Helichrysum populifolium is a shade-loving
shrub with very attractive grey foliage. In nature it occurs along
the east coast of South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal and Transkei where
its distribution is confined to areas of sandstone. Locally abundant,
it is commonly found along the forest margins, growing as a scrambling
shrub with Strelitzia nicolai, clivias, Agapanthus
and Plectranthus on cliffs above the gorges and large rocky
common name, poplar helichrysum, and the species name, populifolium
both refer to the leaves which are similar to those of the poplar.
These names describe this plant well.
It is a soft, woody shrub that grows to about two
metres high and wide. The leaves are large (± 130 x 110
mm), soft to touch and round to heart-shaped. Very striking is
the white felted underside of the leaves. The upper surface of
the leaves can be almost dark green, but always look as if they
are covered by grey cobwebs. The stems are also covered by the
same white felt as the leaves.
Helichrysum populifolium flowers from March
to May, the individual flowers are small, insignificant in colour,
but are so abundant that they are difficult to miss. The flowers
are formed in little clusters in a large branching inflorescence
at the end of the stems. The flowers have a slight honey scent.
Close up one can see the pale brown outer bracts and woolly, white
to yellow interiors of the individual flowers.
Growing Helichrysum populifolium
In the garden the poplar helichrysum adds textural
interest with its soft, grey foliage throughout the year. On cold
winter mornings it is especially beautiful when the sunlight touches
the leaves covered with small drops of water. It also is valuable
as a shrub for difficult areas with a seasonal shift between shade
and sun, for example, full sun for part of the day in midsummer,
but very little sun in winter.
For best results it should be planted in semi-shade, well-composted
soil and receive regular water throughout the summer. If happy,
Helichrysum populifolium grows quite fast, reaching about
2 metres high and wide within 3 years. To keep it tidy and encourage
bushy growth, it can be pruned lightly after flowering in winter.
Helichrysum populifolium can be propagated
from seed and cuttings. At Kirstenbosch it is propagated mostly
from tip cuttings that are made of the new growth in early summer.
A rooting hormone is used and the cuttings are placed in a mix
of bark and polystyrene on the mist unit with bottom heat. Rooting
takes about 3 weeks, the rooted cuttings are put into pots filled
with a general potting mix to which slow release fertiliser is
added. When well established in the pots, the new plants are planted
into the garden. Seed of Helichrysum populifolium can be
sown during spring in seed trays.
The genus Helichrysum, commonly known as
'strooiblom' in Afrikaans, belongs to the Asteraceae or daisy
family. In this genus there are more than 500 species of which
most are found in Africa. Helichrysum
argryophyllum, the golden guinea everlasting, has also
been described in this series.