Growing proteas

Page last updated: Monday, 25 July 2016 - 2:09pm

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Proteas are attractive shrubs originating from South Africa which can be cultivated commercially in Western Australia. The most common proteas belong to the genera Protea, Leucadendron and Leucospermum (pincushion) and Serruria (blushing bride).

Protea production in Western Australia began in the mid-1980s and peaked in the mid-1990s. Climate and soils are suited to proteas and plantings are centred around Perth and Busselton. Proteas are grown for the local, export and interstate markets.


Proteas prefer a mild Mediterranean climate with low humidity. They can tolerate slight frosts, but the young foliage and flowers of some species, such as P. nerifolia and P. cynaroides, may be slightly damaged.

Leucadendrons and leucospermums are generally unaffected by high summer temperatures. Flowering proteas can be damaged by persistent high temperatures, although adequate irrigation can reduce the damage.


Proteas prefer deep, well drained sand with pH 5.0 to 6.0 for optimum growth and production. Avoid alkaline soils for most species. Proteas prefer a low phosphorus (20 mg/kg soil) site. Test the soil before planting a new area to determine the residual phosphorus level.

Some land preparation is needed. Clear the area three to six months before planting, removing obvious timber and roots and any persistent weeds. Deep ripping, ploughing and cultivating to produce a good tilth are necessary for good plant growth. To minimise the risk of introducing or spreading Phytophthora species, ensure all soil is removed from machinery before use.

Species selection

Flowers and foliage are taken from over 10 Protea species, Leucospermum cordifolium and several Leucadendron species.

Leucadendrons are grown for their attractive foliage and fruiting heads, while proteas, serruria and leucospermums are grown for flowers The most important export species are listed in Table 1. Female forms of Leucadendron species are generally preferred.

Table 1 Main Protea, Leucadendron and Leucospermum species grown in Western Australia
Species Production period Approximate yield
(stems/mature plant)

Protea cynaroidesa


March to January 10–15

Protea nerifoliaa


January to September 30-40
Protea Pink Ice March to August 30-40
Protea compacta May to October 30-40
Protea repensa February to July 40-50
Leucadendron daphnoides May to July 30-40

Leucadendron discolorb

July to November 40-50

Leucadendron galpiniib

September to December 40-50

Leucadendron gandogeri

July to September 40-50

Leucadendron laureolumb

May to October 30-40

Leucadendron salicifoliumb

July to November 50-70

Leucadendron Silvan Red

December to June 50-60
Leucospermum cordifoliuma September to November 40-50
Serruria florida May to August 15-20
a Variants and selections can change flowering time
b May be harvested as green foliage earlier or later than indicated

To assist in determining the range of species and number of plants to be grown, consult exporters, nurserymen and other experienced individuals or associations. Check out likely returns, market trends and expected demand.

Growing proteas is a long-term investment. The initial selection of species is critical, since substantial product will not be harvested until two or three years (leucadendrons) to three to four years (proteas and leucospermums) after planting. A range of species will minimise reliance on a single species.

Increasingly, named varieties of proteas are based on cuttings from ‘improved’ forms of selected species grown from seed. The only important protea still grown from seed is P. cynaroides.

Most plants are bought as rooted cuttings or seedlings from specialised nurseries.

Protea 'Pink Ice'
Protea 'Pink Ice'