Hilliardiella hirsuta (DC.) H.Rob.
Common names: Quilted-leaved Vernonia (E), Wildesonsoekertjie (A), ikhambi lenyongo (Z)
The striking deep purple flowers and silvery quilted leaves of Hilliardiella hirsuta make it a very desirable plant for an indigenous summer border. This plant was previously known as Vernonia hirsuta.
Grows up to 1m tall in colonies in grasslands. The woody rootstock gives rise to hairy stems with thick stalkless leaves whose veins are deeply indented on the upper surface, giving a 'quilted' effect.
The 'flowers', in common with all the members of the daisy family, are actually composed of many tiny 'florets' grouped together. Appearing from September to January (spring to midsummer), they range in colour from magenta to purple, and occasionally pink or white. They are followed by attractive silvery seedheads.
Hilliardiella hirsuta is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
A widespread species, occurring in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Lesotho, Swaziland, Limpopo (Northern Province), Mpumalanga, Zimbabwe and Angola. It grows in grassland, scrub, and on forest margins, in full sun to light shade, from the coast to 1900m. Frost hardy, it is found in the summer rainfall regions.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Vernonia is a large genus of the daisy family, previously with about 1000 species found in the southern hemisphere, with 50 of these in South Africa. The genus was revised ans some species removed to the new genus Hilliardiella. The name Vernonia is after William Vernon, an English botanist who collected plants in America and who died in 1711. "hirsuta" refers to the hairy leaves.
The new name honours Dr Olive May Hilliard who studied Asteraceae in KwaZulu-Natal. There are 8 species in the genus Hilliardiella, including H. oligocephala with bi-coloured leaves and H. aristata with silvery foliage.
This plant does not seem to have a specialized pollinator. It is visited by bees, butterflies and beetles, which carry pollen from one flower to another. The seeds are enclosed in hairy fruits with a 'parachute' of hairs which assists in wind distribution.
This plant is used in traditional medicine to treat colic, sore throats, coughs, headaches and rashes. The Zulu common name means 'cure for the gall-bladder'. According to Pooley (1998), it is a hardy garden plant.
Growing Hilliardiella hirsuta
This species grows easily from both cuttings and seed. Once established, it needs to be cut back in late summer. The plant, which grows to about a metre, is best used in a mixed border, or in a 'naturalistic' grassland garden. It contrasts particularly well with the bright yellow Berkheya species which flowers at the same time.
- Hilliard, O.M. 1977. Compositae in Natal, Univ. Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wildflowers of Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publ.Trust, Durban.
Natal National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Perennial, Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
Soil type: Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy