Serruria cyanoides (L.) R.Br.
Common names: Wynberg spiderhead (Eng.); spinnekopbossie (Afr.)
The genus Serruria is one of the genera of the protea family, and is found only in the Cape Floral Kingdom.
Serruria cyanoides is a small, densely branched, multi-stemmed, resprouting shrublet, reaching a height of 400 mm. The dissected leaves, which are typical of this species, point upwards towards the flowerhead and are hairless when mature. The plant produces a solitary, sweetly-scented, pink flowerhead, and flowers from mid-winter until late spring (July to October). The seeds are released within two months of flowering.
The plant is listed as Vulnerable in the Red Data Book.
Distribution and habitat
The genus is mainly found in the winter rainfall region, only Serruria fasciflora extends eastwards to the Langeberg Mountains. Serruria is the largest of a group of four closely related genera, Paranomus, Spatalla and Sorocephalus. The genus has about 50 species and is in fact one of the largest of the African genera of Proteaceae. S. cyanoides was once common on the Cape Flats but has disappeared in this area due to urbanization and the invasion of alien species. The common name derives from the area in which it originally existed, Wynberg. The remaining population now survives above the coastal town of Fish Hoek and at Karbonkelberg in Hout Bay.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Serruria was named in honour of J. Serrurier, a professor of botany at the University of Utrecht in the early eighteenth century. The specific name cyanoides refers to the resemblance of its inflorescence to that of Cyanea, a lobeliad from Hawaii.
Natural Habitat and ecology Herbarium labels indicate that this species occurred at altitudes of 30 to 550 m on hill slopes and on flats. Collection sites on record are dunes at the lowest altitudes and sandy southeast slopes of mountains at the highest altitudes. Serruria cyanoides now grows in acidic sandy soils at altitudes up to 150 m in isolated populations of a few hundred plants. The Wynberg spiderhead reproduces from seed. Once the seed ripens it is shed from the older flowers and falls to the ground. The seeds are small, hard, oval nuts covered by a fleshy layer called the elaisome. The elaisome layer attracts ants that carry the seeds to their underground nest where the elaiosme is consumed. The seeds remain in the nest until conditions are right to germinate. This is one fascinating way of that the plant reseeds itself. S. cyanoides is also adapted to survive fires, which occur in the fynbos biome, by resprouting. It has an underground rootstock that survives the fires. Although the above-ground parts of the plant are burnt, new shoots develop from the rootstock. This is another method by which the plant ensures its survival.
Growing Serruria cyanoides
Serruria cyanoides is propagated from cuttings or from seed. Tip or heel cuttings are taken during spring or autumn. A rooting hormone is applied to the semi-hardwood cuttings that will stimulate rooting. The cuttings are rooted in a mixture of 50% milled pine bark and 50% polystyrene granules. Good rooting will only take place if the propagation house has misting and underbench heating. Rooting will take place from 5 weeks onwards. Once the cuttings have rooted, they are hardened off for 4 weeks before being planted. The rooted cuttings should be planted in a fynbos type soil medium. Fynbos type soils are usually nutrient poor and acidic. A suitable well-drained fynbos soil mixture consists of a mixture of acidic river sand, composted pine bark in equal parts and loam/topsoil.
Seed is collected from a mature flowerhead. The seed is sown in late summer or early autumn as the effects of higher day temperatures and cooler night temperatures play a vital role in initiating germination. The seeds can also be exposed to short periods of high temperatures followed by cooling water, which, by mimicking the autumn temperature regime, stimulates the seed to germinate very well. The seeds should be treated with a fungicide that prevents pre- and post-emergence damping off. Transplant the seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle.
The young seedlings or potted cuttings should be grown in an area that is well ventilated and well lit. The plants should preferably be watered in the morning and may be fed with an organic seaweed-based fertilizer. The young plants can be planted out into the garden in autumn or during the cooler months. This allows the root system to become established before the onset of the hot, dry summer and gives the young plant a better chance to survive and thrive. Serruria cyanoides is best suited to sandy soil, and will grow well in fynbos or sandveld gardens. It is a small shrub, so plant it among other slightly taller plants, or in the front of a bed as an edging plant. Being a resprouter, it should not mind the occasional pruning to keep it neat and compact. Plant in full sunlight and ensure that the soil is well drained. Mulching with compost or woodchips during summer will keep the soil cool and help feed the plants.
- Milewskia, A.V. 1978. Habitat of threatened species of Serruria and Protea endemic to the western Cape coastal flats. Journal of South African Botany 44: 363-371.
- Paterson Jones, C. 2000. The protea family in southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Rebelo, A.G. 1995. Sasol proteas. A field guide to the proteas of southern Africa. Fernwood Press, Cape Town.
- Rebelo, A.G. 2000. Proteas of the Cape Peninsula. Protea Atlas Project, National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- Vogts, M. 1982. South Africa's Proteaceae. Know them and grow them. Struik, Cape Town.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring, Winter
Flower colour: Red, White
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Challenging