blackening of leaves which reduces their market appeal and vase life
The Australian wildflower industry (including but not solely protea) is located mainly in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and south east Queensland.
There are no industry statistics about growers or production information at an enterprise level for protea.