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Indigenous Zambian Protea Species

South Africa is well-known for its beautiful variety of proteas. Proteas have significant cultural and symbolic value, particularly in South Africa where they are the national flower and the national cricket team uses the protea as its emblem. The flower is also featured on the South African coat of arms.


In traditional African medicine, proteas have been used to treat a variety of ailments, such as stomach disorders and respiratory infections. The flower has also been used in traditional Zulu and Xhosa weddings, where it symbolizes change, hope, and new beginnings. Additionally, in Western cultures, proteas are often given as gifts to symbolize courage, diversity, and strength.


Protea Flower
Protea Flower

However, not many people know that Zambia also has two unique varieties of protea that grow in our woodland areas, these are, Protea welwitschii and the Protea chamaedaphne.


Both of these can be found in Lusaka National Park and a guide can take you to the location. You will usually find them in flower at the end of the rainy season around April.



Protea welwitschii

Protea welwitschii, commonly known as the giant protea, is a unique variety of protea found in the woodlands of central and eastern Zambia. It is the largest species in the Protea family and can grow up to 6 meters in height. The flowers of this variety are striking and can be as large as 30 centimeters in diameter. They are pinkish-red in colour and are made up of long, pointed petals that surround a central cone-shaped structure filled with small flowers.


The Protea chamaedaphne

The Protea chamaedaphne, also known as the lowveld sugarbush, is a small shrub that is found in the southern regions of Zambia, particularly in the Kafue National Park. It is typically found in dry savannas and woodlands, and can grow up to 2 meters tall. It has small, white to pinkish flowers that bloom in late winter to early spring and is a popular food source for birds and insects.


As these trees have very specific requirements for growth, including soil type, climate, and soil micro-biome, it is extremely challenging to cultivate them from seed. Therefore, most efforts are focused on preserving them in their natural habitats.


Proteas, along with other African plants like Strelitzia and Howorthia, have become increasingly valuable, particularly in colder regions where they cannot be grown and must be imported at a premium. This has driven up demand for these plants, which has in turn led to increased cultivation and conservation efforts. In due course the genetics of our local proteas may be hybridised to create a cultivar that can grow in a wider range of environments.





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