Chaetacanthus setiger

(Pers.) Lindl.

Family: Acanthaceae
Common names: Fairy stars

In flower

This is a delightful low-growing groundcover up to 150–300 mm high that requires little or no maintenance and is particularly suitable for water-wise gardens and hanging baskets.

Chaetacanthus ( pronounced keet-a-canthus) setiger is an evergreen, low growing groundcover, up to 150–300 mm high with a spread of double the height. The tiny leaves are dark green, opposite, obovate (egg-shaped in outline with the broadest part towards the leaf tip), with axillary leaves sparsely glandular hairy. Flowers are few in axils, hidden amongst the leaves and bracts, white or sometimes blue. Flowering time is from August to January.

Conservation status
Chaetacanthus setiger is Red Listed as Least Concern.

Distribution and habitat
Chaetacanthus setiger occurs in subtropical areas along the eastern coast from Mossel Bay in the Western and Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal, and inland in Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo and North-West Province. Fairy stars occur naturally in a variety of habitats in grassland, forest and renosterveld.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Chaetacanthus is derived from the words chaite meaning ‘bristle', and akanthos meaning ‘thorn'. The specific epithet, setiger, is derived from the word seti meaning ‘bristle' and gero meaning ‘bearing', thus ‘bearing bristle', in reference to the hairy leaves.

The genus Chaetacanthus is represented by five species in southern Africa.

Not much is known about the pollination of Chaetacanthus setiger. Plants are visited by generalist pollinators and pollen thieves like bees and beetles. The flowers also attract butterflies and other insects.

Uses and cultural aspects
Horticulturally Chaetacanthus setiger is used in decorative and indigenous garden displays, hanging baskets displays, pots, rockeries, seaside and shady gardens, as well as water-wise gardens. It can also be used around swimming pool areas, paths and paving.

Growing Chaetacanthus setiger

Chaetacanthus setiger requires well-drained soil. Plant seedlings or young plants in a sunny position where the plant will receive sun for approximately half the day. Add compost to encourage strong healthy growth and mulch around the plants to help retain soil moisture. Water regularly when plants are still small until plants show sign of new growth.

Propagate by cuttings; Chaetacanthus setiger roots quickly and easily from tip/apical cuttings taken from new growth. Collect cuttings early in the morning to prevent wilting. Keep cutting material moist throughout. Treat with rooting hormone and place in a standard mist unit. Cuttings should root in roughly 2–3 weeks. Harden off in a shade house after which plants can be moved to areas in full sun.

References and further reading

  • Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape Plants: A conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9 . National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seeds plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations: Accessed 03/03/2020.
  • Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations: . Accessed 03/03/2020.
  • Solomon, L. A database of Indigenous South African Flora. . Accessed 28/02/2020


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Zoleka Maphanga

Kirstenbosch NBG

March 2014










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