|Protea lepidocarpodendron x neriifolia|
The genus Protea was named in 1735 by Carl Linnaeus after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his form at will, because proteas have such a wide variety of forms. Linnaeus's genus was formed by merging a number of genera previously published by Herman Boerhaave, although precisely which of Boerhaave's genera were included in Linnaeus's Protea varied with each of Linnaeus's publications.
The Proteaceae family to which proteas belong is an ancient one. Its ancestors grew in Gondwana, 300 million years ago. Proteaceae is divided into two subfamilies: the Proteoideae, best represented in southern Africa, and the Grevilleoideae, concentrated in Australia and South America and the other smaller segments of Gondwana that are now part of eastern Asia. Africa shares only one genus with Madagascar, whereas South America and Australia share many common genera — this indicates they separated from Africa before they separated from each other.
Most protea occur south of the Limpopo River. However, Protea kilimanjaro is found in the chaparral zone of Mount Kenya National Park. 92% of the species occur only in the Cape Floristic Region, a narrow belt of mountainous coastal land from Clanwilliam to Grahamstown, South Africa. The extraordinary richness and diversity of species characteristic of the Cape Flora is thought to be caused in part by the diverse landscape where populations can become isolated from each other and in time develop into separate species.
Botanical history 
Proteas attracted the attention of botanists visiting the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century. Many species were introduced to Europe in the 18th century, enjoying a unique popularity at the time amongst botanists.
Within the huge family Proteaceae, they are a member of the subfamily Proteoideae, which has Southern African and Australian members.
(listed by section: a sect. has a name in two parts, consisting of the genus name and an epithet).
- Protea sect. Leiocephalae
- Protea caffra (Common Protea)
- Protea dracomontana (Drakensberg Sugarbush)
- Protea glabra (Clanwilliam Sugarbush)
- Protea inopina (Large-nut Sugarbush)
- Protea nitida (The Wagon Tree)
- Protea nubigena (Cloud Sugarbush)
- Protea parvula (Dainty Sugarbush)
- Protea petiolaris (Sickle-leaf Sugarbush)
- Protea rupicola (Krantz Sugarbush)
- Protea simplex (Dwarf Grassland Sugarbush)
- Protea sect. Paludosae
- Protea sect. Patentiflorae
- Protea sect. Lasiocephalae
- Protea sect. Cristatae
- Protea sect. Protea
- Protea cynaroides (King Protea)
- Protea sect. Paracynaroides
- Protea sect. Ligulatae
- Protea burchellii (Burchell's Sugarbush)
- Protea compacta (Bot River Sugarbush)
- Protea eximia (Broadleaf Sugarbush)
- Protea longifolia (Long-leaf Sugarbush)
- Protea obtusifolia (Limestone Sugarbush)
- Protea pudens (Bashful Sugarbush)
- Protea roupelliae (Silver Sugarbush)
- Protea susannae (Stink-leaf Sugarbush)
- Protea sect. Melliferae
- Protea sect. Speciosae
- Protea coronata (Green Sugarbush)
- Protea grandiceps (Red Sugarbush)
- Protea holosericea (Sawedge Sugarbush)
- Protea laurifolia (Gray-leaf Sugarbush)
- Protea lepidocarpodendron (Black-beard Sugarbush)
- Protea lorifolia (Strap-leaf Sugarbush)
- Protea magnifica (Queen Sugarbush)
- Protea neriifolia (Oleander-leaf Protea, Narrow-leaf Sugarbush)
- Protea speciosa (Brown-beard Sugarbush)
- Protea stokoei (Pink Sugarbush)
- Protea sect. Exsertae
- Protea sect. Microgeantae
- Protea sect. Crinitae
- Protea sect. Pinifolia
- Protea sect. Craterifolia
- Protea sect. Obvallatae
- Protea caespitosa (Bishop Sugarbush)
- Protea sect. Subacaules
National symbol 
Today the South Africa national cricket team is known as "The Proteas" and this has linked the flower to wider nationalist sentiments in South Africa.
The former South African Prime Minister and architect of apartheid, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, had a dream to change the flag of South Africa to have in its center a leaping springbok antelope over a wreath of six proteas. This proposal, however, aroused too much controversy to be implemented.
After the demise of apartheid, the ANC government decreed that South African sporting teams, hitherto called "Springboks" were to be known as the "Proteas", although an exemption was made for the rugby union team, who remain "Springboks". In apartheid times, the "Proteas" was the Cape Coloured representative team.
- "Protea". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
- Today the national cricket team are known as "The Proteas". Grundlingh, A. M.; André Odendaal, S. B. Spies (1995). Beyond the Tryline: Rugby and South African Society. Ravan Press. p. 92. ISBN 0-86975-457-2.