Protea repens from South Africa was one of the first proteas described by Carl Linnaeus. The species epithet "repens", meaning creeping in Latin, is misleading. It is an upright, many branched shrub, usually 6 - 7 feet in height. Linnaeus based the description on confusing illustrations.
As early as the 1670's European settlers collected the plentiful nectar from the flowerheads. It was boiled until it was a thick ruby red syrup. Used as a sugar substitute, the syrup was also believed to be an effective treatment for coughs and other chest ailments. Hence the name Sugarbush. Sadly it also was during this time the vast populations around Capetown of Protea repens were decimated for firewood.
Around 1870, Protea repens was the first protea to flower in cultivation, at Kew Gardens in England. It was much sought after for the estate gardens of the European aristocracy.
The "flowers" are actually flowerheads made up of many individual flowers surrounded by large colorful bracts (modified leaves). After blooming, the flowerheads dry out forming a brown seedhead that resembles an upside down ice cream cone.
The Sugarbush was the unofficial South African national flower, but in 1976 it was replaced by the King Protea, Protea cynaroides. It is, however, still honored by the Botanical Society of South Africa as its logo.
||Requires good drainage and is drought tolerant, higher acidic PH is desirable (5.0-7.5); warm days and cool nights are best, shows damage below 25 degrees
||Fall to Winter, large flower clusters of red and/or some combination of white; stunning when in bud as well as in bloom
||Great on dry rocky slopes, works well in containers; cut flowers are popular in arrangements
||Proteas require 1/8-1/4th the nutrition compared with general ornamentals; Sulfur, Magnesium, and Iron should be present at moderately high levels
The development from open flower to completely closed flower takes 6-8 weeks
Flowers appear after 4-5 years
Protea repens can be found in the South Africa Garden (Bed 40E).
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS:
Photos by Docent Joanne Taylor
Text by Docent Kathy McNeil
Profile by Associate Curator David Kruse-Pickler