Protea Family Portraits Dinosaurs roamed amongst their ancestors

I got to take these photos in mid-2015, thanks to Luc Morrissette at "Alpine Flowers & Gifts" in Elliot Lake.

Wikipedia says that "Protea" is both the botanical and the English common name of a genus of flowering plants named after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his form at will. They have a diverse array of colors, shapes, textures and sizes - mine are from these 3 genera.

A Brief anatomy lesson

What we're used to seeing in a flower

The flower's sepals protect the petals until they open which in turn offer, and yet shield, the set of internal organs. Photo courtesy of 123RF.COM.

What we don't expect

  • The Protea flower is not a single flower, but a flower-head or inflorescence, made up of many individual flowers grouped together on a rounded base or receptacle. What look like the 'petals' of the protea 'flower' are modified leaves known as floral bracts. Inside the cup of bracts there are many long narrow flowers massed together in the centre.
  • Leucospermums and Banksias have a single layer of bracts at the bottom while the Proteas have two layers - small outer ones at the bottom and long inner ones from the bottom to the side edge of the flower-head.
  • Most surfaces are covered with hairs that help prevent evaporation, provide an insulating layer by trapping heat close to the leaf and can be discouraging to leaf eating animals.
This is a Queen Protea side view and shows the leaves on the outside, the outer bracts at the bottom and the inner bracts above them.

Leucospermum genus


The red and yellow were my introduction to the family and this type. I'd never seen a flower like them before so I was immediately fascinated and intrigued by their form and colour.

They're evergreen shrubs that grow to about 5 feet tall and the flowers are about 4" across.

Red Pincushion - the bracts are visible on the bottom and the flower-head is above.
Close-up view of the flower-head.
Even closer with the hairs, reproductive organs and pollen clearly visible.
Yellow Pincushion - looking similar but also quite different.

Protea genus

Proteas attracted the attention of botanists visiting the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century. Many species were introduced to Europe in the 18th century, enjoying a unique popularity at the time amongst botanists.


This was my next acquisition and the first actual 'Protea'. It grows to about 5 feet high and the flowers are about 6 inches across - the second largest in the species.

Leaves, the inner bracts and the flower-head inside them.
The flower-head is very hairy indeed.
The small clumps of hair are each very tiny flowers.

A 'special order'

The three previous examples were the only ones available so I asked for any that I hadn't had before - this collection arrived the next week.

These highlight the differences and similarities within the species. From left to right up around the circle - Protea-Barbigera, Protea-Neriifolia, Protea-King, Protea- Susara, Protea-Limelight and Banksia-Coccinea.


A shrub that grows up to 6 feet high and the flowers are about 5 inches across.

The leaves, outer and inner bracts and the flower-head inside.
A look at the leaves, the outside and inside of the inner bracts and the flower-head inside.
A closer view of the inner bract's hairy edges and the flower-head.


This was first discovered in 1597, illustrated in 1605, and has the distinction of being the first protea ever to be mentioned in botanical literature. It took quite a while before it was officially recognised as a distinct species by the botanists and it was only described and named in 1810. The shrubs are quite fast growing and in 15 years it can reach a height of 10-15 feet and the flowers are about 4 inches across.

The leaves, tufted bracts and the flower-head inside.
A closer look at the bracts' tufts and the dark flower-head.
An even closer look at the tufted inner bracts covered in hair and the dark flower-head.


This is the national flower of South Africa. It's a woody shrub with thick stems and large dark green, thick glossy leaves. Mature plants are about 3 feet high and the flowers are about 8 inches across - the largest in the species.

The leaves, hair covered inner bracts and the flower-head inside.
A view inside the inner bracts with the reproductive organs of the flower-head visible.
An even closer inside view with the flower-head and their reproductive organs visible.


A shrub that grows to about 6 feet tall and the flowers are about 4 inches across.

The slightly tufted inner bracts with the flower-head inside.
An outside and inside view of the inner bracts with the flower-head.
A closer look at the black and white fur of the flower-head.


An evergreen shrub that grows to about 8 feet high and the flowers are about 3 inches across.

Leaves, slightly tufted outer bracts and the colourful, very tufted inner bracts.
A closer look at the edges of the colourfully tufted inner bracts.
An even closer top view of the colourfully tufted inner bracts and the flower-head inside.

Banksia genus

Named after the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who in 1770, was the first European to collect specimens of these plants during James Cook's first expedition to Australia.


This is an erect shrub or small tree that can grow about12 feet tall and the flowers are about 3 inches across. I was instantly fascinated by its form, texture and colour but especially its symmetry -it really is extremely odd and beautiful.

It's not perfectly symmetrical but is much more so than any of the previous ones.
The reproductive organs but I wasn't able to determine which are which.
Amazing symmetry, colour and texture.

History and geography

As I researched these, I was surprised to find that the Proteaceae family's ancestors grew 75-80 million years ago on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland - dinosaurs died off about 65 million years ago. Previously in the Jurassic period, it had begun breaking up and separating into the continents we know today, taking their plant and animal life with them. Africa shares only one genus with Madagascar, whereas South America and Australia share many.

Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Photo equipment

These are BIG flowers compared to those that I normally shoot so the macro lens isn't a necessity.

  • Canon T3i 18 MP camera.
  • Canon 100mm macro lens.
  • Sigma 18-250mm for the 'collection' shot.
Created By
Roy Beauvais

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