Arctotis fastuosa with large colourful flowers, is an easy-to-grow annual from the dry Namaqualand region.
Arctotis fastuosa is a fast-growing annual that opportunistically responds to good rains at any time of the year. With plenty of water it will grow up to 600 mm high, but the size of the plant depends very much on the rain or water available. The soft herbaceous plants branch from the ground with long woolly leaves that are loosely grouped in small clumps. The deeply lobed leaves are up to 150 mm long and covered on both sides with white hairs, giving the plant a light, grey-green colour.
The large single flower heads are carried proudly at the top of long leafy stalks. The flower heads are very striking with a double row of brilliant, usually orange ray florets. The inner row of ray florets has dark blotches at their base which form a thick dark ring around the flat centre. The centre of the flower head is shining black when the inner disc florets are closed and yellow when they open. The outer ray florets can vary from plain orange, reddish orange, yellowish orange to cream-coloured. In nature, A. fastuosa germinates after good winter rains and colours large fields when it flowers in spring (July-October).
The small seeds (cypselae) look like tiny grape pips and ripen in the old flower heads about a month after flowering. A typical feature, visible under a microscope, of the fruit/seed of A. fastuosa is that it only has one cavity compared to the two of most other Arctotis species.
Arctotis fastuosa is not threatened and is one of the most common annuals that flower after good winter rains throughout its distribution area.
Distribution and habitat
Namaqualand is the centre of the natural distribution of Arctotis fastuosa, but it is also found north into Namibia and further south to the Biedouw Valley and into the Tankwa Karoo along the Doorn River Valley. In these very dry areas with scorching summers and low winter rains, A. fastuosa survives the summers dormant as seed and grows during winter on the sandy and gravel slopes with the unique local succulent karoo vegetation. Arctotis fastuosa is frost tolerant.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Arctotis, named by Linnaeus, is a combination of the Greek words arctos meaning a bear and otis meaning ear. The Greek descriptions refer to the scales on the pappus (fine hairs on the fruit that aid in wind dispersal) that look like ears. The species name fastuosa is derived from the Latin word fastuosus which means haughty, proud, showy or ostentatious. One could assume that it is the latter two meanings that Nicolaus von Jacquin (1727-1817) had in mind when he described the flowering type specimen of Arctotis fastuosa. Nicolaus von Jacquin was a very prolific author of several florilegia, botanical publications with beautiful illustrations of cultivated plants. Many of the plants illustrated in Jacquin's florilegia were originally from South Africa, sent to Europe by the collectors Georg Scholl and Frans Boos in the late 1780s. Most of the plants were grown at the Royal Gardens at Schönbrunn. The illustration of A. fastuosa was published in the Plantarum rariorum horti caesarei schoenbrunnensis between 1797 and 1804.
Arctotis is an African genus with about 50 species that occur throughout southern Africa to Angola. Many Arctotis species and hybrids are popular garden plants across the world as they are easy to grow and very floriferous, with large flowers in a range of colours. Other species forming part of this web infobase include A. venusta, A. stoechadifolia and A. arctotoides.
Arctotis fastuosa is pollinated by bees that visit the flowers as they open in full sun from the morning to the afternoon.
Uses and cultural aspects
Arctotis fastuosa is commonly known as bitter gousblom, as the milk of cows that graze on it, develops a bitter flavour. Of all the bright and beautiful annuals of Namaqualand, A. fastuosa is one of the easiest and most colourful for cultivation in gardens, and is the parent of a number of hybrids that are popular for bedding displays, gravel gardens and containers. The flowers of the modern cultivars tend to stay open longer than the natural species, which only open on sunny days and close by mid-afternoon.
Growing Arctotis fastuosa
A tough and adaptable species, Arctotis fastuosa is one of the few annuals that are reliable for summer displays at Kirstenbosch. For a summer display, sow the seeds late September or early October, germination is within a week.
At Kirstenbosch the seeds are sown in large seedbeds in the nursery from where the young seedlings are transplanted as soon as they are big enough to handle, about a month later. Seeds can also be sown in seed trays or directly into well-prepared garden beds. Full sun, well-drained soil and regular watering are important for success with the seedlings and plants in the garden. The plants respond well to feeding with an organic fertilizer. Plant the seedlings about 10 cm apart and weed regularly between the plants until they annuals have filled out and covered the ground. The plants will only flower in full sun, and as the open flowerheads follow the movement of the sun during the day, the planting beds must be orientated to view the front of the flower and not the back. Summer flowering is from late December, January to February.
Other summer annuals that are planted with it for display are Arctotis venusta, Ceratotheca triloba and Oncosiphon suffruticosa. For a spring display (August/September), sow the seeds in autumn (March/April).
References and further reading
- Brickell, C. 1996. The RHS A-Z encyclopaedia of garden plants. Dorling Kindersley. London.
- Eliovson, S. 1973. South African wild flowers for the garden. Macmillan, Johannesburg.
- Harvey, W.H. 1865. Flora capensis 3: 448-464.
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds). 2003. Plants of southern Africa : an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Goldblatt. P. & Manning, J. 1997. Bokkeveld Plateau & Hantam. South African Wild Flower Guide 9. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Wildflowers of the fairest Cape. ABC Press, Cape Town.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Hyam, R. & Pankhurst, R. 1995. Plants and their names. A concise dictionary. Oxford University Press.
- Le Roux, A. & Wahl, Z. 2005. Namaqualand. South African Wild Flower Guide 1. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Manning, J. & Paterson-Jones, C. 2004. Southern African wild flowers: jewels of the veld. Struik, Cape Town.
- Rix, M. 1981. The art of botanical illustration. Bracken Books, London.
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
Liesl van der Walt