Berkheya setifera DC.
Common names: buffalo-tongue thistle (Eng.); rasperdissel, rasperdisseldoring (Afr); ikhakhasi, ulimi-lwenkomo, ulimi-lwenyathi (isiZulu); indlebe-lenkomo (isiXhosa); lelelemla-khomo, ntsoantsane (Southern Sotho)
A robust perennial, with profuse, bright yellow flowers and bristly leaves; one of the 71 species that are found in South Africa out of the 75 species that exist within the genus Berkheya.
Robust in nature, a perennial herb with a woody rootstock and milky sap that grows up to 1.2 m tall. Stems annual, branched in the upper part, thinly covered in cobweb-like hairs.
Leaves obovate or obovate-oblong, tapering more towards the base than in the opposite direction, up to 450 mm long, margins entire to shallowly lobed, green on both surfaces; upper surface and margins densely set with straw-coloured, spiny bristles, 2–7 mm long, longest at the apices of the marginal teeth; lower surface hairy like the stems; lamina base clasping the stems.
Capitula terminal 30–60 mm in diameter, in branched inflorescences, solitary on the stems, bright yellow; ray-florets 12–20 mm long; disk-florets numerous; floral bracts narrow, 1 mm wide, tips and margins spiny. Flowering in spring to late summer (September to February).
According to the Red List of South African plants website the conservation status of this plant is Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Berkheya setifera is found growing in colonies in grassland, on rocky outcrops, up to 2 000 m above sea level, in the summer rainfall region in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces in South Africa, and in Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It is seen emerging among tall grasses, especially in areas that are grazed.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Berkheya was named in honor of the Dutch botanist and an artist Johannes le Francq van Berkheya (1729–1821) by a German botanist who described the genus Berkheya in 1788. The species name setifera is derived from a Latin word meaning ‘bearing bristles’.
Berkheya setifera seeds are easily blown and dispersed by wind, as they are very light in weight when ripe, and when the wind blows harshly some do fall onto the ground. Bees, lady birds and beetles are some of the pollinators that have been seen visiting the flowers growing in the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden.
Berkheya setifera is used in rockeries and as a border plant and it creates a spectacle when planted in a mass planting, as it displays profuse yellow flowers. It is also the ideal plant to use as a spiny barrier to keep unwanted visitors out of their garden because the spines along the margins are sore when touched.
Berkheya setifera is used as a traditional medicine to treat inflammation and stomach problems. It can also be eaten as a pot herb.
Growing Berkheya setifera
Berkheya setifera is grown from seed that is sown in a well-drained medium, a favourable one being 1 part organic compost, 1 part sand and perlite. Irrigate well, allowing water to completely drain through and within 3–4 weeks one will be able to witness sprouting seedlings. They can then be transplanted into pots and after 5–6 weeks, they can be planted directly into the garden bed.
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2005. Berkheya setifera DC. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2020/01/27.
- Hyde, M.A., Wursten, B.T., Ballings, P. & Coates Palgrave, M. 2020. Flora of Zimbabwe: Species information: Berkheya setifera. https://www.zimbabweflora.co.zw/speciesdata/species.php?species_id=161810. Accessed 27 January 2020.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Wikipedia: Berkheya. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkheya. Accessed 27 January 2020.
Text by Bathabile Ndlovu
KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden
Photographs by Marinda Koekemoer
National Herbarium, Pretoria
Plant Type: Perennial
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer
Flower colour: Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average