In late spring it is difficult to miss Senecio glastifolius
in Kirstenbosch, for it fills many of the beds with splashes of
mauve. It is an upright perennial, growing about 1 m tall with a
woody base and glossy green foliage along the branched stems. The
cheerful flowers are large daisies, a single row of mauve petals
around a yellow centre, formed at the tips of the stems.
the wild, Senecio glastifolius occurs naturally on the south
coast of South Africa from George to Humansdorp in Eastern Cape.
It grows in the fynbos, with restios and proteas where it usually
prefers the wetter areas. This water loving habit has given it the
common name waterdissel, which translates to water thistle. Senecio
glastifolius is often seen after fires and in disturbed areas
where it is one of the first pioneers to germinate. The edges of
the lanceolate (lance-shaped) leaves are coarsely toothed and can
be quite prickly. These leaves are so distinct that even the young
seedlings are easy to recognize in the veld.
Growing Senecio glastifolius
Senecio glastifolius is not a very long-lived perennial,
but is well worth growing for spring colour. Its height makes it
perfect to use at the back and in the middle of beds, combined with
smaller Namaqualand daisies in the front. Senecio glastifolius
also makes a lovely combination with perennials that flower at the
same time, such as Scabiosa africana,
Osteospermum ecklonii, Geranium
incanum and Pelargonium
betulinum. It is superb mixed with the white flowers of
Watsonia borbonica ssp. ardernei.
As Senecio glastifolius grows older and taller it tends
to fall over and needs to be staked or pruned lightly while young
to encourage bushy growth. Senecio glastifolius must have
sufficient time to develop into an attractive bushy plant before
flowering in September. If the plants are too young, they will delay
flowering until following year by which time they are often untidy
and woody. At Kirstenbosch well- developed plants are planted out
in early autumn (March and April), quite close together to support
each other, ready for flowering in late spring (September and October).
Like many daisies, Senecio glastifolius is pollinated by
bees. The flowers turn into white fluff balls as the seed forms
Senecio glastifolius can be propagated from seed or cuttings.
Sow seeds from mid-summer to autumn in seed trays. The seed usually
germinates easily within two weeks. Plant young seedlings out into
small bags or pots as soon as they are large enough to handle.
It is often quicker to produce new plants from cuttings. The best
time to make the cuttings is during spring and early summer and
best results are obtained from using the new shoots. The shades
of mauve vary from plant to plant, making it worthwhile selecting
darker and lighter forms when making cuttings. The young plants
respond very well to organic fertilizer.
From a distance, Senecio glastifolius can be confused with
Senecio elegans, as both
species are about 1 m tall and flower profusely in the spring with
yellow-centred mauve daisy flowers. Senecio elegans, the
veld cineraria, is an annual and occurs naturally on the coastal
sands from Saldanha on the west coast to Port Elizabeth on the east
coast. Close up the two are very different, Senecio elegans
is a much softer plant with more succulent and hairy leaves and
stems than Senecio glastifolius.
The genus Senecio is one of the largest for flowering plants,
with more than 2 000 species worldwide. In South Africa there are
about 300 species. The name Senecio is derived from the Latin
senex, which means old man, and refers to the whitish grey
hairy pappus that is reminiscent of the hair or beard of an old
man. In composite (daisy) flowers, the pappus replaces the calyx,
both in the inner disc florets and the outer ray florets. The pappus
can be hairy, scaly or bristly and is sometimes absent.
Sima Eliovson, Macmillan 1973, South African Wild Flowers for the
Elsa Pooley, Natal flora Trust 1998, A field guide to Wild flowers
Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Region
Liesl van der Walt
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden