Gymnanthemum corymbosum (L.f. ) H.Rob.
Common names: mountain bitter-tea, mountain vernonia (Eng.); uhlunguhlungu (Zulu)
Gymnanthemum corymbosum is an attractive, fast-growing shrub, with interesting purple and white, daisy flowers in late summer and autumn, followed by fluffy seeding heads in winter. The plant has been used for many years to treat various ailments.
Gymnanthemum corymbosum is a resprouting, evergreen shrub, with a height and spread of 2 m. The stems are erect and densely leafy. Leaves are alternately arranged, obovate to cuneate-oblong, up to 60 mm long and 40 mm wide, olive-green and thinly hairy above, with a silver, more densely hairy underside, and coarsely toothed to deeply serrated margins.
Plants flower through summer and autumn. The flower heads are discoid, with about 5, purple (fading to white) florets, with distinctive stigmas that are curled near the apex. The heads are surrounded by 4 or 5 rows of involucral bracts and clustered into dense terminal corymbs. The seeds are topped by fluffy bristles that facilitate dispersal by wind.
Gymnanthemum corymbosum is assessed as Least Concern (LC) according to the Red List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat
Gymnanthemum corymbosum is a southern African near-endemic. It has been recorded from Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, north through KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland, to the Soutpansberg in Limpopo and the Lebombo Mountains in southern Mozambique. It favours open woodland, scrub and forest margins, or sometimes grasslands, from near sea level to 2 000 m above sea level.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Gymnanthemum corymbosum was until recently included in the problematic genus Vernonia (then as V. tigna). The African members have, however, been shown to be unrelated to true Vernonia, now restricted to North America, and have, therefore, been placed into several smaller genera. The species epithet corymbosum, refers to the ‘corymbose’ arrangement of the flower heads.
The shrubs resprouts from a woody rootstock after fire. The flowers of Gymnanthemum corymbosum are frequented by bees, butterflies and beetles. The fruits are wind dispersed.
Gymnanthemum corymbosum is recorded to be used medicinally to treat a number of ailments. Its leaves have been used in infusions to treat infertility, stomach aches, fever, arthritis and diarrhea. It has also been used as an aphrodisiac.
Growing Gymnanthemum corymbosum
Gymnanthemum corymbosum is a medium to large shrub that should be planted around the back of your garden border. Plant Gymnanthemum corymbosum in a sunny, well-drained area, allowing sufficient space around it. If left to its own devices, the plant will grow and spread quite quickly. However, if you would prefer a more compact growth, it should be prune back by about one-third after flowering. The plant is relatively low maintenance and waterwise, requiring supplemental watering in summer when grown in winter rainfall regions. Apply compost regularly.
Gymnanthemum corymbosum is easy to propagate from cuttings taken in autumn, but this can also be done year round. Treat cuttings with a rooting hormone powder. These will begin to root in less than a month and be ready for your garden in around 3 months. Plants can also be propagated by seed, sown in spring or summer.
- Abdillahi, H.S. & Van Staden, J. 2013. Application of medicinal plants in maternal healthcare and infertility: a South African perspective. Planta medica, 79: 591–599.
- Hilliard, O.M. 1977. Compositae in Natal. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Robinson, H. 1999. Revisions in paleotropical Vernonieae (Asteraceae). Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 112: 220–247.
- Steenkamp, V. 2003. Traditional herbal remedies used by South African women for gynaecological complaints. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 86 (1): 97–108.
- Swelankomo, N., Manning, J.C. & Magee, A.R. 2016. The genus Gymnanthemum Cass. (Asteraceae:Vernonieae) in southern Africa. South African Journal of Botany 102: 81–101.
- Toyang, N.J. & Verpooorte, R. 2013. A review of the medicinal potentials of plants of the genus Vernonia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 146: 681–723.
Stephany van Munster and Anthony R. Magee
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer, Late Summer, Autumn
Flower colour: Purple, White, Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average