Heliophila coronopifolia Willd

Family: Brassicaceae
Common Names: Wild flax, Sporries, Showy sunflax

Heliophila coronopifolia

This dainty, blue annual is an absolute delight when it comes into flower. Upright and graceful, with small cups of bright blue flowers, the plants appear to dance in a light breeze. In nature they are found from Namaqualand to the Western Cape, often flowering in enormous drifts and covering fields in clouds of blue. They are also often found between other annuals like the Namaqualand daisies or ursinias.

Fields of Heliophila on the west coast


The showy sunflax belongs to the mustard family (Brassicaceae), as do cauliflowers and broccoli. In this family the plants often taste and smell of mustard and sulphur. If you crush a sunflax, it smells like a cauliflower.

Under good conditions, Heliophila coronopifolia grows bushy and about 60 cm tall. The smooth stems and soft, slender leaves are bright green. The blue flowers are arranged in little spikes at the top of the stems. The four petals of the flower open wide to display the white center with the pollen and stigma in the middle. The flowers are quick to close during cool weather and at night. The seedpods are long, splitting when the small brown seed are ripe.

Heliophila laciniataGrowing Heliophila coronopifolia

Inspite of their fragile appearance these little annuals have adapted to grow and flower abundantly in areas known for their heat and drought. Surviving the long dry summer as seed they germinate with the autumn rains, which is also the time to sow them. The seed can be scattered directly into garden beds or first sown in seedbeds or seed trays. They should be planted out as soon as they are big enough to handle. The seed germinates well, usually within a week. The plants are easy to grow in the garden. They grow fast given the right conditions of full sun, well-drained soil and regular watering during the growing season. Heliophila look beautiful planted densely, giving a mass of blue, or they can be interspersed between other annuals, bulbs or shrubs.

Heliophila means sun loving. In South Africa there are 71 species of Heliophila most of them annuals naturally growing throughout Namaqualand and the south western Cape. Although many of them are similar to Heliophila coronopifolia with blue flowers, there are also species with pink and white flowers.



Author: Liesl van der Walt
August 2000

To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com