Seeing Scabiosa africana on the mountain, the first thought
is that it must have escaped from a garden nearby. With its big
mauve flowers and soft leaves, it looks just too tender and perfect
to survive in the wild. But looks are misleading, for this beautiful
perennial is perfectly happy in the fynbos, growing along the sheltered
sandstone slopes of the Cape Peninsula.
africana grows fast, forming evergreen mounds of velvety leaves.
Many thick stems shoot from the ground, bearing large rosettes of
light green leaves. These big, soft and hairy leaves are oval shaped,
about 160 mm long and 50 mm wide, with ruffled edges. From the leaves,
the stems grow almost 1 m longer, dividing into side branches with
the typical scabious flowers at the tips.
Flowering from spring to early summer, the plants are a beautiful
sight with the many tall flowering stems waving in the wind. Looking
at the flowers closely, one realizes that each head, which is about
50 mm across, is made up of many smaller flowers that vary in shades
of mauve and white. After flowering, the heads turn into tight,
bristly balls that fall apart as the seeds ripen.
Growing Scabiosa africana
Scabiosa africana is easy to grow in the garden and is a
long-lasting cut flower. It requires full sun to semi-shade and
good garden soil mixed with compost. New plants grow fast, flowering
usually within their first year. Older plants tend to get untidy,
but cut the old long woody stalks right back after flowering. This
will encourage the plant to make many new shoots from the base.
The plants tend to seed themselves quite happily in the garden.
New plants can be propagated from seed or cuttings. The seeds are
inside the dried flowers and look like little badminton shuttlecocks.
The seed can be sown in autumn or spring and will take about 3 weeks
to germinate. The seedlings transplant easily and are hardy to winter
cold. Cuttings can be made of new shoots from the bottom of the
plant. Remove most of the big leaves and treat with a rooting hormone
like Seradix 2.
two other species grown at Kirstenbosch are Scabiosa incisa
and Scabiosa colombaria, both of which have much smaller
leaves than Scabiosa afticana. Scabiosa colombaria (Bachelor's
Buttons) is a small tufted perennial with white or mauve flowers,
found widespread throughout Africa, Europe and Asia. The roots and
leaves are used as a traditional medicine to treat colic and heartburn.
The powdered roots are also used as a pleasant-smelling baby powder.
For the garden, the different forms of Scabiosa incisa are
much more vigorous and exciting. Growing naturally on the coastal
sands from Bokbaai to Grahamstown, it gives a spectacular show in
spring with its large deep pink to mauve and white scabious flowers.
Liesl van der Walt