Dimorphotheca fruticosa (L.) Less.
Common names: trailing daisy (Eng.); rankmagriet, rankbietou (Afr.)
Growing along the South African coastline, intermingled with a variety of species, Dimorphotheca fruticosa can be found displaying a beautiful carpet of white daisies in late winter, spring and early summer.
Dimorphotheca fruticosa is hardy and fast growing. It is a ground hugging, sprawling to prostrate perennial that grows near the sea. The leaves are fleshy, broad rounded and petiolate, and they are minutely toothed.
The plant bears large solitary, radiate flowerheads on naked flower stalks in spring and early summer (from June to October). The rays (commonly called ‘petals’) are white above and lilac below and the disc flowers are reddish-purple. The fruits are smooth, 3-angled (triangular in cross section) and can be around 6 mm long.
According to the Red List of South African plants, assessed on the 30 June 2005, this species is not threatened and has a conservation status of Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
The rankbietou can be found growing right near the sea, along the coastline, on coastal dunes and rocks, from Saldanha Bay all the way to KwaZulu-Natal. It is a very hardy plant, growing in beach sand, in full sun and withstanding sea spray and gale-force winds. Temperatures can vary depending on where it grows. In the Western Cape, with a winter rainfall, it can withstand night temperatures of just below 7°C in winter, to above 30°C day temperatures in summer. In the summer rainfall areas, the humidity is higher and temperatures are warm to hot throughout the year.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
There is often confusion as to whether the rankbietou belongs to the genus Dimorphotheca or Osteospermum. This plant was one of a group of species that was previously placed in Osteospermum section Blaxium but has since been shown to belong in the genus Dimorphotheca. They were placed in Osteospermum because they had sterile disc florets but this is no longer considered to be a good generic character in the tribe. Other large-flowered species previously also placed in this section were D. ecklonis and D. acutifolia. (John Manning, pers. comm. 2023).
The genus name Dimorphotheca comes from the Greek words dis meaning ‘twice’, morphe, ‘a shape’ and theka, meaning ‘fruit’. The name refers to the two kinds of achenes (cypselae) found in one and the same fruiting head. However, the name Dimorphotheca, used to only apply to those species with dimorphic fruits, but since then, it has been discovered that several species with monomorphic fruits (formerly placed in the genera Castalis and Osteospermum) also belong in Dimorphotheca. This is a character that is very changeable so it does not define the genus (Nicola Bergh, pers. comm. 2023). Features of the fruit are important for distinguishing Dimorphotheca species where D. fruticosa, is one of the species which produces only one type of fruit (nutlets).
The species name fruticosa is derived from a Latin word meaning ‘shrubby’.
Dimorphotheca belongs to the Asteraceae, better known as the daisy family. Asteraceae is a massive group, consisting of herbs, shrubs, trees and climbers. The family is found all over the world, with nearly 25 000 species worldwide and of those, 246 genera and 2 305 species occur in southern Africa.
The rankbietou can be found growing right by the sea. The semi-succulent leaves help it to withstand the salty sea air and strong winds as it anchors itself in stony beach sand. It is visited by various pollinators and the seed is dispersed by the wind.
There are no known medicinal uses for the rankbietou. The genus Dimorphotheca is well known for its use in landscaping, as a herbaceous border or groundcover.
Growing Dimorphotheca fruticosa
Dimorphotheca fruticosa is a coastal groundcover, providing colour in late winter to early summer, depending on where it grows and is relatively easy to grow from cuttings, or even from cutting or breaking off rooted stems from the main plant.
Cuttings are best taken in spring or autumn, in the morning when it is cool outside and the plant material is still turgid and fresh. One can make stem cuttings, using a clean secateur and dipping the bottom cut in a rooting hormone. The cuttings can then be placed in a propagation medium mix made of 1:1 perlite and sifted bark. The tray of cuttings are rooted under misting where bottom heating is beneficial and aids towards rooting. The medium should not be allowed to dry out but should also not be saturated. It should be kept moist enough to allow the stem of the cutting to remain healthy and not to allow it to rot or dry out. The misting also helps to slow down evaporation, to prevent the cuttings from becoming stressed and drying out.
One can also collect rooted stem cuttings from the main plant as the stems do tend to root at the nodes along the soil surface.
Once the cuttings have rooted, remove them from the mist irrigation to a lightly shaded area where they can get irrigated with a heavier spray during the day. Irrigate them daily or as needed. After a week or two, the rooted cuttings can be potted into a potting mix and placed in a semi shaded area and watered as necessary. Watering will depend on the whether or not the medium is dry or wet. The plants can be fed with liquid or pelletized organic fertilizer and after two weeks, moved to a sunny area.
Once the plants are well rooted and big enough, they can be planted into the garden. In the winter-rainfall region it is best to plant in the winter months up to early spring, so that the plants have time to establish and by doing so, one can reduce the amount of watering needed. During spring and summer, they can be watered up to three times a week and occasional feeding will help it to thrive. In the garden it can be grown in a sunny position or in semi-shade. It needs little attention other than being pruned back to keep it neat. It can be used as a border plant, on sandy banks or retaining walls. Though this plant grows naturally in beach sand, it can also be grown in well-drained composted sandy soil or loam soil.
Companion plants are Cotyledon orbiculata, Argyrolobium lunare, Pelargonium cucullatum, Polygala myrtifolia, Salvia aurea, Manulea tomentosa, Felicia aethiopica, Trachyandra divaricata and Tetragonia decumbens.
- Bean, A. & Johns, A. 2005. Stellenbosch to Hermanus. South African Wild Flower Guide 5. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Bergh, N. 2023. Email communication on identification of Dimorphotheca fruticosa. 17 July 2023.
- Brown, N.A.C. & Duncan, G.D. 2006. Grow fynbos plants. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town.
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds) 2003. Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape Plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri.
- Honig, M. 2014. Indigenous plant palettes. Quiver Tree Publications, Cape Town.
- Manning, J. C. & Paterson-Jones, C. 2007. Field guide to fynbos. Struik, Cape Town.
- Manning, J. 2023. Email communication. Identification of Dimorphotheca fruticosa. 13 July 2023.
- Powrie, F. 1998. Grow South African Plants. A gardener's companion to indigenous plants. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red list of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Stearn, W.T. 1992. Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for gardeners. A handbook on the origin and meaning of the botanical names of some cultivated plants. Cassell, UK.
- Usher, G. 1966. A Dictionary of Botany. Constable, London.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Acknowledgements: the author thanks John Manning and Nicola Bergh for information on the identification and naming of Dimorphotheca fruticosa.
Plant Type: Ground Cover, Perennial
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Winter
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy