Brunia noduliflora Goldblatt & J.C.Manning
Common names: common brunia (Eng.); knopbos, knoppies, fonteinbos, stompies, volstruisies (Afr.)
Brunia noduliflora is an unusual fynbos shrub and a Cape endemic; it has clusters of fluffy white pompom-like flower heads in winter and knobby fruits all year round.
Brunia noduliflora is an evergreen rounded shrub that grows 0.6-1.5 m tall, coppicing from a fire-resistant, woody base. The branches are covered with minute hairs and are closely covered with many small, 2-3 mm long, needle-like leaves lying flat against the branch. The flowers are in dense globose heads 10 mm across, like fluffy pom-poms, white and fragrant, loosely or heavily clustered in corymbs (± flat-topped inflorescences in which the branches arise at different points). They are made fluffy by their long stamens, and age to an attractive brown-pink. Flowering time is mainly autumn to winter (March to June), the flowers opening soon after the first rains.
After flowering and fertilisation, the flowers fall off leaving the large, knobby, greyish-brown fruiting heads that stay on the bush for several years. New buds appear soon after the flowers, but these do not open until the following winter and are thus carried on the bush throughout the summer.
Least Concern. Brunia noduliflora is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
Brunia noduliflora is endemic to the south-western and southern Cape. It is common on hills and mountains slopes from the Olifants River Mountains to Piketberg, the Cape Peninsula, Jonkershoek, Hottentos Holland, Kogelberg through to Hermanus, and on to the Van Stadens Mountains and Uitenhage. It grows in full sun, on rocky sandstone slopes, often in moist areas, next to rivers or running water.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Brunia is most likely named after a contemporary of Linnaeus, the apothecary, Dr Cornelis Brun, who travelled in Russia and the Levant, although it could also be in commemoration of Dr Alexander Brown, a ship's surgeon and a collector who worked in the East Indies around 1690. The species name noduliflora means bearing flowers in nodules, from the Latin nodulus meaning small knot and flos meaning flower.
Brunia nodiflora is a synonym for both this species and the completely unrelated species Widdringtonia nodiflora. This is because when Linnaeus named the genus Brunia in 1753 he based his original description of B. nodiflora on a specimen that was subsequently discovered to be a sterile twig of Widdringtonia nodiflora.
This caused a nomenclature nightmare when it was discovered by Elizabeth Powrie in the 1970s. It meant that Brunia nodiflora was without a validly published type specimen or description; and that Brunia nodiflora L., the original description by Linnaeus, was the earliest name and specimen for the species then known as Widdringtonia cupressoides. Powrie tidied up the mess. She proposed the name W. cupressoides (L.) Engl. be changed to W. nodiflora (L.) Powrie, with Brunia nodiflora L. as the base name and synonym.
Linnaeus' mistaken specimen is recognised as the type specimen, and the original description by Linnaeus applies to this widdringtonia. Since Linnaeus' description of the genus Brunia in 1753, various other botanists had worked on the Brunia family, described new species and genera, and had reorganised the species and genera. To prevent serious upheaval in the nomenclature of the Bruniaceae, Powrie proposed that the more recently described genus Berzelia Brongn. be conserved over the older Brunia L. And to prevent the disappearance of the genus Brunia, she proposed that it be conserved and the nomenclature of the family preserved by returning to the more broad definition of the genus as described by Lamarck in 1785. Brunia nodiflora sensu auct., non L. is a synonym for B. noduliflora, i.e. descriptions of the species by all authors other than Linnaeus apply to this species.
Brunia noduliflora has no English common names but quite a few Afrikaans ones: fonteinbos meaning bush at the fountain or spring because these plants are often found growing next to running water; knoppiesbos or knoppies, meaning knobby bush, from the resemblance of the flower heads to little knobs; stompies, meaning little stumps, referring to the fact that after a fire all that's left of the burnt plants are stumps; volstruisies, meaning little ostriches, a name used by children referring to the flower heads on certain bushes affected by galls that suggest a number of little ostriches clustered together.
The Brunia family consists of 12 genera and 77 species, endemic to South Africa and concentrated in the south-western Cape. The 12 genera include Audouinia (1 species), Berzelia (12 species), Brunia (7 species), Linconia (3 species), Lonchostoma (5 species), Mniothamnea (2 species), Nebelia (6 species), Pseudobaeckea (4 species), Raspalia (16 species), Staavia (9 species), Thamnea (7 species) and Tittmannia (5 species).
Brunia noduliflora is quite unusual in that it has two strategies for surviving fires:
- firstly, it has a fire-resistant underground woody rootstock, known as a lignotuber; in the event of a fire, the plant burns but survives thanks to the lignotuber, and resprouts after the next autumn rains.
- B. noduliflora also stores its seeds on the plant from year to year, so that after a fire, all the seed is released and it too germinates after the autumn rains (serotiny).
Flowers are visited by flies, beetles and bees.
Brunia albiflora is a sought-after fresh or dry cut-flower and is sold in the cut-flower trade under the name Spray Brunia. Its foliage is a useful, long-lasting filler, and the knobby fruiting heads are an interesting feature in floral arrangements.
Growing Brunia noduliflora
Brunia noduliflora is a slow-growing shrub, best suited to fynbos gardens in acidic, sandstone soils. It requires a sunny position, acidic, well-drained soil and moderate water. It is wind-resistant and is most likely tender to frost but should survive short cold snaps to 0 or -1° C. Do not feed with strong fertiliser and manure; rather apply a thick layer of well-rotted compost in spring and autumn, and, if necessary, feed with low-dose organic fertiliser or slow-release fertiliser. It is suitable for a seepage area provided it is growing in well-drained soil on a slope.
B. noduliflora can be propagated vegetatively by cuttings taken in autumn or spring from new growth on healthy plants. Use semi-mature side shoots. Heel cuttings and tip cuttings can be taken if the side shoot is long. Remove the lower leaves and dip in rooting hormone for hardwood cuttings. Cuttings should not be longer than 50 mm. They should start rooting after about 4-5 weeks. Hardening off should take about 3 weeks. Pot the plant in acidic, well-drained soil.
Sow seed in autumn. Treat the seeds with Kirstenbosch Instant Smoke Plus Seed Primer to enhance germination. Harvest the seeds from the previous year's fruiting heads. Use a well-drained, acidic medium, cover the seeds lightly, water gently and keep moist but not wet. Germination should take about four to six weeks. Place the seedlings in good light but not in direct sun.
Trevor Adams is thanked for helping with information on the cultivation and propagation of Brunia noduliflora.
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Zoleka Maphanga & Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Autumn, Winter
Flower colour: White
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Challenging