Bold and beautiful, the mesmerizing Arctotis hirsuta is one of the most captivating species in an annual spring display.
This robust annual species grows to 450 mm in height and diameter. It is slightly fleshy with a branched stem. The thinly hairy, lyrate (lyre-shaped) to pinnatifid (divided feather-like) leaves are up to 200 mm long and often auriculate (with ear-like lobes at the base).
There are various flowerheads of about 40 mm in diameter, borne on leafy stalks. The rayflorets are orange, yellow or cream-coloured, sometimes with purplish markings at the base. The disc florets are often black.The involucral bracts surrounding the flower heads are finely woolly and arranged in three rows. The innermost bracts have a transparent tip. Flowering is from July to October.
Arctotis hirsuta is not threatened and has a status of Least Concern (LC) (Raimondo et al . 2009).
Distribution and habitat
The gousblom is found on sandy slopes and flats, often along the coast, in the Western Cape from Elandsbaai to the Agulhas Plain.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Arctotis is derived from Greek arktos, which means a bear, and otos an ear. This implies that the scales of the pappus (appendages of the fruit) look like the ears of a bear.
The specificepithet, hirsuta, means hairy in Latin. This refers to the hairs present on the leaves and stem. Arctotis species are often referred to as African daisies. Some species were previously placed under Venidium.
There are currently more than fifty species known from southern Africa to Angola.
As a spring annual species, the gousblom completes its entire lifecycle in a single season. This ranges from germination, flowering, the production of seed and until it eventually dies off. The process starts in autumn with the first cool air and the season's first rain. These are favourable conditions and significant growth will take place. From the middle of winter to the middle of spring, blooming occurs and the game is on to attract possible pollinators. Thus the large, colourful flower heads come into play.
Bees and beetles have been noticed to regularly visit the flowers of Artotis hirsuta . It is not certain, though, which ones are responsible for doing the pollination.
Seeds are light in weight which aids wind-dispersal and thus ensures that seeds get scattered over a larger area.
This entire process is normally completed by the time summer arrives. This adaptation allows this species to cope with the harsh summer conditions. The next generation— the seed— slightly buried in the soil, like its predecessors, is ready to germinate, but only under favourable conditions that will ensure the survival of the species.
Uses and cultural aspects
No medicinal or cultural uses of the gousblom have been recorded.
This species is an ornamental winner with it its bright display of colour and somewhat robust habit during late winter and early spring. The large yellow, orange or cream -coloured flower heads are simply bold and beautiful and it rightfully demands inclusion in the spring annual garden.
Growing Arctotis hirsuta
The gousblom grows easily. Sow seed during March in seed beds or seed trays using a light, well-draining medium which is placed in a sunny position.
The medium could be a light, sandy soil or a mixture of bark, compost or river sand. There is no restriction on what materials to use for a perfect medium. The most important requirement is good drainage.
The medium needs levelling and a good watering beforehand. If the medium has been used before, it is advisable to dig the soil over first.
Sow the light seeds evenly on a windless day, water gently and cover with a thin layer of sand or bark. The seed will germinate within the first two weeks. Prick seedlings out from the beds or trays as soon as they are large enough to be handled. Seed can also be sown directly into garden beds, but germination could be irregular. Fast growing weeds could also provide fierce competition. The transplanting stage is vital and care needs to be taken that the young seedlings are regularly watered. Plant this sun-loving species close together.
Preparing flowering beds often requires the loosening up and aeration of the compacted soil. Add organic fertilizer and well-rotted compost and use the rotovator to work it into the soil. Level the soil out by using an iron rake. To help suppress the development and growth of weeds or other unwanted plants, it could be beneficial to apply an additional mulch-layer of compost. If using summer annuals in an area not receiving summer rainfall, this could also have the advantage of retaining soil moisture. The lack of compost for a season or two need not deter one from planting, as good well-drained soil will suffice. In time though, it would be advisable to add compost. The transplanting stage is vital and care needs to be taken that the young seedlings are regularly watered. Plant plants of this sun-loving species close together.
Flowering normally starts sometime during July right through towards the end of September/ October. Seed will be ready for harvesting from September onwards.
Arctotis hirsuta is equally suitable for en masse mixed plantings of its various colour-forms or for mixed plantings with other annual species in small or larger flower beds. There are various other annuals which either occur with this species in its natural habitat or which have been found to complement it rather well. These include: Ursinia anthemoides (marigold), U. speciosa (Namaqua-ursinia) and U. cakilefolia, Heliophila coronopifolia (blue flax), Senecio elegans (wild cineraria), Dorotheanthus bellidiformis (Livingstone daisy), Dimorphotheca sinuata (Namaqualand daisy), D. pluvialis (white Namaqualand daisy), Felicia dubia (dwarf felicia) and blue F. heterophylla .
References and further reading
- Cowling, R. & Pierce, S. 1999. Namaqualand: A succulent desert . Fernwood 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 & Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri.
- Le Roux, A. 2005. Namaqualand : South African Wild Flower Guide 1. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Manning, J. & Goldblatt, P. 1996. West Coast : South African Wild Flower Guide 7. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Powrie, F. 1998. Grow South African plants . A gardener's companion to indigenous plants. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red list of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Stearn, W. 2002. Stearn's dictionary of plant names for gardeners. Timber Press. Portland, Oregon.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden