The Protea

The Beauty of Symbolism

The meaning of the Protea:

Depending on the circumstances and gesture behind giving or receiving Protea’s can commonly represent four actions. Each powerful verb holds a strong representation that reflects closely towards the ‘human condition’ that the ancient Greeks so fondly interwove into their Literature, Theatre and Society.

Diversify / Dare / Transform / Encourage

The Protea is among the oldest flowers on our planet, dating back approximately 300 million years.  The name of the plant family Proteaceae as well as the genus Protea, both to which P. cynaroides belongs to, derive from the name of the Greek god Proteus, a deity that was able to change between many forms.

According to Greek legend and poet, Homer, author of The Iliad and (The Odyssey iv:412) – two epic poems that are the central works of ancient Greek literature. 

In the latter, Homer speaks of Proteus (whom preferred to nap on the island of Pharos rather than prophesize) – in order to deter those seeking his insights, he would change his shape at will.  It is said that the protea flower was named after him because it, too, presents itself in a varietal profusion of shapes, sizes, colours and textures to make up more than +/- 1,500 varieties.

In Greek mythology, Proteus (ˈproʊtiəs, -tjuːs; Ancient Greek: Πρωτεύς), is the son of Poseidon (The sea god who had the power to know all things past, present and future) was from the island of Pharos situated off the coast of the Nile Delta.  The so-called god of “elusive sea change”, which suggests the constantly changing nature of the sea or the liquid quality of water in general.  From this feature of Proteus comes the adjective protean, with the general meaning of “versatile”, “mutable”, “capable of assuming many forms”. “Protean” has positive connotations of flexibility, versatility and adaptability.

Hence, it’s mythological associations resembles that of change and transformation.  In the language of flowers, the protea therefore symbolizes diversity and courage.

The King Protea is the national flower of South Africa, and the flagship species of the Cape Floral Kingdom (they are a typical example of fynbos) – (Protea. cynaroides), sugar-bush (Protea. repens) and the waboom (Protea. nitida).  Worldwide: Proteaceae (protea family) – there are about 80 genera and 1600 species. The highest diversity is in Australia (800+ species), followed by Africa (circa 400 species) and then South America (approximately 90 species).

Proteas create jobs for thousands of farm-labourers and flower vendor’s, who supply the flowers to locals and for the world’s cut-flower industry.

The Protea image (Frosted Fire / Red Ice ) shown above was taken from my recent visit to the vibrant, colourful Adderley Street Flower Market, Cape Town. Opening times: Mon-Sat 07:00 – 20:00.

Some interesting facts and a further glimpse into the past – on foot in Adderley Street: 

The Adderley Street Flower Market is one of the oldest markets in Cape Town where you can bargain on purchasing local flowers, including fynbos for various occasions. 

The street in which you can find this vibrant market, is in Adderley Street that was named after Sir Charles Adderley who halted the Republic of South Africa (RSA) from becoming a penal colony (a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general population by placing them in a remote location).

If you continue walking towards the Company Gardens, you will pass two more landmarks: the beautiful neo-classical style Standard Bank Building (completed in 1881, The carved heads over the entrance are of “Ceres”, goddess of agriculture and of “Poseidon”, god of the sea (and trade). In 1922 two extra floors were added and the dome and statue were replaced after the completion of the addition) and The Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk):  The first church was built in 1678.  It was replaced by the present building in 1841, but the original tower was retained. The pulpit is the work of Anton Anreith and the carpenter Jacob Graaff and was put into use in 1789.

Continue your stroll, crossing the road (Bureau Street) towards the corner of Wale Street and Adderley to the (current use / Iziko Museum) Slave Lodge Museum for an insightful perspective into the flower vender’s past.  The Old Supreme Court at the top of the former Heerengracht (now Adderley Street) and adjoining Church Square is a remarkable building.  Its history, its architectural merits and its symbolic significance make it unique as a Heritage Building in South Africa.  This building was originally completed in 1680 as the Dutch East India Company’s Slave Lodge and later converted for use as government offices in the 19th century by Thibault (Inspector of Government Buildings), Anreith (sculptor) and Schutte (contractor). Opening Times: Monday – Saturday: 09:00 – 17:00

By Demetrios Voulgarellis for O Live To Travel (Pty) Ltd. All images are Copyrighted to O-Live To Travel Pty Ltd. ©

demetri_travel_concierge / @OLive2Travel / @olivetotravel