This stately anemone with beautiful white flowers and large, velvety palmate leaves from the eastern grasslands of South Africa would be an asset to any colder region garden.
Anemone fanninii is a perennial herb with a well-developed, woody rootstock, up to 1.2 m tall. The palmate (5- to 7-lobed) leaves are up to 350 mm in diameter, velvety above and hairy beneath, with red-tipped, toothed margins. Gibson (1978) aptly describes the upper surface of the leaves as 'soft as a kitten'. However, it is the lovely creamy-white, fragrant flowers, often tinged lilac or pink, appearing from August to December, which make this species so striking. Cythna Letty's beautiful watercolour painting featured here shows a flower with numerous, densely crowded, yellow stamens surrounding the pistils (female reproductive structures). This painting appears in:
Flowering Plants of Africa, volume 37, plate 1441. Published by The South African National Biodiversity Institute (formally the Botanical Research Institute) in 1965.
A. fanninii can be distinguished from its sister species A. caffra by the branched inflorescence stalks, and the fact that the leaves are only partly developed at flowering. It is also a much larger plant.
A. fanninii is not threatened, but is gathered for the traditional medicinal trade.
Distribution and Habitat
This species is found in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, Free State and Limpopo, all summer rainfall regions which experience cold dry winters at altitudes of between 1 150 and 2 100 m. According to Pooley (1998) it is found in moist depressions and near streams, but it has also been seen on dry hillsides and even in disturbed areas.
Derivation of name and historical aspects: Anemone is a genus of about 120 of flowering plants in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, in the north and south temperate zones. Anemones, widely grown as spring flowers, are well known to gardeners throughout the world. There are three species in South Africa.
The anemones derive their name from anemos, Greek for wind, reportedly because of their tendency to nod in even the slightest breeze. However, Elsa Pooley (1998) gives a much more romantic derivation: nahamea -a corrupted name for the Greek god Adonis who was killed while hunting wild boar on Mount Olympus, his blood causing red A. coronaria plants to spring up"
First collected in 1863 by Fannin at his farm in Dargle, KwaZulu-Natal, specimens were sent to Harvey in Dublin, who named the plant after him, but failed to provide a description. It was later collected by Adlam and described by Masters.
Little is known about the pollination or seed dispersal of Anemone fanninii.
Uses and cultural aspects
Hutchings (1996) states that the roots of A. fanninii are used as traditional medicine, probably in the same way as A. caffra. The latter is used for biliousness and the roots are also used in sorcery. The plant is used horticulturally in the United Kingdom.
Growing Anemone fanninii
Killick, in 1965 noted that this anemone 'has proved very difficult to cultivate away from its natural habitat, although it has been successfully grown in the United Kingdom ', and, in fact, features in many British and Scottish nursery catalogues on the internet today. This indicates that it probably requires cold winters to do well.
Collect seed in October and November and sow immediately into a seedling medium such as pine bark. Prick seedlings out into containers at the 4-leaf stage. Plants are ready to be put out into the garden after overwintering, in the early spring.
As is the case with most summer rainfall geophytes, these plants die back during the winter months and are best left alone. The empty spaces left by the dormant plants can be oversown with spring annuals such as Heliophila coronopifolia to provide early spring colour.
References and further reading
- Gibson, J.M. 1978. Wild flowers of Natal (Inland Region). Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Hutchings, A. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Killick, D.J.B. 1965. Anemone fanninii. The Flowering Plants of Africa 37: t. 1441.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
Natal National Botanical Garden