Senecio elegans L.
Common names: wild cineraria, veld cineraria, greater purple ragwort, purple senecio (Eng.); strandblommetjie (Afr.); izuba (isiXhosa)
During spring, this annual daisy flowers in abundance along the west and south coast of South Africa, making a beautiful display when flowering in mass, with colours varying from white to dark mauve and bright pink.
Senecio elegans is a robust annual, ranging from 200 to 600 mm tall, often up to 1 m. The stems are densely covered in glandular hairs. The hairy leaves, often varying in size from 35–75 mm long, are deeply divided and the margins rolled under. The radiate flower heads, borne in dense clusters, consist of yellow disc florets and purple, pink or white ray florets. Flowering is in spring, from September to November, but also sporadic throughout the year.
This widespread species has, according to the Red List of South African Plants website, a the conservation status of Least Concern (LC).
The wild cineraria has been introduced as an ornamental to Europe, and to Australia, New Zealand, the Azores and the USA (the state of California), where it is listed as an environmental weed. According the California Invasive Plant Council, this species has been recorded across seven counties. In these counties it is reportedly confined to areas with a coastal dune habitat where it appears to be displacing the indigenous vegetation. The initial record dates back to the 1920s in the San Francisco area. Seedlings manage to establish easily in disturbed areas, which often are sand dunes.
Distribution and habitat
Senecio elegans is found from Saldanha in the Western Cape to Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape, growing on sandy coastal dunes, coastal rocks and lower slopes.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Senecio is derived from the Latin senex meaning ‘old man’, alluding to the whitish grey-hairy pappus, which is typical to this genus. The species name elegans is Latin and means ‘graceful’.
Senecio is a diverse, cosmopolitan genus consisting of approximately 1 200 species, including annuals, perennials, shrubs, climbers, succulents, aquatic plants, and small trees. In southern Africa the genus is represented by more than 200 species.
The centres of the daisies are bright yellow, full of pollen and nectar, which attracts bees and beetles. Once pollinated the flower heads turn into fluffy white balls, ready for the wind to disperse the seeds. The seed is a favourite of Cape Canaries.
Adapted to a coastal climate with winter rain and summer drought, they do well in disturbed, sandy and windy areas. The dry summers they in part survive as seed and germinate freely in autumn with the start of the winter rains. In some areas along the coast, such as Kleinmond in the Overberg region of South Africa, despite mainly receiving winter rainfall, the author has observed small seedlings growing with plants in peak flowering or well past it. In areas of all year rains, such as Sedgefield in the Garden Route region, the author has noted that plants are only going to seed in January, towards the end of summer, whereas they tend to go to seed in late spring to early summer (October–November) in the winter-rainfall region.
Plants are a constant presence above high tide level.
Senecio elegans is sometimes confused with Senecio glastifolius, a taller perennial species with rougher leaves and larger daisies, which also makes an attractive garden plant.
The wild cineraria has, besides it use as a landscape ornamental, also a medicinal and edible value. In the Eastern Cape the Xhosa people gather and cook the leaves as a vegetable and serve it with mealie meal. An infusion of roots is prepared to treat kidney pains. Parts of the stem are held in the mouth for a while and the saliva swallowed to provide relief against asthma.
Growing Senecio elegans
The seed must be sown in autumn in areas with a winter-rainfall. In summer-rainfall areas the plants will need watering in winter, or the seed could be sown in early spring once the danger of frost has passed. Sow in seed trays or directly in the open ground. The seed germinates within a week or two and seedlings are easy to transplant about 2 months later, or as soon as they are big enough to handle. A sunny position in well-drained soil is ideal. Plant seedlings 150 mm apart. Soil can be composted with a thin layer, 30–40 mm deep.
Senecio elegans may be a bit weedy by some gardener’s standards, but planted densely in large groups, they offer a great reward for very little effort. It is a perfect addition to borders, pockets in the rock garden, coastal gardens and containers. At Kirstenbosch they are bushy annuals about 60 cm high.
For a striking show Senecio elegans can be planted in a mix with the orange or yellow annuals Ursinia cakilefolia or Oncosiphon grandiflorum, which grow to the same height. To complete an annuals garden theme, interplant with: Arctotheca calendula, Dimorphotheca pluvialis and D. sinuata, Ursinia anthemoides, Cleretum bellidiforme, Senecio arenarius and S. littoreus, Felicia heterophylla, F. dubia and F. tenella, Oncosiphon suffruticosum, Carpanthea pomeridiana, Cotula duckittiae and C. turbinata, Arctotis hirsuta, Nemesia strumosa and N. leipoldtii, Zaluzianskya villosa and Z. capensis.
Senecio elegans will also perform wonderfully with perennials, woody shrubs or succulents such as: Cotyledon orbiculata, Caprobrotus edulis and C. acinaciformis, Lampranthus amoenus and L. aureus, Metalasia densa, M. muricata and M. aurea, Salvia aurea, Leucospermum prostratum, Pelargonium cucullatum, P. suburbanum, P. betulinum, P. fulgidum, P. gibbosum and P. capitatum, Cineraria geifolia, Helichrysum retortum and H. dasyanthum and Arctotis stoechadifolius.
Senecio elegans is prone to black aphids.
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- CAL-IPC (California Invasive Plant Council). Senecio elegans Risk Assessment. https://www.cal-ipc.org/plants/risk/senecio-elegans-risk. Accessed on 24/10/2022.
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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
This article updates and expands on the original article by Liesl Van der Walt
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bi/Annual
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
PH: Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Flower colour: Purple, White, Pink, Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy