Although it belongs to the family containing edible members such as the carrot, and the herbs fennel and dill, this particular species would not find its way into the vegetable or herb garden as it is not edible. However, if you enjoy attracting a variety of interesting insects to your garden, or need an unusual filler plant or something different for a flower arrangement, then this may be the plant for you!
Peucedanum polyactinum This plant is a sturdy, herbaceous, few-branched perennial which can reach a height of 3 m. The leaves are divided into three parts which are further divided into very narrow sections giving them a lacy look. The tiny yellowish flowers occur in large compound umbels at the ends of the branches and are up to about 180 mm in diameter. The whole flowerhead has however a more green than yellow appearance. The flowers are somewhat unpleasantly scented, which probably accounts for the many insects attracted to them. They occur from September to December and are followed by many light pale brownish grey, ellipsoid fruits.
The plants occur on the lower sandstone slopes from Betty's Bay in the southeast to the Cederberg Mountains in the northeast. This means that the plants grow in the winter rainfall areas which are relatively frost-free and have well-drained soils.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Peucedanum is the Greek name for Ferula, the hogs-fennel, a closely related genus. There are about 170 species of Peucedanum found in Eurasia and tropical and southern Africa. Of these, 31 or more species are widespread in southern Africa. P. polyactinum may be familiar to some people under its old name, Peucedanum multiradiatum. name.
Peucedanum galbanum (blister bush) is a species which often grows in the same area as P. polyactinum but has very different looking leaves. Although their flowerheads look very similar, the nasty blister bush has leaves that look very much like flat-leaved parsley or celery and not the finely divided leaf of P. polyactinum . Even a light touch on the skin from the blister bush can cause painful blistering. Fortunately, P. polyactinum can be touched without harm.
The somewhat smelly flowers attract a range of beetles, including the gorgeous green Common Metallic Longhorn Beetle, the strikingly coloured chestnut-brown and black Net-winged Beetle that warn birds of their poisonous nature (they contain cantharidin) and many other beetle species together with a variety of flies and a number of other insects which presumably all act as pollinators.
Uses and cultural aspects
Peucedanum polyactinum makes an interesting light filler in a fynbos garden. It can be cut for flower arranging, but care needs to be taken that the flowerheads are fully developed so that they will last in the vase. Young heads will droop in a few hours. Do not use in a confined space as one will then become aware of the smell.
Growing Peucedanum polyactinum
Seed should be sown in autumn in a conventional, well-drained seedling mix and be kept well moistened. Prick out into bags when about 50 mm tall and start the hardening off process in light shade. Allow two to four weeks in the shade before putting the plants into full sun. Grow amongst other fynbos plants in a slighty shady to full sun section of the garden which is well drained. Once the plants are well established, it requires very little additional watering if grown in the SW Cape . This plant produces prolific seed and will self-sow to a certain extent if allowed to do so.
References and further reading
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds). 2003. Plants of southern Africa : an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning , J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town and Missouri Botanical Garden.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning , J. 2000. Wildflowers of the fairest Cape. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town .
- Jackson , W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera. UCT Ecolab, Botany Dept., University of CapeTown.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa : families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. Peoples plants. A guide to useful plants of southern Africa . Briza Publications, Pretoria .
- Van Wyk, B-E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa . Briza Publications, Pretoria .
- Nichols, G. 2005. Growing rare plants . Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 36.
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
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