Helichrysum splendidum is indeed a splendid shrub with shining,
silver-grey foliage and a mass of golden everlasting flowers in
fast growing shrub, it can grow to 1,5 m x 1 m within 2 years, forming
a dense grey mound. The new growth on the outside is stiff, but
not woody. The older branches at the base and in the middle of the
bush turn hard and brown with age. The stems are covered with a
thick felt of woolly white hairs. The soft young leaves are also
covered with grey woolly hairs. The leaves are aromatic with a slight
camphor scent when rubbed. Pointing upwards the leaves overlap each
other, almost completely covering the stem. Typical for this species
the leaves are narrow (10-30 mm x 1-2 mm) and tipped with a short
hard point. The leaf margins are rolled to the underside making
the leaves even narrower. In mid-summer, from November to February,
the shrub is covered with bright yellow flowers. The compact flower
heads at the tip of the stems are densely packed with small everlasting
flowers. The tight buds of bright yellow papery bracts open slowly
over several weeks to reveal the darker yellow flowers in the centres.
The flowers have a slight sweet perfume.
Helichrysum splendidum occurs naturally in the summer rainfall
areas of South Africa, from the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains
in the southern Cape through Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Free State,
Swaziland, Lesotho to Tropical Africa. Along this wide distribution
this evergreen and frost hardy shrub can be found on rocky slopes,
forest margins, stream gullies and mountain tops.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Helichrysum is derived from Greek word Helios
meaning sun and chrysos meaning gold, referring to the bright
yellow colour of the flower heads. The species name splendidum
means splendid in Latin. The Afrikaans common name, sewejaartjie
is given to most of the helichrysums with papery, everlasting flowers,
and is derived from the belief that the flower heads last for seven
(sewe) years (jaar) when kept in the house. The prefix geel
Helichrysum splendidum belongs to the Asteraceae or daisy
family one of the largest and most well known families. Worldwide
there are 1530 genera and about 22800 species in this family. In
the genus Helichrysum, also known as strawflower, strooiblom
or sewejaartjie there are about 500 species, which are found
mainly in Africa.
The grey colour, woolly covering and narrow leaf shape are adaptations
to help the plant reduce its water loss. The grey colour reflects
the sunlight, while the woolly hairs and small leaf surface reduces
Uses and cultural aspects
Helichrysums are well known and very popular as traditional medicine
in South Africa, their uses are often linked to their distribution.
Elsa Pooley mentions in the field guide to the Flora of the Drakensberg
and Lesotho, that Helichrysum splendidum has been used to
treat rheumatism and that it is a good fuel plant in the mountains.
It is also used in potpouri and lasts well in a vase as a cut flower.
In the garden Helichrysum splendidum makes a colourful display
for Christmas and the summer holidays when one spends time outdoors,
especially in the evenings when the silver-grey foliage stands out.
Attractive even when not in flower, it is most effective planted
in large groups along the edge of the lawn and path, or as a backdrop
at the back of a bed. Flowering at the same time as agapanthus,
the grey and yellow shrub makes a lovely contrast with the dark
blue flowers in front of it.
Growing Helichrysum splendidum
This easy to grow shrub requires very little maintenance provided
that it is given a large enough area to spread without smothering
its neighbours. Like most plants with grey foliage, Helichrysum
splendidum needs to be planted in the full sun and should not
be over watered. Planted in a well-composted bed with good drainage,
full sun and occasional good watering, Helichrysum splendidum
can grow for many years before becoming too woody or untidy. To
shape and encourage new growth, the shrub can be pruned lightly
New plants can be propagated from seed or cuttings. At Kirstenbosch
most of the new plants are propagated from cuttings made from new
non-flowering shoots. Young plants do not last very well in bags
before they get untidy and should be planted out as soon as their
root systems are well developed.
- Germishuizen G & Meyer NL, 2003. Plants of Southern Africa,
Strelitzia 14, Pretoria, National Botanical Institute
- Goldblatt P & Manning J, 2000. Cape Plants, Strelitzia
9, Pretoria, National Botanical Institute
- Goldblatt P, Manning J; Wildflowers of the Fairest Cape;
ABC Press; Cape Town; 2000
- Hilliard O M, 1983. Flora of Southern Africa, Volume
33, Botanical Research Institute
- Joffe P, 2003. Indigenous Shrubs, Pretoria, Briza
- Pooley E, 2003.Mountain flowers, A field guide to the Flora
of the Drakensberg & Lesotho, Durban, Flora Publications
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common Names of South African Plants. Dept.
of Agricultural Technical Services, Botanical Survey Memoir
No 35, Government Printer.
Liesl van der Walt
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden