Know your fynbos: Enamoured by everlastings
Have you ever thought it a little strange to hear hikers recounting beautiful ‘fields of Cape Snow’ in the middle of the Cape summer? Syncarpha vestita is indeed our very own form of ‘Cape Snow’ when, between the months of November and January,1 our mountainsides erupt in a magnificent mass of snowy-white flowerheads glistening in the sunshine.
The Syncarpha genus is made up of 28 species, all of which are endemic to the Western and Eastern Cape of South Africa.2 We commonly refer to its flowers as ‘everlastings’ due to the dry, papery bracts that enclose each flower head – these require extraordinarily little water, and last for weeks and weeks as perfectly preserved flowers, even once they dry out.
Given their daisy-like shape, you might not be surprised to learn that all Syncarpha species fall within the daisy (Asteraceae) family – possibly the largest family of flowering plants worldwide, and one of the most prolific plant families found in the fynbos.3
What to look for:
- Flowers: Syncarpha everlastings have a daisy-shaped flowerhead made up of a perfect ring of overlapping, papery bracts (the papery ‘petals’ that we see are in fact modified leaves known as ‘bracts’) that have pointed tips and a metallic sheen which glints in the sunshine. These bracts surround a cluster of tiny florets in the middle, which are often purple or yellow – usually a contrasting colour to the surrounding bracts. The colours of the actual flower heads vary, but are generally varying shades of whites, creams, yellows, oranges and pinks.1
- Leaves: The leaves of Syncarpha species are generally grey-green with a thick layer of woolly hairs that makes them look silvery, and feel like felt.4
You may not know:
- The English common name ‘everlasting’ is applied to many different species of ornamental cut flowers which last for a long time. Some of the other magnificent ‘everlastings’ that we find in the Cape are the bright pink Cape Strawflower (Phaenocoma Prolifera) and many of the Helichrysum genera.5
- The Afrikaans common name for ‘everlasting flowers’ is ‘sewejaartjies’ which has two believed origins; the first referring to the fact that the cut flowers will last for a long time, and the other referring to the plants’ short life-span in the veld, known for disappearing after just seven years.5
- Other attractive Syncarpha species which you may spot around the Cape Peninsula are the Strawberry Everlasting (Syncarpha eximius) and the White Everlasting (Syncarpha argyropsis).4
- van Deventer G, Bek D, Ashwell A. The Guide to Wild Flower Harvesting [Internet]. Gerhard van Deventer Sandberg Fynbos Reserve, Dr David Bek Newcastle University, Dr Alice Ashwell, Heather D’Alton Flower Valley Conservation Trust, Ross Turner University of KwaZulu-Natal, Bronwyn Botha Flower Valley Conservation Trust, Dr Alex Hughes Newcastle University, Professor Cheryl McEwan Durham University; 2015 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://www.capenature.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/BEK_FYNBOS_Guide_Web_English.pdf
- Syncarpha [Internet]. Biodiversityexplorer.org. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/plants/asteraceae/syncarpha.htm
- Asteraceae | Plantz Africa [Internet]. Pza.sanbi.org. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://pza.sanbi.org/asteraceae
- Syncarpha vestita | Plantz Africa [Internet]. Pza.sanbi.org. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://pza.sanbi.org/syncarpha-vestita
- Syncarpha argyropsis | Plantz Africa [Internet]. Pza.sanbi.org. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://pza.sanbi.org/syncarpha-argyropsis