Protea Heaven

One of the plants that seems to grow well here is protea. Some of the local folks call it pro-TAY-ah, but the official pronunciation is PRO-tee-ah. However you want to say it, protea is one of the magnificent tropical blooms that mainland people spend a lot of money to have. You’ll see huge tropical arrangements in the big hotels with the many colors and shapes of protea. Often tourists think they are plastic because they look fake. explains the name, which comes from the Greek god, Proteus, who could change shape. The protea blossoms take on many shapes and varieties, as you can see from the links in this post.

Protea is native to South Africa and Australia, but grows extremely well here in Hawai`i. It doesn’t do well in wet areas, and we are in a dry part. A little peat moss mixed with perlite makes a good planting medium. You make a hole, put the rooted cutting in, and let it grow!

I had big dreams of converting the back half-acre of my property into a protea farm. The a`a lava around here provides the perfect conditions for successfully growing protea. The problem is that some of the a`a hides what we call “blue rock,” which roots cannot penetrate. I’ve planted many different kinds of protea, but so far none have done well at all.

It’s not only the blue rock that keeps protea from growing. Our friendly Madam Pele sends out her sulfur dioxide from the Kilauea volcano, which gets into our lungs as well as burns the tops of the protea. Those levels have been extremely high in the past several weeks and the protea farmers fear a loss of income. There is a black chemical burn at the top of each of my plants.

This article is about the Leucospermum, more commonly called “pincushion.” Dr. Leonhardt, one of the authors of the article, came to talk with a group of us who either are protea farmers, or who hoped to become protea farmers (that included me). He was interested in getting us to help him in a research project. The group was too loosely organized to get that project going.

In this link from another Big Island grower, you’ll see several pincushions, then the minks, and the bottom row shows my favorite, the banksia. This interesting article from the Honolulu Star Bulletin tells how one woman got started growing protea.

Here is a picture of a pink mink protea from a farm in Kula, Maui

I managed to get one pincushion bloom before the volcano got them. It’s a sad looking specimen – nothing like the beauties in the links above, but it was my bloom (see above photo).

Next week, I’ll tell you about some of my other “disasters” in trying to start plants here.


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