Arctotis acaulis is a fast-growing perennial that is best grown as an annual, with large orange, yellow, salmon or cream daisies in spring and early summer.
Arctotis acaulis is a stemless perennial 200 - 300 mm tall, with a tuberous rootstock and a basal tuft of leaves, i.e. they arise directly from the rootstock. The leaves are roughly hairy above and grey-felted underneath, divided into broad lobes cleft almost to the midrib(pinnatifid), with a large rounded terminal lobe and smaller lateral lobes that diminish in size towards the base of the leaf (lyrate). Large (70-100 mm in diameter), solitary, daisies with dark centres and bright yellow, orange, salmon pink or cream rays are borne in succession at the tips of ±300 mm long, thick, roughly hairy flower stalks in late winter to early summer (July to November), peaking during spring (August-October). The flower stalks also arise directly from the rootstock. The disc florets are black when closed, opening to reveal yellow stamens and stigma. There is often a black spot or band at the base of the ray florets, creating a black ring around the centre of the daisy. Some plants also have a bright yellow band. The fruit is an achene (a small, dry, indehiscent, one-seeded fruit that does not split open), with a well-developed pappus of papery scales and basal tuft of hairs.
In cultivation they hybridise quite freely with other species of Arctotis and a wider range of colours develops over a few generations, including pink, maroon and red. The banding colour also varies.
Distribution and habitat
Arctotis acaulis occurs in the renosterveld, fynbos, succulent karoo, and nama karoo biomes, in clay, granitic and limestone soils on flats and lower slopes from Calvinia, Nieuwoudtville and Clanwilliam in the western Karoo and Bokkeveld Plateau to the Peninsula, and westward to Swellendam and the Langeberg Mountains.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Arctotis was named by Linnaeus, the name is a combination of the Greek words arktos, a bear; and otis, an ear. The derivation is not clear, it could refer to the pappus scales on the fruit, or the coat of shaggy hairs on the fruit. The species name acaulis means without a stem, from the Greek a - without, and caulis (also spelled colis) stem of a plant, referring to its growth habit.
A description and engraving of Arctotis acaulis by Sydenham Edwards (illustrator) and Smith (engraver), was published by James Ridgway in 1816 in the Botanical Register, Vol.2, plate 122. The illustration was made from plants in the nursery of Messrs. Lee and Kennedy at Hammersmith, where it was in cultivation before 1759. I t was featured in Curtis's Botanical magazine in 1820 under the name Arctotis speciosa, since sunk into synonymy under A. acaulis. Both illustrations can be viewed on the Aluka website.
Arctotis is an African genus of 63 species that occur throughout southern Africa to Angola with most species in the Western and Eastern Cape and Namaqualand. Many arctotis species make excellent garden plants and are becoming popular all over the world. There are also more and more hybrids and selections in a wide variety of colours available at garden centres. Species covered in this series include A. arctotoides, A. fastuosa (Namaqua arctotis), A. stoechadifolia (silver arctotis) and A. venusta (Karoo arctotis).
Arctotis acaulis flowers are visited by a variety of beetles and bees, any one of which could do the job of pollination. The seeds are light in weight and have a pappus of papery scales, which indicate that they are dispersed by wind.
Uses and cultural aspects
In earlier times, the grey felt on the undersides of the leaves of many species in the daisy family, including Arctotis acaulis, was scraped off and used as tinder (tontel). When scraped off this felt resembles a miniature cloth (doek), which is where this species gets its other Afrikaans common name, tonteldoekblom.
Growing Arctotis acaulis
Arctotis acaulis is quick and easy to grow. Although it is a perennial, it gives best results in the garden if it is treated as an annual. Plant them in a sunny position, in well drained, well-composted, fertile soil and give them plenty of water during the germination and growing period. Cutting off the old flower heads will increase the flowering time.
The large, showy daisies, range of colours and long-flowering period make this an excellent species for spring display, planted en masse or interplanted with other spring flowering annuals, like Ursinia calenduliflora, U. anthemoides, U. cakilefolia, U. speciosa, Arcototis fastuosa, A. hirsuta, Felicia heterophylla, Heliophila coronopifolia, Dimporphotheca pluvialis, D. sinuata, and Senecio elegans.
At Kirstenbosch, seed is sown in autumn (April-May) and the seedlings planted into the garden as soon as they are large enough (about a month old) and left to grow during the rainy winter. They start flowering in late winter and continue throughout the spring into early summer (July-Nov.) but are at their best in spring (Sept-Oct). In cold climates that experience frost in winter, seed should be sown in early spring for summer display. Seed can be sown in trays and the seedlings transplanted into the garden, or they can be sown directly into prepared beds in the garden. Cover the seeds lightly to prevent them from blowing away. Take care not to let the newly germinated seedlings dry out or they will die - they are at their most vulnerable just before they emerge from the soil. Also, if watering is done clumsily or the rain falls heavily, the seeds can be washed into clumps. The resultant crowded seedlings should be lifted and transplanted, or thinned. If left the plants will be stunted, and are more susceptible to damping off. For a carpet of flowers in spring, plant the seedlings ±150-250 mm apart and weed regularly. Feed with organic fertiliser and mulch with well-rotted compost, and water regularly.
Arctotis acaulis can also be propagated by dividing the rootstock, which is used to preserve a particular type or colour form.
References and further reading
- Aluka: www.aluka.org
- Bond, P. & Goldblatt, P. 1984. Plants of the Cape Flora, A Descriptive Catalogue. National Botanic Gardens, Cape Town
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape Plants, A Conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Missouri
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and Meanings of Names of South African Plant Genera. U.C.T. Printing Dept., Cape Town.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Manning, J. 2007. Field Guide to Fynbos. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
- Plants of southern Africa: an online checklist. http://posa.sanbi.org
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
- van der Spuy, U. 1971. Wild Flowers of South Africa for the Garden. Hugh Keartland Publishers, Johannesburg.
- van Rooyen, G. & Steyn, H. 1999. Cederberg: South African Wild Flower Guide 10. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden