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The stunning and efficient Proteaceae family

NSW Waratah

One of the more popular plants available at Evergreen Growers is the iconic and stunning NSW Waratah (Telopea Speciosissima). With its long woody branches, elongated leaves and bright red flowers which form in spring, the Waratah is part of five species of similar shrubs and small trees found in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

The famous Waratah flowers are indeed a number of smaller flowers gathered on one large flowering spike. Bird attracting and frost tolerant, the NSW Waratah is the floral emblem of New South Wales.

Equally iconic and stunning are the elegant family of proteas. Hailing from southern Africa these hardy shrubs and small trees have leaves of a similar texture to the Waratah and feature a cone of tubular flowers surrounded by the more visible (usually red) bracts.

But did you know these two shrubs share a common ancestor?

Both belong to the Proteaceae family which also includes the Australian banksias. The ancestor dates back to when Australia and South Africa were joined in a “super continent” known as Gondwana some 200 million years ago.

Queen Protea

They both share the same preference for well drained soil and their showy flowers are both bird attracting and popular as cut flowers. They have both evolved their growing habits in soil where nutrients are rare and have, as a result, developed highly efficient methods to absorb nutrients through their roots.

Therefore feeding members of the Proteaceae family even a small amount of extra nutrients can be too much, as this may overwhelm them.

However its fascinating to think what the common ancestor of the two would’ve looked like. More like the protea in all its forms? Or the showy waratah? Or one of the other plants that sprang from this family?

Do you grow proteas or waratahs? Please share your experience (and photos) either here or over at our Facebook Page. Please don’t forget our 20 percent off sale this weekend! See our site for details.

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