Strong pink and cream flowerheads and woolly leaves make Helichrysum appendiculatum a striking plant that would enhance any garden. Not yet in cultivation, it presents a challenge to growers of indigenous flora.
This is a perennial herb; rootstock thick, woody; flowering stem one or several, up to 550 mm tall, closely leafy throughout, grey-woolly; basal leaves spreading, elliptic-oblong, upper leaves woolly, smaller. The inflorescence is compact to spreading in terminal clusters; flowerheads 7-15 mm long; involucral bracts (surrounding the flowerheads) dull creamy white or yellowish, sometimes pink-tipped, tips short to long-pointed sometimes, recurved. The fruit is an achene (small dry fruit) crowned by a row of pappus hairs.
It occurs in grasslands, flowering mainly between December and February, but as early as August and as late as April.
This plant is not threatened: the preliminary assessment in the Red Data List is Least Concern.
Distribution and Habitat
Helichrysum appendiculatum occurs from Swellendam in the southern Western Cape eastwards and north-eastwards across the Cape mountains to the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State around Bethlehem and Harrismith, nearby Leribe in Lesotho, Swaziland, and the eastern highlands of the Limpopo as far north as Modjadjiskloof (formerly known as Duiwelskloof). It is widespread in KwaZulu-Natal from near sea level to around 2 100 m.
Derivation of name
The genus name Helichrysum is derived from the Greek word, helios, meaning sun and chrysos meaning gold, and refers to the colourful flowerheads of many species in this genus. The species name appendiculatum is Latin, meaning with appendages; this refers to the upper leaves of the species.
Dried flowers of the genus Helichrysum are said to last forever; hence they are also referred to as everlastings, immortals or sewejaartjies (seven years).
There are about 600 species world-wide and more than 240 occur in southern Africa.
Because of the pappus on the achene or fruit, dispersal is achieved by wind. Insects are known to pollinate Helichrysum appendiculatum.
Uses and cultural aspects
Many species of this genus are widely used medicinally in both African and European tradition. A European medical record states that the researchers found that Helichrysum oils are more anti-inflammatory than German chamomile, have more tissue regenerating properties than lavender and are more cicatrisant (helping the formation of scar tissue) than frankincense.
The leaves of Helichrysum appendiculatum are a Xhosa remedy for chest troubles, and they are sometimes eaten raw for this purpose. The plant is also used by traditional healers for smallpox and is said to be antihelminthic (prevents the infestation by worms).
The white, woolly lower surface of the leaf is stripped to make fringes and body ornaments.
Helichrysums are also used for decoration: They have bright yellow, dull gold, pink, or silvery white flowers which are dried and used in flower pictures and for other purposes such as flower arrangements.
Growing Helichrysum appendiculatum
Helichrysum appendiculatum is easy to grow but should not be over-watered. It likes well-drained soil mixed with sand and compost, and requires a warm sunny place. Propagation is by stem cuttings in late summer or by division of the roots in spring. H. appendiculatum also grows from seed (preferably sown in spring).
References and further reading
- Eliovson, S.1980. Wild flowers of southern Africa : how to grow and identify them, edn 6. Macmillan, Johannesburg.
- Fabian, A. & Germishuizen, G. 1997. Wild flowers of northern South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
- Hilliard, O.M. 1977. Compositae in Natal. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Hilliard, O.M. 1983. Asteraceae. Inuleae, Gnaphaliinae (first part). Flora of southern Africa 33, part 7, fascicle 2. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.
- Pooley, E. 2003. Mountain flowers. Field guide to the flora of the Drakensberg and Lesotho. Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwyk, M.G. 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa, edn 2. Livingstone, Edinburgh and London.