This Bell Block Street takes its name from the protea plant which produces vibrant and striking blooms, familiar to most of us as popular garden shrubs.  They are often sought out for elaborate floral displays. In its native homeland of South Africa, the plant has been used for furniture making, ink, tanning leather and for medicinal purposes.

It was first collected in the 16th century by Dutch explorers and first cultivated outside South Africa in 18th century Europe from material collected by Scottish plant collector, Francis Masson. It has since spread across the globe to favourable environments, including New Zealand. It is not clear when the plant arrived here, but possibly it came with soldiers returning from the Boer War in the late 19th century or by way of English exporters in the 1930’s. 

The name “Protea” comes from the Greek legend concerning Proteus, son of Poseidon, who had the ability to assume many forms.  Carl Linnaeus named the Protea in 1735, probably due to its many variations of form and colour.  

In South Africa the Protea is a significant symbol. It is the national flower and is often used as a symbol of a unified nation in the post-apartheid era. It has also been adopted as the national symbol for sporting codes.

However, this was a controversial decision for rugby, which already had its traditional symbol of the springbok. Given its extraordinary reputation within the rugby world, the South Africans decided to retain the springbok symbol that had been internationally recognised since 1906. 

This was a little ironic since rugby was sometimes seen as a bastion of the apartheid era. Nevertheless, the Protea is used to proclaim the new era in South Africa in many other areas of their lives, as well as exporting its name to a street in Bell Block.

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.


Related Information


Proteus, Greek Mythology (22 October 2010), Kathleen Kuiper. Encyclopaedia Britannica


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