Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to the 5th “Plant of Interest” article for 2016!! This week we’ll be looking at a member of the Asteraceae (Daizy) family, also known as the Compositaceae (on account of the composite arrangement of the flowerheads of all the species within the family).
Helichrysum herbaceum (Monkey Tail Everlasting in English and tlhako in Sesotho) is a perennial herb with many erect stems sprouting from a creeping rhizome, occurring from the Western Cape through to KZN. It occurs almost exclusively in grassveld but may overlap to a lesser extent with woody Kloof-vegetation. This species has been observed at a maximum altitude of 2600m A.S.L., preferring full sun.
As the species name implies – herbaceum refers to this Helichrysum conforming to a herb-like morphology as opposed a woody morphology. This specimen was photographed on the Porcupine Trail. In full sunlight the papery ray florets take on a brilliant brown-golden sheen that can be difficult to observe directly for more than a few short seconds at a time.
Helichrysum herbaceum does not exceed a height of 400mm, with each inflorescence borne singularly aloft a flowering stem. The leaves are khaki-olive green, dulled somewhat white-grey by fine hairs covering the ventral surface – these hairs appear woven as if in a loose fabric. The hairs are largely absent from the dorsal surface. The basal leaves measure approximately 40-50mm long X 20-30mm wide with undulating margins. The basal leaves occur in a loose rosette, which falls away on the flowering stems in favour of an overlapping composition in which the leaves are considerably smaller, measuring around 20mm X 2-3mm wide. The flowerheads measure approximately 25mm wide. Flowering takes place from as early as December according to some sources, but generally occurs from Feb-May.
The morphology of many species within the Helichrysum genus is such that it facilitates growth in semi-arid environs, usually on thin or partially exposed soils. Helichrysum plants are therefore drought tolerant. The outer florets are paper-thin; leaves are covered in fine hairs and the arrangements of both the basal and stem-covering leaves are all designed to interlink, thus reducing water loss. Fine hairs offer the dual function of both reducing water loss and retention – the arrangement of the hairs on H. herbaceum allow for the absorption of tiny drops of dew in the early morning.
Helichrysum herbaceum has reportedly been burned as an offering to the ancestors of various African tribes in order to profit from their divine blessings. The stems and leaves were also burned as incense in ancestral rituals.
Regarded as of Least Concern by SANBI on account of its stable presence throughout its distribution.
Head ranger Clarens Village Nature Reserve