This hardy perennial produces dazzling metallic purple flowers
in spring each year. It is a low-growing, ground-hugging plant with
small, stubby, light green, succulent leaves. It makes an ideal
plant for waterwise gardeners, particularly those living in climates
with hot dry summers. The typical mesemb flowers usually open about
midday and close in the evenings. On dull, cool days they remain
The exact identification of this plant is somewhat unclear.
Some authorities apply the name D. floribundum to a plant
with a mainly coastal distribution around Cape Town, while others
refer to a plant growing in the Little Karoo and in the vicinity
of Worcester and Robertson. It is unlikely that these are both the
same plant. Hopefully this matter will soon be clarified, but in
this article we will be describing the plant as it grows in inland
areas, although two of the photographs were taken of plants at Paardeneiland
near Cape Town.
The name Drosanthemum is derived from Greek words for dew,
drosos and flower, anthos, referring to the glittering
appearance of many species.
The main pollinators of Drosanthemum floribundum is the Cape
honey bee. Butterflies have been known to pollinate this species
on the odd occasion. These plants are water misers. They are known
to survive in very hot, dry climatic conditions. They grow flat
(prostrate) on the ground. Drosanthemum floribundum easily
colonize large, flat, open spaces in the Little Karoo. One plant
can, in its lifetime, cover an area as large as 2m².
Uses and cultural aspects
In the past these hardy survivors were planted in the gardens around
Karoo homesteads. Today one can see their offspring. Plants still
exist around deserted farm homes. In parts of the Little and Great
Karoo Drosanthemum floribundum has proved to be an excellent
feed for cattle, ewes and lambs. In times of drought famers in the
Little Karoo fed these plants to their ostriches.
Growing Drosanthemum floribundum
ripe seed capsules in December, some 3 months after the plant has
flowered. Lightly grind up the capsules to free the seed. Use a
sieve to separate the fine, light brown seed. A conventional flour
sieve will suffice for this sieving process.
Once the seeds have been separated from the ground up capsules,
they are ready for planting. Sow the seeds in amongst grit 2mm in
diameter in a flat seed pan. Then use the flour sieve to cover the
seeds with a fine layer (only 1mm thick) of loam soil. Do not sow
deeper than that, otherwise the seeds will not germinate easily.
Keep the well-drained soil medium moist. Do not over-water at this
stage. Use a fine spray for watering. Water gently and not with
force otherwise the seeds will be washed out.
Under optimum conditions the seeds will germinate in 7 days.So
what are optimum conditions? The ideal time to sow these seeds are
during the months of March, April and May. This is because winter
rain usually falls for the first time during these months in the
The seeds will germinate rapidly. Once they have six leaves, prick
them out and plant into a one pint plastic bag or a small 6 cm plastic
If they have been cultivated under shade conditions, remember to
harden them off by exposing gradually to bright sunlight before
they are planted directly in full sun. From seed sown in March there
is a possibility of flowering plants by September. Once they have
germinated, growth is very rapid.
Plants can also be grown from cuttings, but the strike rate is
very low (about 15%).
These plants are very rewarding. They are hardy (drought and frost
resistant). They can be planted in most garden situations, except
for heavy pot clay. Individual plants live for 5-7 years, but if
they are happy they may reseed themselves. Remember succulents are
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden
with additions by Yvonne Reynolds