Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: My Vanity Protea

About 6 months ago, I bought some Protea seeds, thinking I might try to grow them on my sand dune. The time to plant them is autumn, so I'm ready to roll. I really love these flowers and, though my chances of successfully growing a Protea to adulthood are slim, I'm willing to give it a go.

Proteas grow mainly in South Africa and are known there as "sugarbushes". They were named after Proteus, the ancient Greek shapeshifter god, because there are so many varied types. They are a bit like Euphorbias in that sense. Proteas are a particularly ancient flower; their ancestors flourished in the southern supercontinent of Gondwana, 300 million years ago.
Protea neriifolia from Wikimedia

The seeds need a pre-sowing treatment with a Smoke Germination Stimulant. You can see this clever device in the lower left corner of my instruction sheet. So why am I calling this my "Vanity Protea"? Well, Proteas are threatened in their native habitat. According to National Geographic in 2010:
"The Cape floristic region was given international recognition as South Africa's sixth UN World Heritage site in June last year. More than 9,000 plant species make up the region, 6,000 of which are found nowhere else on Earth." Ironically, I am attempting to grow a Protea far from its native land at the same time the latest IPCC report is published. Our climate is undergoing drastic change, much of the change is human-induced, and many unique botanical treasures will be leaving us in the coming decades. Will my New World Protea thrive here? Is it a waste of time to grow them ex situ? Would it be better to spend my money on something that will directly curtail climate change where Proteas grow naturally? Should I spend my time lobbying instead of gardening? I don't know. But it's sure got me pensive....



  1. Hi Marla,
    Good luck with these guys! Keep us posted with photos on their progress!

    1. Thanks, I will definitely post any progress, or epic fails.

  2. I think you're in with a sporting chance on your sand dune. They do like fairly poor sandy soils (they dislike high levels of phosphorous) and seedlings are somewhat sensitive to damping off. There are important commercial plantings in Hawaii so it can be done!

    1. Good to hear from you, Paddarotti! I hope everything's going well. Thanks for your advice, I feel more confident now, and I'll certainly be extra vigilant about damping off.