Phaenocoma prolifera

(L.) D.Don

Family name: Asteraceae
Common names: Cape strawflower

Phaenocoma prolifera

I often think of this species as the dinosaur of the everlastings. It is a strong rigid shrub with brilliant pink bracts and large flower heads. It is common in the fynbos on mountain slopes in the Western Cape and can easily be spotted from a distance.

In flowerPlants are rigid, erect, single-stemmed, woody shrubs up to 1.2 m tall. Main stems are up to 60 mm diameter. Branches are densely leafy and also have numerous short leafy stalks at right angles to the main branches. Main branches decrease in length from the base upwards so that many plants resemble miniature Christmas trees. Leaves are very small, knob-like. Flower heads, borne terminal on branches, are up to 60 mm in diameter and contain 800 - 1000 individual flowers with very showy bright pink bracts. The bracts fade to almost white and become worn with age. Pappus is present and up to 150 pappus bristles per flower have been counted. For more details about the structure of these flowers see Asteraceae. Flowers are borne from September to January.

Distributed throughout the Western Cape on mountain slopes and in valleys, mostly on sandy soil and at altitudes ranging from sea level to 1 500 m.

Derivation of name and historical aspects: The name Phaenocoma is derived from the Greek 'phaino': to shine, and 'coma': hair. This refers to the shiny bracts, which looks like a 'shiny hairdo'. Jackson (1990) commented on the lack of hair on the bracts but did not offer an alternative explanation.

Phaenocoma is a monotypic genus (only one species) restricted to the Western Cape.

Monkey beetles are often found on the flower heads and can contribute to pollination although they probably often only feed on the pollen. Seed germination is slow but generally good. In trials done by myself a 100% germination was achieved after 12 days.

Uses and cultural aspects: Nothing is known about this aspect. Although the seeds germinate well I am not aware of plants raised from seed.

Growing Phaenocoma prolifera

The plant has potential as a garden plant or pot plant, but is not often cultivated.


  • Jackson, WPU. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera. UCT Ecolab, c/o Botany Department, Rondebosch.
  • Koekemoer, M. 2002. Systematics of the Relhaniina (Asteraceae - Gnaphalieae).Unpublished PhD thesis (RAU).

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Marinda Koekemoer
National Herbarium
September 2004


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