When walking through the Mathews Rockery in Kirstenbosch
during early summer, it is impossible to miss Heterolepis aliena.
It is quite dazzling, covered in large, golden yellow daisies.
About the only reason I can find for its low profile in the horticultural
world is that, being adapted to a hot, dry, sunny, well-drained
habitat, it finds the average well-watered suburban garden a bit
too wet for its liking. Nevertheless, it does very well in rockeries,
waterwise and fynbos gardens and has great potential for planting
on sunny retaining walls.
aliena is a rounded, densely leafy shrublet with a sprawling
habit and a woody rootstock. It can reach up to 600 mm in height
with an even wider spread. The leaves are long (about 25-40 mm)
and narrow with the edges rolled under, nearly concealing the
densely woolly underside.
The spectacular daisies are about 60 mm in diameter
and are held on short, roughly hairy stalks during spring to midsummer
(Sept. to Dec.-Jan.). Some bushes flower so profusely that the
flowers almost completely cover the plant. When freshly opened,
the daisies have a dark gold centre, whereas older daisies have
a ring of lighter gold around the centre. If you inspect one closely,
you can see that the lighter ring is formed by the open disc florets
while the unopened ones are dark gold in colour. When all of the
disc florets are open they give the daisy a slightly puffy centre.
seeds are very light, small (3 mm long) and covered with white
fur, with an approx. 10 mm long pappus of coarse, bristle-like,
still attached to the flower stalk, they make golden brown pompoms.
A relatively light touch causes one to disintegrate and the seeds
Heterolepis aliena occurs on rocky sandstone slopes, in
crevices and on outcrops from the Cedarberg Mountains to the Witteberg
and Hermanus. It is most often found on steep, sunny, north or
northeast-facing slopes or well-drained, rocky outcrops on shallow
soils, in dry fynbos as well as in areas that receive high rainfall,
such as Franschhoek.
Derivation of the name
The genus name Heterolepis is from the Greek hetero
meaning dissimilar and lepis a scale. This is one of the
names that are often and easily mispronounced as many people put
an extra s in and call it Heterolepsis. The species name
aliena means from foreign soil, foreign, unconnected or
hostile in Latin. Perhaps the botanist giving the name thought
they looked like garden escapes that did not belong in the wild,
or perhaps it is because they are often found growing in hostile
conditions and disturbed areas.
This is a small genus of only three species and
it is endemic to Western Cape.
Growing Heterolepis aliena
you mimic its habitat, and provide a hot, dry, sunny, well-drained
spot for it, Heterolepis aliena will thrive almost anywhere.
In well-watered gardens with heavy soils it does not do so well.
It is not that it does not need water or that it can be treated
like a succulent that stores water, it must receive some water,
but that water must not stand for long but should drain away relatively
fast. It is well-suited to sunny fynbos gardens, waterwise gardens
and succulent gardens, and sunny rockeries, slopes, banks, terraces
and retaining walls. Use a slightly acid, well-drained soil and
don't over-water or make sure that any excess water drains away
freely. Feed and mulch with compost, and although it does not
need much more, you can supplement this with a balanced organic
fertilizer. The compost mulch should be added to the bed in autumn,
and again in spring.
Propagate from seed sown in late summer-autumn (February/March-May)
and from heel cuttings taken in autumn or spring. Cuttings should
be rooted under mist with bottom heat, or harder growth can be
rooted in a cold frame.