Proteaceae, The Protea Family

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Members of the dicotyledonous protea family largely originate from the southern hemisphere, especially Australia and southern Africa. Even though we tend to lump them all in as "natives" in Australia, some of them originate overseas, most notable proteas.

The banksias, grevilleas, waratahs and macadamias are examples of Aussie natives, though there are many other truly native branches of the family that fly under the radar and won’t be mentioned here.

Description

The apparent flower is, in fact, a compound flower (a.k.a. capitulum or head), made up of many smaller flowers. The capitulum exists on the terminal branch tip, with (usually) alternate leaves spiralling back down the stem.

The big, showy (apparent) "petals" are in fact modified leaves or bracts. These bracts may be the showiest part of the flower as in Protea spp., and in some varieties such as Grevillea spp. reproductive organs may be the most prominent part.

Protaceae members tend to have more prominent pistils as opposed to more prominent stamens as is the case with Myrtaceae members.

Flowers, Fruits & Leaves

Tepals: Normally 4 tepals are fused into a tube, with stamens fused to the inside of the tepals.

Reproductive: Generally 1 stamen and 1 pistil on bisexual flowers.

Fruit: A dry dehiscent or indehiscent follicle or drupe-like fruit. Sometimes arranged on a fruiting head called an infructescence.

Seeds: One or many seeds are present within a fruit, which are flat or round and sometimes winged.

Leaves: Simple leaves may be serrated or entire along the margin. Often alternate, sometimes opposite or whorled.

Noteworthy Types

Protea is a genus filled with some spectacular species with some stunning flower heads that are very popular in "native" wedding bouquets, especially the king protea Protea cynaroides.

The king protea  Protea cynaroides  inflorescence with a crown of bracts (modified leaves).    Image source

The king protea Protea cynaroides inflorescence with a crown of bracts (modified leaves). Image source

A  Protea sp.  showing the leaves and fresh flower heads, with some dry heads which have possibly been successfully fertilised.    Image source

A Protea sp. showing the leaves and fresh flower heads, with some dry heads which have possibly been successfully fertilised. Image source

Dried mature infructescence of  Protea madiensis  with fruits and seeds.    Image source

Dried mature infructescence of Protea madiensis with fruits and seeds. Image source

Blushing brides Serruria florida are another popular wedding bouquet option native to Southern Africa.

Blushing bride  Serruria florida  inflorescence, also with bracts surrounding the individual flowers.    Image source

Blushing bride Serruria florida inflorescence, also with bracts surrounding the individual flowers. Image source

Macadamia is a genus of four native nut-producing trees originally from Queensland, now grown around the world for their delicious, fatty nuts.

Flowering  Macadamia sp .    Image source

Flowering Macadamia sp. Image source

Macadamia sp . nuts on the tree.    Image source

Macadamia sp. nuts on the tree. Image source

Banksia spp. have attractive flower heads that grow into seed pods on an infructescence that are also aesthetically pleasing.

Banksia serrata  with its candle inflorescence and serrated leaf margins.    Image source

Banksia serrata with its candle inflorescence and serrated leaf margins. Image source

Open dehiscent seed pods on the infructescence of  Banksia menziesii .    Image source

Open dehiscent seed pods on the infructescence of Banksia menziesii. Image source

Waratahs Telopia spp. are shrubs or shrubby trees, and tree waratahs Alloxylon spp. are a separate but related genus.

The inflorescence of a waratah  Telopia sp ., each flower with a prominent pistil still attached to the perianth.    Image source

The inflorescence of a waratah Telopia sp., each flower with a prominent pistil still attached to the perianth. Image source

A waratah tree  Alloxylon flammeum , native to Queensland.    Image source

A waratah tree Alloxylon flammeum, native to Queensland. Image source

Native Aussie birds like lorikeets and rosellas love to feed on the nectar in Grevillea spp, as well as many other members of this family.

Grevillea  'Robyn Gordon' with its inflorescence showing a prominent pistil on each flower and bipinnatisect leaf margins. The inflorescence is a raceme with the youngest flowers ar the tip.    Image source

Grevillea 'Robyn Gordon' with its inflorescence showing a prominent pistil on each flower and bipinnatisect leaf margins. The inflorescence is a raceme with the youngest flowers ar the tip. Image source

Grevillea robusta  seeds and dehiscent fruit.    Image source

Grevillea robusta seeds and dehiscent fruit. Image source

Conclusion

This family of perennial flowering plants contains many native Australian plants that not only look great in the backyard but also provide an important source of habitat and food for local native wildlife.

If you haven’t already read my articles on plant identification and scientific names, I recommend reading those to get a broader picture of the topic. Alternatively, you can browse some of my other plant families, subfamilies and genera below.

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