Helichrysum patulum (L.) D.Don
Common names: honey everlasting (Eng.); kooigoed (Afr.); impepho (isXhosa); phefo (Sesotho).
Helichrysum patulum has attractive, aromatic, grey foliage and strongly honey-scented summer flowers. It is easy to grow, water-wise, makes an excellent display plant, and is well suited to fynbos and coastal gardens.
A small, rounded, soft shrublet of about 1 m high.
The leaves are alternate, entire, fiddle-shaped, 6–20 × 2–12 mm, with crisped and wavy margins, and eared at the base, clasping the stem The upper surface of the leaves are grey, covered with small soft hairs, the lower surface and the stems are more densely covered with white woolly hairs. The foliage is pleasantly aromatic.
The plant produces long stalks which carry clusters of small, creamy white, strongly honey-scented flowerheads, at the tip. Each little flowerhead is bell-shaped, about 4–5 × 3–5 mm, with yellow, hairy petals in the middle, surrounded by creamy white, dry, papery, concave, round-tipped bracts. It flowers in spring to midsummer (September–February). When the Helichrysum patulum flowerhead reaches the end of its cycle, it produces small, 0.75 mm long, barrel-shaped seeds with a tuft of white hair-like pappus bristles, clearly visible at the tip.
This plant is easily confused with H. pandurifolium, which can be distinguished by its pointed floral bracts and the inner series of bracts are longer than the flowers, whereas in H. patulum the flowers protrude above the inner row of bracts. It can also be confused with smaller leaved forms of H. petiolare, which can be distinguished by its distinct petiole and leaves that are not crinkly.
Although Helichrysum patulum has lost some habitat to agriculture and urban expansion, it is very common and is not threatened in the wild and, therefore, assessed as Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Helichrysum patulum grows on sandy flats and coastal dunes and inland on south-facing, lower mountain slopes of the southern Western Cape, from the Cape Peninsula and Stellenbosch, along the coast to Groot Brak River and Mossel Bay. They are tough plants; able to survive prolonged drought, and are wind resistant and frost tolerant.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Helichrysum, is derived from the Greek words helios, which means ‘sun’, and chrysos, means ‘gold’, and refers to the golden flowerheads of many species in this genus. The species name patulum is Latin and means ‘spreading’ or ‘wide open’ referring to its growth habit.
Helichrysum patulum belongs to the Asteraceae family which is probably the largest family of flowering plants, with more than 25 000 species worldwide, growing from sea-level, to the highest mountain peaks. It is absent only from Antarctica. In southern Africa it is also one of the biggest families of flowering plants with about 246 genera and 2 300 species. There are about 245 species of Helichrysum found in southern Africa.
The Helichrysum patulum flowers attract pollinating insects, such as honeybees. The seeds are light in weight, with a tuft of hairs that act like a wing and are dispersed by wind. It is a good pioneer plant, one of the first to establish on disturbed sites.
Helichrysum patulum is medically used to treat many ailments such as asthma, bladder infections, gynaecological disorders, backache, fatigue, stress hypertension, cardiac problems and influenza.
The strongly aromatic leaves can be used to keep insects and parasites away.
In traditional medicine, the leaves of this plant are used to dress wounds to prevent infection. The smoke of the burning dried leaves is inhaled for headaches and to get rid of evil spirits. The fresh leaves are boiled in water and drunk as tea for colds and flu, menstrual pains and to cleanse kidneys and liver. The Rastafarians infused the leaves to treat asthma. It was also used as bedding material for people and livestock, and can be used to stuff cushions and pillows.
It can also be planted in the garden as a herb, or as an ornamental plant for aesthetic purposes. Being a good pioneer, it is a good plant to help combat soil erosion.
Growing Helichrysum patulum
Helichrysum patulum can be propagated from cuttings and seeds. Cuttings must be taken from the soft shoots and planted in a well-drained rooting medium. Use a rooting hormone to encourage root growth. Place the cuttings in a warm place with light, but not direct, sunlight, and keep moist. Cuttings take 3–4 weeks to root. Sow seeds in autumn (March).
This is an excellent ground cover that is easy to grow in well-drained, composted soil. Prune back after flowering to encourage more dense, bushy growth. H. patulum grows in full sun and semi-shade, although it flowers best in full sun. It is a water-wise plant that will survive the summer dry period in the Western Cape, without additional watering. It can be infected by fungus if over watered; spray with fungicide if this occurs. It is also an excellent plant for sandy, windy, coastal gardens. It can be planted in containers, as an edging plant, in mixed borders, and in lines, to form a pathway.
- Dictionary of botanical epithets. http://www.winternet.com/~chuckg/dictionary.html
- Flora of southern Africa: Helichrysum patulum (Asteraceae). Accessed via JSTOR http://plants.jstor.org/stable/10.5555/al.ap.flora.flosa002560324000310
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2009. Helichrysum patulum (L.) D.Don. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2018/12/20.
- Herman, P.P.J. 2004. Asteraceae. (Compositae). PlantzAfrica. Internet 7 pp. http://pza.sanbi.org/Asteraceae
- iNaturalist. Helichrysum patulum observation by Petra Broddle. Accessed 11/01/19. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/19153187
- iNaturalist. Helichrysum patulum observation by Tony Rebelo. Accessed 11/01/19. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10807548
- Joffe, P. 2007. Creative gardening with indigenous plants: a South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Manning, J. 2003. Photographic guide to the wildflowers of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Manning, J. 2009. Field guide to wild flowers of South Africa. Struik Nature, Cape Town.
- Trinder-Smith, T.H. 2003. The Levyns Guide to the plant genera of the south western Cape. Bolus Herbarium, UCT, Red Roof Design CC, Cape Town
Zoleka May & Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Ground Cover, Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White, Cream, Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy