Hippia frutescens

(L.) L.

Family : Asteraceae
Common names : Rankals, kanferbossie (Afr.)

Corymb of flowers. Image N van Berkel
© Nicola van Berkel

This is a good plant for moist gardens and also has a traditional medicinal use.

Hippia frutescens is an aromatic, weakly branched, shortly hairy shrublet that grows up to 0.6 m high. It has soft pectinate-pinnate (comb-like) leaves with oblong-linear lobes that are gland-dotted and covered with short hairs.

Hairy leaves. Image N van Berkel
© Nicola van Berkel

The flowerheads are yellow, small, heterogamous (florets having two different kinds of sexes), and are arranged in branched corymbs. It has sessile florets where the marginal florets are female, and the inner functionally male. The broadly winged 2.0–2.5 mm achenes (small dry fruits) are light brown to greenish, where the ventral surface is hairy and the dorsal side glabrous. Flowering time is usually from August to March.

Flowerhead and Fruit:N. van Berkel

© Nicola van Berkel

Conservation status
Hippia frutescens is listed as Least Concern (LC) in the Red List of South African plants (Raimondo et al . 2009).

Distribution and habitat
Hippia frutescens is endemic to the Cape Floristic Region where it prefers sandstone slopes and is usually found near streams and marshes. It occurs from Ceres to Storms River and Uitenhage.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
This genus was first described and named by Carl Linnaeus in 1771 and currently includes eight species. No information exists regarding the origin of the genus name but scientists speculate that it could have been named after Hippias of Elis the Greek contemporary of Socrates (classical Greek philosopher). The specific epithet frutescens means ‘becoming shrubby', and probably refers to its shrubby habit.

Not much is known about the ecology of Hippia frutescens but their broadly winged fruit should aid in their dispersal by wind.

Uses and cultural aspects
Recent studies have shown that Hippia frutescens contains a chemical constituent known as camphor that is used mainly in the Montagu district to treat upper respiratory tract infections as well as toothache. An aqueous infusion can be made of fresh or semi-dry material and is taken orally. Currently H. frutescens is the only species within this genus known to be used medicinally.

  Plant in flower.N van Berkel

© Nicola van Berkel

Growing Hippia frutescens

Hippia frutescens is ideal for any moist garden as its beautiful yellow florets not only make for an attractive plant that gives off a fragrant smell, but the plants can also be used in medicinal gardens.

It can be grown from cuttings. Cuttings need to be made at least 2 month before flowering time: June, July. Always keep cuttings cool. Once in the propagation house, dip cuttings in liquid fungicide. A more effective cutting method is to make tip cuttings. Prepare cuttings by taking off a third of the leaves to the tip. Cutting medium could be 50% milled bark and 50% perlite or polystyrene. Other mediums can also work, like river sand with a thin layer of bark at the base of cutting tray. Seradix 2 or Seradix 3 can be used as a hormone powder. Cuttings should be placed in a shaded area and watered regularly, preferably in a greenhouse with an automated irrigation system. Cuttings should be ready with roots at about 3 to 4 weeks, depending on greenhouse conditions. Use heat beds for faster rooting. After efficient roots have developed, pot plants in a mix that will be able to retain water for long periods, as H. frutescens like their feet wet. Always plant H. frutescens in cool, wet areas. Semi-shaded conditions close to streambeds are ideal (E. Hull, pers. comm.).


  • Campbell, W.E. 1997. Composition of the essential oil of Hippia frutescens (L.) L . Journal of Essential Oil Research 9(6): 703–704.
  • Hutchinson, J. 1918. Notes on African Compositae: Hippia. Kew Bulletin 5: 179.
  • SANBI Red List of South African plants. 2010–12. http://redlist.sanbi.org/search.php?sppsearch=Hippia+frutescens


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Bronwynne Busch

National Herbarium, Pretoria

With thanks to Nicola van Berkel for images

May 2014










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