Protea subvestita

bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)August 26, 2009

I have always liked Proteas, but they can't be grown where I live, as far as I know. But I have seen several references to P. subvestita which is native to very high elevations in South Africa and is supposed to be very hardy to cold. Problem is I have not found any place to buy a plant. Most California nurseries that deal in Proteas don't have this species, probably because there are many nicer kinds that can be grown out that way. I have found seeds, but getting any Protea seeds to germinate and make it to more than a few months old seems to be a real problem. Any help locating this plant would be appreciated.

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You might try this very reliable SA seed company:

When we visited SA 2 years ago we saw P. caffra TREES growing at very high elevations in the Drakenbergs


    Bookmark   September 7, 2009 at 12:04PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)


Thanks for the reply. However as I said in the first post, I have found seeds. I have tried several times, and although they germinate, the seedlings die off in just a few weeks. This seems to be a common problem with proteas. That's why I wanted to find a nursery that has the plants for sale. I did find a place in England, but they won't (or can't) ship to the US.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 5:05AM
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nankeen(z8b Portland OR)

Hi Bill,
Sorry, I don't have a source for Pr. subvestita plants. Like you say, the CA nurseries usually grow the "pretty" ones, not the tough ones.

By the way, the hardier Protea species like caffra, dracomontana, and subvestita all come from the Drakenbergs (about z7). This area is summer rain, winter DRY, which can be problematic for us in the US. I have yet to actually try them outside since I want all my Protea to be quite established before testing their hardiness, but perhaps some sort of protection from winter rain/snow is merited.

What kind of soil are you using to germinate the seeds? With the symptoms you described, I believe this could be your problem... Do you have a greenhouse/cold frame for winter growth?

I have had 85% germination (and survival) of Pr. subvestita on my standard ZA mix: 3 parts quarter minus gravel, 2 parts perlite, 2 parts pumice, 2 parts orchid bark, 1 part Turface MVP. If I can get any Proteaceae to germinate on this mix, it has about a 90% long term survival rate. Germination is the hard part...

Right about now would be a great time to sow seeds if you have an airy greenhouse. All my Fall sown seeds are bursting forth in the frost free greenhouse now that the nightly weather reliably dips into the 40's.


    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 11:14AM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

I don't have a greenhouse, but I do have an unheated sunroom, south-facing, that gets into the 50's at night. On sunny days it can get to near 70 for a few hours during the middle of the day. I've only used regular seed starter mix in the past. Where would I get all the ingredients you listed? Are they common in gardening centers?

You say you've had success with P. subvestita seeds and the plants have survived. Any chance you have one to sell? It would sure be worth it to me. By the time I order the seeds, buy all the mixture ingredients, etc. it might be just as reasonable to give you some money for one that's already on it's way. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2009 at 8:57AM
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I used a mix similar to what Ross described: 2 parts coarse river sand, 2 parts peat, 1 part perlite. Some of the proteas do require fire for germination. You can burn leaves or grass on the top of the soil or you can get a liquid smoke to soak the seeds in overnight. The liquid smoke comes in the starter packets.

I have an unheated south facing area glassed in under my south facing deck. I also have vireyas (tropical rhodies) in there for the winter so I do run a space heater when it looks like it will fall below 39. I think that most of the cape origin proteas would do ok going to 30 degrees.

When I potted up I used a cactus mix and it seems to have worked well. I use a light fish fertilizer every few weeks during the growing season. I keep them out on the deck in full sun in the summer.

I would love to find Caffra seeds. I have great memories and picture of hiking in the Drakenbergs when they where just beginning to come into flower in late October during a major thunderstorm which drove us off the mountain all too soon due to dangerous lightening strikes.

Ross....i notice we are almost neighbors as I live right across the river in Clark County, WA. jwww

    Bookmark   December 12, 2009 at 4:38PM
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I have had pretty good success germinating and growing Proteas and Leucadendrons in a mix of at least half sand, after I pretreat them with a hydrogen peroxide soak for a couple hours. For other components I've tried varying proportions of fine bark and pumice. Perhaps I should try including a little peat - I never have. I had trouble getting P. caffra and P. aristata to grow in this sort of mix. I got the impression P. caffra would have appreciated something quite a bit richer and more moisture retentive since it really responded to heavier watering. I'm a bit mystified by P. aristata, though - they germinated, grew just a few leaves and then stopped. I potted them up and they proceeded to die off one by one without any growth at all - something must have been seriously lacking in my soil mix, I guess. I just ordered it again from Silverhill so I hope I can figure out what the problem was quick! Or maybe I'll just try germinating/growing them in a variety of different mixes so I can learn something.

My long-term plan is to produce one of the best hardy Cape species - P. venusta, perhaps - in quantity, and then attempt to graft the hardy Drakensberg species onto it. Has anyone else experimented with grafting Proteas?

This doesn't do you any good now but Silverhill had P. caffra last summer for a while. I think you just have to watch their website pretty regularly as some of the more interesting/hardy species are only available in limited amounts and tend to sell out quickly.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 4:23PM
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Ian....When I was in the Drakensbergs hiking among flowering P.caffra trees, I was struck that the red clay soil was more like something we would see here in the northwest rather than the gritty, sandy soils in the Cape area. So, I suspect you are correct about them needing richer soil. jwww

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 1:58AM
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I'm glad to see people are talking about Protea subvestita. I've been trying to figure out what proteas to grow in Portland. After the week-long hard freeze we had last December I'm doubting there are any that can grow outdoors permanently. Judywww are you growing any Proteas in your garden year-round?

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 12:01AM
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Nothing outdoors over the winter...I live close 1000'....if I can get a P.caffra going I might try it. I keep them in a cool greenhouse over the winter and out on the deck when the weather warms...same treatment as my tropical vireyas. I know that there are some Leucodendrons that do ok at lower levels in Portland most winters. jwww

    Bookmark   May 30, 2010 at 11:53PM
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I should watch this thread more closely as there are so few of us who share the common interest of Proteas for the Pacific Northwest, and I would hate to lose touch! The South Island of New Zealand has a Protea Growers Association of 60+ members; I think we'd be lucky to get five around here.

Iyou - I think there's hope. I heard from a guy in the Grants Pass, Oregon area that Banksia repens survived the big freeze last December (bottoming at 12F for him) without a scratch with only a bucket over it for protection. This species from Western Australia does not even come from an area of severe cold yet it seems at least as hardy as any of the eastern Australian Banksias from the Snowy Mountains. I know that doesn't really prove anything in itself, but I like to think that if one compares Banksias to the Protea situation in South Africa, I can be optimistic that some of the more obscure high altitude Cape species (for example, recondita, venusta, cryophila, humiflora, witzenbergiana) might be hardy enough for us. So far I have recently planted seed of P. venusta and P. humiflora, but humiflora hasn't germinated - perhaps they will come up in the fall. Venusta has produced seven seedlings so far. I'm expecting some variation among the plants so I plan to keep them all and compare their ornamental qualities before propagating them to test for cold hardiness outdoors and to sell. I also just got some seed of P. effusa which is another exciting, obscure high altitude Cape Species.

That's interesting to hear about P. caffra thriving on clay - thanks for mentioning it! Still, the Drakensberg is so dry in winter that many plants from there will grow in Denver but not Seattle - I bet clay soil with heaps of winter rain and the occasional Northwest Arctic blast will be an unworkable combo. My idea is to someday build raised beds about 2' tall and bring in a soil mix. I was thinking of using something like 2 parts sand, 2 parts red lava rock and 1 part compost for the Cape species, though I really don't know how that will work out (perhaps I'll try it in a smaller area first) and compare the results in that raised bed with plants planted directly into the native soil (a loam/rocks mix). I'm just full of ideas... LOL.

If you know of any Leucadendrons that actually survived last winter in Portland without freezing to the ground, I'd love to hear about them. My experience with the more readily obtainable cultivars (which are mostly of L. salignum and L. laureolum parentage) is that they invariably die in our climate below about 20-24F. A lot of them are certainly hardy through our mild winters, so perhaps I can get these hybrids to put on some size before a cold winter puts them to the test.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2010 at 6:20PM
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nankeen(z8b Portland OR)

Hi Bill and fellow PNW Protea growers,
My 1 yr old P. subvestita did ok this year, but they're still too small to ship. At least one more year in their pots before I could send you any. I only ordered and grew enough for me, so I'd only be able to send maybe 1, anyhow. I'll try keep you in mind one year from now. By then, it might be worth your while to try them again yourself.

Quarter minus gravel you can get at a rock store or anywhere that sells bulk bark mulch, usually. Pea gravel would work too. Pumice, Perlite and orchid bark can all be purchased at a local nursery or even a Lowes/Home Depot style big box store. I always buy mine from various little greenhouse stores because I can get large quantities of supplies for 1/3 to 1/10 the cost of getting it at Lowes, but if you only need enough for one or two plants... For Turface MVP, you can go to the Turface mainpage or search here

for distributors in your state. They've really hit the market lately. In 2006 or so, I had to drive half an hour to get to the closest shop. This year, there's a place 5 minutes from my house that carries it. Never add too much Turface to your mixes! It holds a ton of water and can easily rot your plants. Just a little, like 1 part in 12 as above, to add some water retention. All of these above ingredients make great potting mixes/additives in general and are important to have around the garden.

I have a 3yr old Protea repens from seed that's almost ready to bloom for the first time! If it actually opens, it will be my first Protea flower from seed. Anybody know if they bloom in fall or spring? I think mine might be whacked out of its normal schedule to have a bud swelling now. It formed the original tiny bud last year at this time. I have a picture on my blog, below, in my most recent post.


PS: On my blog, I also have some Protea pictures on 2009-10-23 in my GH.
And a lot from the UCSC Botanic garden on 2008-06-28 and 2008-07-02.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ross's Blog

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 1:22AM
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The trouble your having dyeing of is your seed starter mix which is full of lime which most Proteas despise. Use half sand and either compost or peat moss or all three components.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   December 23, 2010 at 7:13PM
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super helpful, thank you!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 5:44PM
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The year isn't given on this page so I can't judge whether to comment or not, but just in case - I shall do so.

It's important not the disturb the roots at all when transplanting seedlings.... I got round this by sowing them in eggboxes and then cutting out the section and planting it whole into a pot.

Don't need fancy ground.... sterilise some builders sand (ie bake for 1-2hrs after a good wash) and mix with potting soil and a dash of gravel or perlite.

Got the idea here....

    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 2:15PM
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