Helichrysum cymosum subsp. cymosum is a very attractive and easy-to-grow groundcover with small silvery grey leaves, covered with masses of bright yellow flowers in summer.
Helichrysum cymosum subsp. cymosum is a fast growing, well branched, spreading groundcover that can grow up to 1 m tall, but in the garden it is usually about 500 mm tall with equal spread. It has thin greyish-white woolly branches densely covered with leaves. The leaves are variable, mostly 815 (42) x 24 (15) mm, becoming smaller and more distant upwards. The upper surface of the leaf is covered in thin silvery grey, paper-like hairs (indumentum) that will strip like a skin when rubbed.
It flowers during summer, between September and April, but mainly in late summer and autumn, with bright canary-yellow flowers in flat-topped flowerheads that look like masses of small discs. Each flowerhead is a cluster of 620 flowers. The flowers generally have smooth tips, and a pappus of many bristles (a pappus is a whorl or tuft of bristles in place of a calyx).
||Helichrysum cymosum subsp. cymosum
flowerheads and foliage
There are two recognized subspecies of Helichrysum cymosum : subsp. cymosum and subsp. calvum which occurs mostly in the Grassland Biome. It ranges along the Drakensberg from the Eastern Cape region, along the KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho border to the low Berg in Mpumalanga. The two subspecies can be confused but the difference between them is that subsp. calvum has smaller flowerheads with fewer flowers per flowerhead (47 flowers), generally narrower leaves, and it lacks a pappus.
Least Concern. Helichrysum cymosum subsp. cymosum is very common and therefore it is not threatened in the wild.
Distribution and habitat
It grows in big straggling clumps, often in moist areas such as the hollows between dunes, amongst shrubs in Cape scrub and on forest margins. It ranges from the Western Cape, including the Cape Peninsula, eastwards along the coastal mountain ranges of the Eastern Cape and as far as Lake St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
About 240 species of Helichrysum are indigenous in southern Africa. The genus name Helichrysum, derived from the Greek words helios, which means sun, and chrysos, gold, refers to the golden flowerheads of many species in this genus. The word cymosum (Latin) means with cymes', which are flower clusters in which the flowers open from the centre outward, referring to the flat-topped clusters of flowerheads.
Uses and cultural aspects
Like in many other Helichrysum species, the leaves are aromatic. Traditionally, people of the Eastern Cape use dried leaves as a pain reliever, by inhaling the smoke of burning leaves. Fresh leaves are traditionally boiled in water and drunk as a tea for coughs and colds. Leaves are also traditionally used in wound dressings and to prevent infections.
Growing Helichrysum cymosum subsp. cymosum
This is an easy plant to grow and an excellent hardy ground cover for dry areas. It can also be used as an edging plant, in mixed borders, containers, window boxes, as well as herb gardens and scented gardens. It is a plant that tolerates salt and grows well in sandy soils, which makes it a good plant for coastal gardens. It grows well in full sun and semishaded areas.
Helichrysum cymosum subsp. cymosum is easy to propagate from cuttings rooted in a sand-based growing medium with the addition of compost and fertilizer for nutrients. Seeds are sown in autumn or spring.
References and further reading
- Flora of southern Africa, various volumes. SANBI, Pretoria.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J.C. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Missouri. Joffe, Pitta. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants. A South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red List of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Van Vuuren, S.F., Viljoen, A.M., Van Zyl, R.L., Van Heerden, F.R., Husnu, K. & Baser, C. 2006. The antimicrobial, antimalarial and toxicity profiles of helihumulone, leaf essential oil and extracts of Helichrysum cymosum (L.) D. Don subsp. cymosum. South African Journal of Botany 72,2: 287290.
- Lucid Key Server. http://www.keys.lucidcentral.org/factsheets
- Plants of southern Africa: an online checklist. http://posa.sanbi.org
Seedroom, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden