This charming low-growing, purple-flowered perennial makes a wonderful edging for indigenous borders.
Description: This herbaceous perennial grows up to 60cm tall, with cushion-like clumps of leafy annual stems growing up from a perennial rootstock. The stemless, lanceolate leaves are hairy. The small (up to 25mm across) purple inflorescences appear from August to February. White-flowered forms have occasionally been recorded. As is the case with all members of the daisy family, these 'flowers' are actually made up of many small florets. Unlike the classic daisy which has two different kinds of florets, the outer ray florets or 'petals', and the central disc florets, members of the genus Vernonia have only one type of floret. The seeds are produced in small fruits attached to parachute-like 'pappus' hairs which aid in wind distribution of the seed.
Distribution: Vernonia galpinii is common in the summer rainfall grasslands of Zimbabwe, all four provinces of the former Transvaal, Swaziland, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. It grows in full sun and is tolerant of frost and snow as it is dormant in the winter.
Derivation of name and historical aspects: Vernonia is a very large genus of about 1000 species occurring in America, Africa, Asia, Madagascar and Australia, with approximately 50 species in South Africa Growth forms in this genus range from low-growing herbs through shrubs and climbers to trees. The genus Vernonia derives its name from the English botanist William Vernon who collected plants in America and who died in 1711. The species is named for Ernest Galpin (1858-1941), banker and amateur botanist who collected the type specimen from Saddleback Mountain near Barberton in Mpumalanga.
Ecology: Being purple, this species is probably bee pollinated. I have often observed bees visiting the flowers to collect pollen. The fluffy 'parachute' like hairs aid in wind distribution of the seeds.
Uses and cultural aspects: There are no records of this species being used in traditional medicine. However it is an attractive garden plant and deserves to be grown more widely.
Growing Vernonia galpinii
Vernonia galpinii makes a lovely groundcover or edging plant, forming clumps of leaves dotted with numerous small fluffy purple inflorescences. As the plant becomes dormant in the cold winter months it can be oversown with spring annuals such as Heliophila or namaqualand daisies which will provide colour in the late winter and are removed as the Vernonia shoots emerge.
Plants produce large quantities of small fluffy fruit which germinates very well if sown immediately. The seed does not last well at room temperature and should be refrigerated for storage. Vegetative propagation by cuttings is also usually successful.
- HILLIARD, O.M. 1977. Compositae in Natal. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg
- POOLEY, E. 1998. A Field Guide to the Wildflowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publ.Trust, DBN