Helichrysum nudifolium (L.) Less.
Common names: Hottentot's tea (Eng.); Hottentotstee (Afr.); letapiso, mohlomela-tsie-oa-thaba (Southern Sotho); ludvutfane (Swazi); icholocholo (Xhosa, Zulu); isidwaba-somkhovu, umagada-emthini (Zulu)
Helichrysum nudifolium is a sun-loving, perennial herb with a pale yellow inflorescence and shiny, light green leaves. There are many species very similar to H. nudifolium, which can cause confusion. Culturally, medicinally, and historically, this species is one of the most important in South Africa. It has not enjoyed horticultural exposure; however, it is easy to grow in the garden and makes a good border plant.
Helichrysum nudifolium is a fast-growing, perennial herb.The leaves are rough and shiny above, white woolly beneath, in abasal rosette about 600 x 130 mm. They have 3 to 7 prominent veinsand are aromatic when dry. The flowers are blunt-tipped and pale yellow in a crowded, flattish inflorescence at the tip of a long stalk. The flowering stalks can reach a height of 1.5 m. It flowers during summer and autumn (October to May).
Distribution and habitat
Helichrysum nudifolium occurs naturally in grasslands and is found from the Eastern Cape (old Transkei), through the Drakensberg and Lesotho all the way up to tropical Africa. It is frost- and drought-tolerant as it grows at high altitudes.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Helichrysum, from the Greek helios meaning sun, and chrysos gold, is apt since most helichrysums have golden yellow flowers. The specific epithet, nudifolium (Latin), means hairless leaves. There are about 245 species of Helichrysum that occur in southern Africa.
Helichrysum nudifolium is pollinated by bees and the seed is wind-dispersed.
Seldom is so much offered by such an easy-to-grow plant. Helichrysum nudifolium not only has a beautiful, upright growth form and a full yellow inflorescence, but also has many traditional uses. It is traditionally used for food, the leaves are cooked and eaten. Leaves are burned as incense and used in ritual ceremonial occasions to summon the good spirits of the ancestors. Medicinally the roots and leaves are used as traditional medicine for chest complaints, colic in children, coughs, colds, internal sores, fever, headaches, and for dressing wounds.
H. nudifolium can be easily confused with H. pedunculatum that is commonly used by the Xhosa people to treat circumcision wounds and is known as isicwe.
Growing Helichrysum nudifolium
Helichrysum nudifolium makes a good pot plant, the striking leaves providing an interesting contrast. In the garden it can be used as a border plant or in a mixed border. After flowering, the flowerstalks should be cut back.
This plant is easily grown from seed sown in summer (November-February)and by division of large clumps in the winter months.
Snails are a common pest and can be removed by hand or by strewingtable salt where trails are seen and activity is most common.
- Arnold, T.H. & De Wet, B.C. 1993. Plants of southern Africa: names and distribution. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 62.
- Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A.B. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to flowers of Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. The Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Pooley, E. 2003. Mountain flowers. A field guide to the flora of the Drakensberg and Lesotho. The Natal Flora Publications Trust/Natal Herbarium, Durban.
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants. A guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Van Wyk, B-E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Phakamani m'Africa Xaba
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Perennial
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape
Flowering season: Early Summer, Late Summer, Autumn
Flower colour: Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy