Flowering during the warm summer months, usually from Christmas
until late February, Chironia linoides adds splashes of colour
to the garden. The plants at Kirstenbosch were collected as cuttings
in the Cederberg, attracting our attention because they were flowering
bright pink and pure white in a ditch along a gravel road, while
most of the surrounding veld was brown and dormant during the long,
linoides occurs naturally throughout the winter rainfall areas
of the Cape, from Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula, Bredasdorp
and Oudtshoorn, where it is most often found growing on sandy or
marshy flats and slopes.
It is possible to confuse C. linoides with two other well
known and pretty flowers in the same family, the sea rose Orphium
frutescens and the Christmas berry Chironia baccifera
that both grow wild in the Cape and produce bright, shiny pink
flowers in midsummer.
Chironia linoides is a low, shrubby perennial that grows
about 30 cm high and wide. It produces many thin branches and forms
a small, dense bush that often falls over to one side. The stems
and narrow leaves are slightly succulent and blue-green in colour.
mid-summer a single flower forms at the tip of each of the many
stems, so numerous that they cover the whole bush. Firstly, small
green buds appear, these swell in size and slowly reveal the colour
of the petals that unfold around the large yellow anthers in the
middle of the flower. Although the flowers are usually bright pink,
pure white forms do occasionally occur.
Derivation of the name
The genus Chironia is named after Chiron, the god Centaur
of Greek mythology, who studied medicine, astronomy, music and other
arts and was a skilled herbalist. He was accidentally shot and killed
by Zeus who then put him in the sky as Alpha and Beta Centauri,
the pointer stars for the Southern Cross. The common name, centaury,
has the same origin, and is applied to most species of Chironia,
as well as to species in the genus Centaurium. The plants
of these genera are also extremely bitter, hence the Afrikaans common
name, bitterwortel meaning bitter root. The species name
linoides means resembling the genus Linum (flax).
There are about 30 species in the genus Chironia, found
throughout tropical and subtropical Africa and Madagascar, and 16
species can be found in southern Africa.
Growing Chironia linoides
linoides is not strong enough to make a grand display by itself,
but is excellent for creating small pockets of colour in the rockery,
and as a filler between restios or mixed with other perennials like
Orphium frutescens, Lobelia
valida, diascias and geraniums that flower at the same time.
It likes full sun, well-drained soil and water throughout the year.
Plants usually last for about 2 to 3 years before they become untidy
and need to be replaced.
Chironia linoides is easy to propagate from cuttings taken
at almost any time of the year. Tip cuttings made of new growth
usually root within a month and young plants are ready for planting
after about 4 months growth. For a display in midsummer, cuttings
should be made in autumn, grown on during winter and planted out
in spring, leaving enough time for the plants to grow full and bushy
before flowering in summer.
- 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
- JACKSON, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South
African plant genera. University of Cape Town.
- LEISTNER, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa:
families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical
Liesl van der Walt
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden