King Protea - The Protea Cynaroides

As the magnificent national flower of South Africa and the symbol of a number of local sports teams and clubs, the Protea cynaroides does not disappoint when it comes to its impressive size, vibrant colour and unique appeal.

Did you know? The king protea or Protea cynaroides, looks something like an artichoke and is the largest of all the proteas.

Despite its beauty, it is a hardy plant that can survive harsh conditions; even massive bush fires, drought and heavy rains. The Protea cynaroides is part of the Proteaceae family and is also commonly known as the king protea.


The woody shrub of the Protea cynaroides has thick, hardy stems and big leaves, which are dark green. The flower head of the king protea is sometimes mistaken for being the flower itself, but actually comprises a cluster of flowers in its centre, which are then surrounded by the coloured bracts that some think are petals.

These plants can reach heights of anywhere between 35 centimetres and two metres, depending on the conditions in which they live and grow. A healthy plant that is fairly large can produce an average of between six and 10 flower heads per season, although some exceptional specimens can produce far more. The bracts, which give the proteas their colour, can be cream, powder-pink, crimson, or a hue thereof. They have a silvery sheen when viewed from the right angle.

Flowering time

The Protea cynaroides flowers at different times of year, depending on local conditions. However, the plant needs to be about four to five years old (from seed) before it begins flowering.

Use in the garden

The pretty Protea cynaroides makes for stunning cut flowers for formal arrangements, and has gained increasing popularity for use in weddings and other formal events. In addition, the flower heads attract bees, beetles, butterflies and birds. Gardeners will, no doubt, delight in having these welcome visitors. The flowers last a long time and add a South African beauty to any garden.

Natural distribution

The Protea cynaroides is particularly widely distributed throughout South Africa, but is especially common in areas in which fynbos grows in abundance. Its natural distribution stretches between the Cedarberg in the Western Cape to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. It is a common member of mountain vegetation, able to flourish at a range of elevations. Therefore, it often characterises the foothills and mountains of this country.

Growing Protea in your garden

The main factor for growing king proteas in the garden is the right kind of soil, which should have a good drainage system. While they survive harsh conditions in the wild, they do well in Mediterranean conditions in the garden.


The Protea cynaroides can be propagated by seed, which can be sown in open beds and in soil with good drainage. Cuttings can also be taken, but they need to include a thick stem that can carry the heavy flower head, which is sometimes awkward to plant. These flowers are naturally propagated by birds and insects (which feed off the nectar and play an integral role in pollination). After a naturally occurring bush fire, the Protea cynaroides is known to blossom, providing an impressive landscape during its recovery.

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