Heliophila coronopifolia Willd
Common names: Blue Flax, Wild Flax, Showy Sunflax (E), Blousporrie, Sporries (A)
This dainty, blue annual is an absolute delight when it comes into flower. Upright and graceful, with small cups of bright blue flowers,the plants appear to dance in a light breeze.
Under good conditions, Heliophila coronopifolia grows bushy and about 600 mm tall. The smooth stems and soft, slender leaves are bright green. The blue flowers are arranged in little spikes at the tips of the stems. The four petals of the flower open wide to display the white center with the pollen and stigma in the middle. The flowers are quick to close during cool weather and at night. The seed pods are long, splitting when the small brown seed are ripe.
Heliophila coronopifolia is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
In nature they are found from Namaqualand to the Western Cape, often flowering in enormous drifts and covering fields in clouds of blue. They are also often found between other annuals like the Namaqualand daisies or ursinias.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Heliophila means sun loving. In South Africa there are 71 species of Heliophila most of them annuals naturally growing throughout Namaqualand and the south western Cape. Although many of them are similar to Heliophila coronopifolia with blue flowers, there are also species with pink and white flowers.
The Showy Sunflax belongs to the mustard family (Brassicaceae), as do cauliflowers and broccoli. In this family the plants often taste and smell of mustard and sulphur. If you crush a sunflax, it smells like a cauliflower.
Growing Heliophila coronopifolia
In spite of their fragile appearance these little annuals have adapted to grow and flower abundantly in areas known for their heat and drought. Surviving the long dry summer as seeds, they germinate with the autumn rains, which is also the time to sow them. The seed can be scattered directly into garden beds or first sown in seed beds or seed trays. They should be planted out as soon as they are big enough to handle. The seed germinates well, usually within a week. The plants are easy to grow in the garden. They grow fast given the right conditions of full sun, well-drained soil and regular watering during the growing season. Heliophila look beautiful planted densely, giving a mass of blue, or they can be interspersed between other annuals, bulbs or shrubs.
Liesl van der Walt
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bi/Annual
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Blue, Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy