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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Proteaceae (protea family)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Order: Proteales

Worldwide there are about 80 genera and 1600 species. The highest diversity is in Australia (800+ species), followed by Africa (c 400 species) and then South America (about 90 species). Proteaceae are also native to Madagascar, SE Asia, New Guinea, New Calidonia and New Zealand. A total of 14 genera and 361 species are native to southern Africa, mainly in fynbos. In addition, two genera and six species have become naturalised, and an additional 13 genera and 49 species are cultivated in the region.

Genera native to southern Africa

List from Rourke (2000).

Aulax (featherbushes) 

There are three species, all found in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Brabejum (Wild almond)

The only species is the Wild Almond Brabejum stellatifolium which is found in the Western Cape.

Diastella (southern silkypuffs)

There are seven species, all endemic to the Western Cape.

Faurea (beechwoods)

About 15 species, found in Africa and Madagascar. There are seven species native to southern Africa.

Leucadendron (conebushes)

There are 84 species, found mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape but extending as far north as KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Leucospermum (pincushions)

The 48 species are indigenous mainly to the Western Cape but the genus is also found in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Zimbabwe.

Mimetes (pagodas)

The 13 species are endemic to the Western Cape.

Orothamnus (Marsh rose)

The only species is Orothamnus zeyheri (Marsh rose) found in the Western Cape in the mountains above Betty's Bay and Hermanus.

Paranomus (sceptres)

The 18 species are endemic to the Western and Eastern Cape.

Protea (sugarbushes)

About 112 species, found in Africa but mainly in South Africa where there have been about 89 species recorded.

Serruria (spiderheads)

There are about 55 species, all found in the Western Cape.

Sorocephalus (clusterheads)

The 11 species are all found in the Western Cape.

Spatalla (spoons)

The 20 species are all found in the Western Cape.

Vexatorella (vexators)

The four species are found in the Western Cape and southern part of the Northern Cape.

Genera naturalised in southern Africa

List from Rourke (2000). Species names are provided for genera that have only one species recorded from southern Africa.

Grevillea (Silky oak genus)

About 260 species worldwide, native to Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and Indonesia. G. banksii is commonly found in South African towns and cities and has also become naturalised, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal. Another 16 species are cultivated in southern Africa, but not naturalised.

Hakea (needlebushes)

About 110 species, all native to Australia. At least five species have become naturalised in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and are considered weeds. An additional six species are cultivated but not naturalised.

Other genera, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002).


Two species cultivated - Isopogon anethifolius (Narrowleaf drumsticks) and Isopogon formosus, both native to Australia.


Petrophile pulchella (Conesticks)

Native to Western Australia.


Conospermum triplinervium

Native to Western Australia.


Buckinghamia celsissima (Ivory curl flower)

Native to northeastern Australia.


Lambertia formosa (Mountain devil)

Native to eastern Australia.

Macadamia (Macadamia nut genus)

Ten species, native to subtropical eastern Australia, Indonesia and New Caledonia. Macadamia nuts come from Macadamia integrifolia (Smooth macadamia nut) and Macadamia tetraphylla (Rough macadamia nut). Besides the two nut-producing species, Macadamia ternifolia is also cultivated in southern Africa.


Embothrium coccineum (Chilean fire tree)

Native to Chile and Argentina.


Alloxylon pinnatum (Fern-leaved tree waratah)

Native to eastern Australia.



Telopea oreades (Gippsland waratah, Victorian waratah) and Telopea speciosissima (Waratah, Common waratah), both native to Australia, are cultivated.

Knightia excelsa (New Zealand honeysuckle tree)

Native to New Zealand.



Stenocarpus salignus (Scrub beefwood, Red silky oak) and Stenocarpus sinuatus (Firewheel tree), native to eastern Australia), are cultivated.


Ten species cultivated.


Dryandra formosa

Native to Western Australia.



  • Coetzee JH, Rust DJ, Latsky LM. 1986. Mites (Acari) on proteas. Acta Horticulturae (ISHS) 185: 247-252.

  • Knox-Davies PS, van Wyk PS, Marasas WFO. 1986. Diseases of proteas and their control in the South-Western Cape. Acta Horticulturae (ISHS) 185: 189-200.

  • von Broembsen SL, Brits GJ. Control of Phytophthora root rot of proteas in South Africa. Acta Horticulturae (ISHS) 185: 201-207.

  • Rebelo, T. 1995. Sasol Proteas. A Field Guide to the Proteas of Southern Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.

  • Rourke, J.P. 2000. Proteaceae. In: Seed Plants of Southern Africa: Families and Genera (Ed. O.A. Leistner). Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, pp. 457-461.

  • Glen, H.F. 2002. Cultivated Plants of Southern Africa. Jacana, Johannesburg.

Text by Hamish Robertson