Species distribution and density. Darker squares represent higher density of members of this family.


Protea family

The flower of the protea is one of the icons that has made South Africa famous. Protea cynaroides has been selected as our national flower and our national cricket team is named after the flower. In southern Africa the Proteaceae are largely endemic to the Cape Floral Kingdom. The family is also represented in Australia, tropical Africa and South America, with the highest diversity of more than 800 species in Australia.


In southern Africa the highest concentration and diversity of Proteaceae is found in the Western Cape. Outside this area plants are mostly found on mountainous or hilly terrain in the eastern and northern parts of the country.

Number of genera in the world


Number of species in the world

1 400

Number of genera in the Flora of southern Africa region



Number of species in the Flora of southern Africa region


Well-known southern African genera

Leucadendron, Leucospermum, Mimetes, Protea, Serruria.

Growth forms

Woody shrubs or trees.


Mountain slopes and foothills, usually in nutrient-poor soils, often in areas prone to mist.

Flagship species

Leucadendron argenteum (silver tree; silwerboom [A]) has a very restricted distribution in the Western Cape, notably in Kirstenbosch and on the slopes of Table Mountain. It is named after the silky hairs on the leaves that give a silver shine to the tree. Trees are either male or female and flower from August to September. Trees grow easily from seed and are often planted in gardens, despite their susceptability to fungal root pathogens, which easily kill mature trees.


Significance of the family

Several species are cultivated and sold worldwide as cut flowers, while many species are also available in the horticultural trade as garden plants. Wild almond (Brabejum stellatifolium) has traditionally been used as a coffee substitute. The king protea (Protea cynaroides) is our magnificent national flower and produces a very large flowerhead up to 300 mm in diameter. The waboom (P. nitida) was a sought-after wood for wagon building. The syrup produced from the common sugarbush (P. repens) is a traditional Cape remedy to treat chest disorders.

Diagnostic characters

Plants woody . Leaves alternate. Flowers in heads  or spikes , sometimes surrounded by showy bracts ; sepals 4, slender ; petals absent; anthers sessile on sepals ; stamens as many as petals, or more; ovary superior with 1 ovule. Fruit a nut , drupe or follicle.

Did you know?

The macadamia tree (Macadamia integrifolia), which is widely cultivated for its nuts, was the first major food plant to originate from Australia.