Helichrysum platypterum is just as attractive as other members of the daisy family, more especially when in full bloom. If one is able to dig deep enough to get hold of the hard woody tuber, one would be rewarded with seeing the glass-like, bluish cream, inner part of the tuber.
Helichryum platypterum is a perennial herb, erect or slightly decumbent, to ± 1 m tall, with a very hard woody tuber, up to 60 mm in diameter, with a single or several stems clumping together, the lower part leafy, the upper part slightly cobwebby. Leaves are mostly 250 x 80 mm, becoming smaller up the stem, lower ones broadly elliptic, upper ones narrower elliptic to lanceolate, the base broad, clasping and extending downward in the winged stem, the tip acute with a small sharp point. Both surfaces have thin hairs, some of which are gland tipped.
Flower heads are small, many, bell-shaped, ± 5 x 5 mm, in a large spreading inflorescence, ± 200 mm across. Bracts are overlapping like tiles on a roof, inner ones more or less equalling in height the flowers. Flowers range from creamy white, white to creamy yellow, sweetly scented. Pappus bristles numerous, tips with short, stiff hairs. The flowering period is mainly between February and March, though some plants have been observed flowering in November and January.
Even though it is used in Zulu medicines, it is not threatened because of its large distribution range. Its use is not as extensive as that of Helichrysum odoratissimum (impepho).
Distribution and habitat
Helichrysum platypterum is usually found on moist grassy slopes or in dense forest margins. It has been recorded from the highlands of Mpumalanga and some parts of Swaziland, in the Harrismith area of Free State, in Lesotho and Eastern Cape. In KwaZulu-Natal it is more widespread, found between ± 200 and 2 100 m.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Phillip Miller who was in charge of the London Physick Garden, which specialized in growing medicinal plants, named the genus Helichrysum. In this garden, South African plants were grown from seeds that were obtained from the Dutch East India Company.
The genus name Helichrysum is derived from the Greek words helios, meaning sun and chrysos, meaning gold. This is from the fact that some species in the genus have golden yellow flowers.
This genus has ± 600 species mostly in Africa and Madagascar, though also represented in Europe, Asia and Australia. It is widespread in southern Africa with ± 244 species. It is also the second largest genus in the family Asteraceae in southern Africa.
A number of insects have been observed visiting flowers. It is therefore fair to assume that insects that include flies, beetles, bees and butterflies pollinate this plant. Seed dispersal is by wind or water or both.
Uses and cultural aspects
Helichrysum platypterum, can be used in the cut flower industry like others in the genus. It is one of the plants that is used in the Zulu medicines and is easily available in the muthi markets in the Durban region. One of its isiZulu names is umbizakayivuthwa, which literally means a pot that does not get cooked, (imbiza, pot, enga, that does not, vuthwa, cooked). The woody tuber is mixed with the roots of Pentanisia prunelloides to make a concoction ( intelezi ) that is used to sprinkle around a homestead as protection against evil. The residue of this mixture is then sprinkled on the roof of all the huts on the homestead, to stop an arsonist's fire. The tuber can also be used in a polygamous marriage, where one of the wives puts this tuber in an open fire that is used by another wife to cook for their husband. The result is that the food will never get cooked-no husband likes a wife that serves him food that is not properly cooked!
Growing Helichrysum platypterum
Not much is known about the cultivation of this species, but it should grow easily from seed. It will do well in a variety of areas from semi-coastal to alpine habitats.
References and further reading
- 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.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seeds plants of southern Africa : families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Ngwenya, M.A., Koopman, A. & Williams, R. 2003. Ulwazi LwamaZulu Ngezimila : isingeniso/Zulu botanical knowledge : an introduction. National Botanical Institute, Durban.
KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium, Durban