Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Protea cynaroides or King Protea, the national flower of South Africa, is doing its thing in the UConn greenhouses right now. The flowers (technically flowering shoots composed of many small florets) last for weeks, and there are a couple of additional buds developing, so there should be a nice show for the rest of the spring. The bloom in the photo is the size of a dinner plate. It has a funny sort of chemical smell, not exactly floral but not unpleasant either. The artists among my readership might be reminded of the smell of kneaded eraser.
Nothern greenhouse collections don't seem to include proteas very often, which is a shame. They're not overly difficult in cultivation, and this King Protea flowers every year in Connecticut. I use a nutrient-poor, acidic soil (5 peat moss : 2 perlite : 1 horticultural charcoal), and keep the plants in a very sunny spot in a cool greenhouse. Members of the family Proteaceae are said to be sensitive to excess phosphorous, so it's probably best to fertilize cautiously, using a high-nitrogen formulation.