Serruria florida

(Thunb.) Salisb. ex Knight

Family : Proteaceae
Common names : blushing bride, pride of Franschhoek ( Eng. ); trots van Franschhoek (Afr.)

Serruria florida in flower

The delicate beauty of Serruria florida justifies its recognition as the most beautiful of the genus.

The blushing bride is a single stemmed, erect, evergreen shrub, 0.8-1.5 x 0.5 m. Flowering stems branch off the main stem producing fine, dissected leaves and end in terminal flowering buds. It produces 1-8 ivory to pink flowers per branch. It flowers from July to October and produces nut-like seeds which are released about two months later.

Serruria florida is one of the faster growing Proteaceae species and adult plants start dying after about twenty years.

Conservation status
This species is critically endangered as it is threatened by alien invasive species such as hakea and pines. Too frequent fires are a critical threat to the remaining wild populations, as immature plants are not given enough time to produce seeds that will rejuvenate the underground seed bank.

Distribution and habitat
Serruria florida naturally occurs on the Franschhoek side of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. It grows on mountain slopes in soils derived from granite, which is found below the sandstone soils typical of the Table Mountain Group.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Serruria comprises 55 species, including the beautiful species S. rosea and S. aemula. Serruria florida was first collected by Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg in 1773. It was recorded and described but not again seen or collected for another 110 years. Professor MacOwan found the Franschhoek population which was then cultivated at Kirstenbosch and later presented to royalty in England.

The genus was named after J. Serrurier, a professor of botany at the University of Utrecht in the early eighteenth century. The species name florida refers to the Latin meaning free-flowering or producing abundant flowers. Its common name, blushing bride, was derived from folklore. One version states that a young man would court a maiden, presenting her with a flower. The deeper the shade of pink, the more imminent the proposal, causing the maiden to blush. Another follows similar lines, stating it was custom for a young gentleman to wear a flower in his lapel when he was about to propose. The deeper the pink of the flower the more ardent his affection for the maiden and again the result would be a blushing maiden or bride to be. Other origins suggest that the flower became a popular bridal posy or that the flower itself resembled a bridal gown.

These beautiful flowers are pollinated by insects. Seeds are released and dispersed by ants in their underground nests, which form the seed bank. Serruria florida is one of the fynbos species that is highly dependant on a fire ecosystem. The parent plants will die in a fire and only seeds survive to form the next generation. Seeds will only germinate after fire has occurred. Too frequent fires destroy the natural seed bank as young seedlings require two years before they are mature enough to produce flowers and the new seed crop.

Uses and cultural aspects
The horticultural industry uses the blushing bride as a popular cut flower and as an ornamental garden plant.

Flowers of Blushing Bride

Growing Serruria florida

It is possible to propagate S. florida from seed and cuttings; however, seed is difficult and vegetative propagation is recommended.

Tip, stem and heel cuttings are taken during late summer. Apply rooting hormone to semi-hardwood cuttings. Place in a propagation soil mixture of 50% milled pine bark and 50% polystyrene granules. Good rooting of the plant will take place if the propagation greenhouse has good misting and under-bench heating. Rooting will take place within four weeks. Rooted cuttings are removed from the mist bench and hardened off for four weeks. The hardened off cuttings are then potted in a soil medium made up of a suitable well-drained soil mixture consisting of composted pine bark, acidic river sand in equal parts loam/topsoil.

Seed is collected from the mature flower head. Sow in autumn. Treat with a fungicide that prevents pre- and post-emergence damping off. The effects of higher day temperatures and cooler night temperatures play an important role in initiating germination. The seeds can also be exposed to short periods of high temperatures followed by cooling water, which mimics the autumn temperatures and stimulates the seed to germinate. The young seedling should be grown in an area that is well ventilated and fairly well lit. The plants should be watered in the mornings and may be fed with an organic-based fertilizer. The young plants can be planted out in autumn or in the cooler months before the onset of summer. This will allow the root system to become established and gives the young plant a good chance of survival.

As an ornamental garden subject, S. florida makes a wonderful addition to a fynbos garden and is well complemented with Restio, buchu, Erica and Protea species. It makes an exquisite mid- to fore-layer planting. It is a water-wise plant and requires a well-drained, sunny position.

A root pathogen, Phytophthora, is detrimental to Proteaceae. Symptoms include the plant looking wilted and dry, followed by yellowing and death. As these symptoms are only seen once the fungus has damaged the plant, the best course of action is to remove the infected plant and burn it. Thereafter, sterilize the affected soil with a contact fungicide and refrain from replanting Proteaceae in that area. Good general plant hygiene and healthy vigorous mother stock will increase the potential of younger plants to remain healthy.

References and further reading

  • Mathews, D. 1987. Serruria florida-Cultivation and Planting Journal of the International Protea Assocciation 13: 42. Australia.
  • Pole Evans, I.B. 1933. Serruria florida. The Flowering Plants of South Africa 13: t. 481.
  • Rebelo, A. 1995. Proteas. A field guide to the proteas of southern Africa, edn 2. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
  • Roets, S. (ed.) 2006. Search for a Blushing Bride. Franschhoek Life Magazine, July: 22–24, 47.
  • Worth, S.W. & Van Wilgen, B.W. 1988. The Blushing Bride: Status of an endangered species. Veld & Flora 74: 122, 123.

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