Lachnospermum umbellatum (L.f.) Pillans
Common names: rooiblombossie (Afr.)
This little-known species from the extreme southwestern corner of the country thrives in the wet fynbos of the Cape Fold Mountains near the coast. Its beautiful pale-pink flowerheads contrast with the small, bright green leaves and soft stems covered in a layer of white wool.
Lachnospermum umbellatum is a small, stiff shrublet with numerous upright stems arising from a woody base. The plant grows to about 600 mm tall. The stems are densely covered with tiny, succulent leaves grouped into star-shaped clusters. One side of each leaf is covered in pure white wool; the leaf edges are rolled over this wool, leaving a clean white stripe along each leaf.
Flowerheads are borne on short stalks at the tips of the branches in groups of up to twelve. The stalks all arise at the same point on the branch, producing a floral arrangement termed an umbel.
Flowerheads are small, less than 10 mm across, and each flowerhead consists of a tight grouping of up to twenty tiny pink flowers termed florets. The individual florets are not very visible except on close examination, and the main part of the floral display comes from the attractive series of bracts that surround each flowerhead. The bracts are white-woolly but have pink tips which are bent outwards.Flowering is in summer, from January to April, frequently in the first year after a fire.
Lachnospermum umbellatum is listed as Least Concern (LC) on the SANBI Red List of Threatened Species.
Distribution and habitat
It occurs in southwestern Cape flats and slopes mainly on mountains near the coast, from Simonstown in the west, Hangklip and Sir Lowry’s Pass, the Kogelberg, Elgin and Houw Hoek Mountains, Botrivier and Hermanus and inland to the Caledon Swartberg and Napier. It is very much a fynbos species, growing on sands derived from Table Mountain Sandstone. If you would like to see the plant in the wild, visit the Fernkloof Nature Reserve in Hermanus between January and March, especially in the season following a fire.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Lachnospermum is derived from two Greek words: lachne, meaning ‘woolly hair’ and spermum, meaning ‘seed’, and refers to the dense covering of white woolly hairs on the seed. The species name umbellatum, refers to the umbel-like arrangement of the flowerheads.
The species name was given by Neville Pillans in 1954 and there are two other members to the genus, L. imbricatum and L. fasciculatum. All three occur in the Western Cape Province.
Lachnospermum is not well known and there is little information available on ecology or pollination. The fact that it resprouts after fire is unusual amongst its close relatives in the group to which it belongs, the Metalasia or blombos group.
This species is not currently in cultivation, although it was grown at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden for a time in the early 1980s. Its attractive foliage and flowerheads give it great potential as a fynbos garden subject.
Growing Lachnospermum umbellatum
Despite its horticultural potential, the species is not in cultivation and so little is known about how to propagate it and how to grow it.
- Koekemoer, M. 2002. Systematics of the Metalasia group in the Relhaniinae (Asteraceae – Gnaphalieae). Unpublished Ph.D thesis, Department of Botany, Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg.
- Trinder-Smith, T.H. 2003. Guide to the plant genera of the southwestern Cape . Paarl Print, Paarl.
- Website of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, Hermanus. http://fernkloof.com/species2.mv?Lachnospermum%20umbellatum
Compton Herbarium, Kirstenbosch Research Centre
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Early Summer, Late Summer
Flower colour: Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Challenging