Greetings to all our enthusiastic and botanically minded villagers! This week’s PoI focuses on a herb from the Asteraceae (Daizy) family – now also known as the Compositae family.
Enter Berkheya – a genus which makes its first-time appearance in a biweekly PoI article. Berkheya cerciifolia (White Thistle-leaved Berkheya in English, Wildedissel in Afrikaans and mohata-o-mosoeu in Sesotho), is a perennial herb that often obtains a height of over 1.5m, especially in its preferred habitat atop moist grassland slopes and in close proximity to high-altitude streams. This species makes itself at home in high altitude (1800-3000m A.S.L.) areas in the Eastern Mountain Region (EMR) of the Drakensburg, where it is locally endemic.
This lone specimen was observed in close proximity to a waterfall that intersects our newly built Caracal Contour Cycle trail. It may not be graceful but it certainly won’t be messed with and its spiny growth form is certainly worthy of our interest.
The leaves of B. cerciifolia are of 2 forms: basal – measuring up to 300X80mm, white-felted beneath with deeply lobed and sharply toothed margins; and upper leaves which are directly attached to the stem, broad nearest the stem, and resembling spiny bat-wings. The stem by contrast, is slightly silky – yet firm – to the touch. The flowerheads are comparatively large, measuring up to 80mm across. The sterile ray florets are usually white but may be a light yellow; whereas the disk florets are always yellow. The bracts surrounding the flowerhead resemble small leaves, measuring 10mm wide, and complete with spines of half – equal length. Flowering occurs from Jan – March, so you’ve (regrettably) got a little waiting to do. Uses:
Many species of the genus Berkheya are known to have medicinal properties; although very little research has been done on B. cerciifolia in particular.
This species is both a pioneer of recently disturbed veld (secondary succession), and serves to stabilise the soil structure of newly colonised areas (primary succession), thus facilitating an eventual progression to the next ecological stage in succession.
cerciifolia is listed as of Least Concern according to the SANBI database.
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Head ranger: Clarens Village Nature Reserve