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The Protea Family is one of the most prominent Angiosperm families in the southern hemisphere. An ancient family, it was present before Gondwana began breaking up some 130 million years ago, at the time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. The break-up of the continents occurred only after the family had divided into two subfamilies: Protea Atlas Logo
  • The Proteoideae, which occurs mainly in southern Africa, but also in Australia and New Zealand. In this section there is typically one seed per flower, and one flower per floral bract
  • The Grevilleoideae, which occurs predominantly in Australia, but also in South America, on the southwestern Pacific islands and a single species in Africa. In this section there is usually two seeds per flower, and two flowers per floral bract.

Currently about 1400 species (in over 60 genera) in the Protea Family are recognized, virtually all in the southern hemisphere. The majority occur in Australia (over 800 species in 45 genera; 550 species in southwestern Australia) and about 400 species in Africa (320 species in 14 genera in the southwestern Cape). Central-South America has about 90 species, while 80 species occur on the islands east of New Guinea, 45 species in New Caledonia and a few species in Madagascar, Southeast Asia, New Guinea and New Zealand.

The non-African proteas are quite distinctly Proteoid, and yet differ remarkably from African forms. An excellent introduction to the spectacular Australian proteas is provided by A S George (The Proteaceae of Western Australia).

No one knows where proteas originally came from. They are often placed near the Loranthaceae (The Mistletoe) family. However, some evidence has been produced to ally the proteas to the Plane Trees. However, they did evolve early on in the evolution of flowering plants, and where perhaps one of the early experiments with flower form.

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