Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “Weekly Plant of Interest”. We’ll be looking at a semi-cryptic herbaceous species that may, with a sharp eye be observed on several of the Clarens hiking trails when out of season. In season however spotting is much, much easier.
Felicia filifolia or the Fine-leaved Felicia (commonly known as Draaibos or Wilde Aster in Afrikaans, or sehhalahala-se-seholo in Sisotho), is a small shrublet of between 80 cm and 1 metre when fully grown. Felicia is reputedly named after Herr Felix, a German official who died in 1846 (the genus name could also be derived from the Latin word felix meaning cheerful). The species name filifolia means leaves like fern fronds (referring to the fineness of the foliage). It is usually found on stony flats and slopes as well as amongst the boulder beds of dry rivers. F. filifolia can be found growing at altitudes of up to 2400 m A.S.L. and its distribution ranges from the Western Cape through to the Limpopo Province. It is therefore widespread throughout much of S.A.
The stems of this aromatic little shrub are much branched with tufts of fleshy, needle-like leaves. The flower-heads, of approximately 15-20 mm, are arranged in a radiate manner and grade from blue-faded mauve in colour. The disk is yellow with 3 – 4 series involucral bracts on stalks of up to 50 mm. One feature of this plant is its massed flower-heads that put on a spectacular display during its flowering season from September – November. Some common uses of F. filifolia include:
Often used as a substitute for firewood by the locals of Lesotho.
Makes a good frost resistant, attractive and aromatic garden ornamental. There is a good deal of information on the cultivation of F.filifolia available online.
F. filifolia is known to occur prolifically in overgrazed areas and is thus an ecologically important species as an indicator of misused veld. It is also toxic to sheep and thus does not make for suitable grazing. The toxins serve as an anti-feedant which helps protect this seemingly delicate plant from becoming fodder for an assortment of game and domestic animals. The slightly aromatic flowers will attract a multitude of pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies, which in turn helps to attract insectivorous birds, thereby playing another ecologically important role in all areas where it’s known to occur.