This is a spring flower of the grasslands with the unusual combination of dark disc, white rays and bright green foliage, making it an attractive garden plant if you can get seeds, but it has unpleasant smell like green mango when cut.
Callilepis laureola is perennial herb with tufts of stems about 600mm tall arising from a large woody tuber. The stems are simple or branched from the base, glabrous or hairy. Leaves are variable in size and shape, up to 65 x 20 mm lanceolate or elliptic, decreasing in size upwards and passing into bracts, 3 nerved; margins entire, glabrous or sometimes with long delicate hairs in the axils or on the blade. Capitulum usually solitary, terminal. Ray florets pure white, disc-florets tubular, dark purple. Achenes 5 mm long, dimorphic, those of the ray flowers 3-angled, smooth with a marginal, entire wing. Flowers from August to November, occasionally as late as February.
Distribution and habitat
Widespread in the grasslands of the eastern Transvaal, Swaziland, KwaZulu-Natal and the Transkei about far south as the Umzimvubu River; also in Mozambique, on the Lembombo Mountains. Throughout KwaZulu-Natal from near sea level to 1800 m. Grows in open grassland. There are 4 recorded species of Callilepis for southern Africa.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Callilepis is endemic to southern Africa. Callilepis means "beautiful scale", which refers either to the paleae on the receptacle or to the beaks produced from the ovary. The beaks are diagnostic of the genus. "laureola" meaning smaller
laurel as in the Laurel family.
Uses and cultural aspects
Tubers are poisonous. It is reported that the plant has been responsible for several deaths among the Zulu who take a decoction of the root as a vermifuge and an infusion as a purgative. In traditional medicine it is used to treat tapeworm, snakebite, infertility, pregnancy tonics (known as inembe and isihlambezo), kill maggots in cattle, whooping cough. Amongst the Swati, the macerated leaf is used as an external disinfectant. Fatalities have occurred from overdose.
Powdered root infusions are taken as purgatives, sometimes mixed with other ingredients. Root paste is used to kill maggots in cattle. Roots are also taken as tonics by young girls in the early stages of menstruation. Boiled roots are taken for tapeworm and pounded to make an infusion for fertility. A paste of the crushed root is applied directly to open wounds and then covered with a bandage. Roots gathered in winter are used as a cough mixture. Ground roots are taken for snake bite and used as enemas and also used as protective charms placed under the pillow to stop bad dreams.
Growing Callilepis laureola
Collect seed from the dry seed heads. Tug at the dry flower petals and the clustered seeds should come off in your fingers. If not, it means that they are too green or immature.
Once taken from the seed head clean of chaff and sow the seeds in a seedling mixture of one part coarse river sand (Umgeni) to one part compost. Cover lightly and the seeds germinate in less than 10 days in full sunlight and good ventilation. Keep watered and then plant into individual containers after about 6-8 weeks.
Sow the seeds as soon as harvested and over winter the seedlings. In winter plants go dormant and die back to the rootstock. They re-shoot in spring.
Acknowledgements to Geoff Nichols for information on propagation methods.
References and further reading
- Gibson, J. 1975. Wild Flowers of Natal (Coastal Region). The Trustees of Natal Publishing Trust Fund, Durban.
- Harvey , W.H. 1894. Flora Capensis: Compositae. Volume 3. Lovell Reeve & Co, London.
- Hilliard, O.M. 1977. Co mpositae in Natal. University of Natal , Pietermaritzburg, KZN.
- Hutchings, A. 1996. Zulu Medicinal Plants. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Pooley, E. 2005. A field guide to wildflowers KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern regions. Natal Flora publications Trust, Durban. South Africa.
- Van Wyk, B.; Gericke, N. 2000. People's Plants: A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza Publications, South Africa.
- Walker, J. 1996. Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal. W.R. Walker Family Trust, Pine Town.