Friday, May 21, 2010

When Is a Native Plant Not a Native Plant?

Living is a rural area we are able to buy a large range of items at roadside stalls and ex farm gates. Things like fruit, vegetables, eggs, wine, honey, firewood, plants, horse and cow poo, puppies, kittens and pet birds all come to mind.
Australian wild flowers are another.
However the vast majority of the latter offered for sale are Proteas.
While a beautiful flower, they are NOT Australian.
They are an indigenous and national flower of South Africa. The South African cricket team is even named after it.

Why the confusion (or deception)?
Proteas are a member of the Proteaceae family whose ancestors grew in Gondwanaland 300 million years ago
Taxonomically, Proteaceae is now divided into two subfamilies: the Proteoideae, best represented in southern Africa, and the Grevilleoideae, concentrated in Australia and South America. Africa shares only one genus with Madagascar, whereas South America and Australia share many common genera. This indicates these continents separated together from Africa before they separated from each other.
The Australian family consists of Banksia, Embothrium, Grevillea, Hakea, Dryandra, Watatah and even the nut bearing Macadamia.
Below is a picture of a Banksia. The likeness to the Protea, especially with the leaves, is obvious.
I guess because tens of thousands of native plants are growing in the bush and their flowers are there for the taking (not from National Parks, of course) the vast majority are of no commercial value cultivation wise. The Proteas on the other hand are not wild and have to be 'farmed'.
That is not to say Australian natives are not cultivated in some areas for cut flowers. Many of the more 'showy' species are. They include the Western Australian Banksias, Kangaroo Paws, Geraldton Wax, Boronia and the New South Wales Waratah (below).

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