Know Your Fynbos: Secrets of Serruria
If Serruria doesn’t sound familiar to you, then the infinitely more romantic ‘blushing bride’ might. The Serruria genus (part of the Proteaceae family) boasts 55 species,1 of which the exquisite Serruria florida or blushing bride, is one.
Doting gentlemen and blushing brides
The name ‘blushing bride’ is owed to folklore, and, like any good story, there are bounteous versions. The most enchanting one is based on the young French Huguenot farmers2 who would court their maidens, giving them a flower at each opportunity; ‘the deeper the shade of pink, the more imminent a proposal, causing the maiden to blush’.1 Another version rests on the custom that a young man would tuck a flower in his lapel when he was about to propose, a fuller shade of pink indicating a more devoted young man, and often a blushing bride-to-be. More practical origins suggest that the flower itself resembled a bridal gown or that the flowers were popularly used in bridal posies.1
Broadly speaking, the name Serruria is derived from the name of a botany professor – J. Serrurier – at the university of Utrecht in the Netherlands.1 Plants in this genus are commonly known as ‘curly spiderheads’,3 which makes absolute sense when you look at the majority of the species here.
What to look out for:
- Flowers: Not surprisingly, the majority of serruria flower-heads are ‘spider-like’. Each head is a cluster of gangly ‘legs’ (each one of these an individual flower) that either stand up-right, or curve in different directions in a medusa-like fashion. Flowers vary in colour, from pinks to whites to yellows to oranges, and are often ‘furry’ or ‘fluffy’ in nature.3 The blushing bride is a little different from these, in that it’s flower-heads are more star-shaped, a cluster of papery white, pointed bracts that surround the tufty, pinkish-white flowers in the middle.
- Leaves: These vary between species, but they are usually finely divided – some almost needle-like – and curve upwards.4
You might not know:
- The beautiful blushing bride is a popular garden plant and cut flower; the papery nature of its flowers allows them to last very long in a vase.1
- After the blushing bride was first discovered in Franschhoek in 1773 (hence its other common name ‘Pride of Franschhoek’), the flower disappeared from scientific records for over 100 years, and was believed by many botanists to have been extinct. When it was later rediscovered, precious seeds from the discovered specimens were planted and nurtured in Kirstenbosch Gardens, which became the core source of all cultivated specimens for the horticultural trade from then on.2
- Serruria species such as the Strawberry spiderhead (Serruria aemula)4 and Kraaifontein spiderhead (Serruria furcellata)5 are critically endangered due to too frequent fires and urbanisation that are sadly pushing them out of their homes.5
- Serruria florida | Plantz Africa [Internet]. Pza.sanbi.org. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://pza.sanbi.org/serruria-florida
- Blushing Bride [Internet]. Proteaatlas.org.za. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://www.proteaatlas.org.za/blushing.htm
- Serruria (Curly Spiderheads) [Internet]. Biodiversityexplorer.org. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/plants/proteaceae/serruria.htm
- Serruria aemula | Plantz Africa [Internet]. Pza.sanbi.org. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://pza.sanbi.org/serruria-aemula
- Serruria furcellata | Plantz Africa [Internet]. Pza.sanbi.org. 2017 [cited 31 July 2017]. Available from: http://pza.sanbi.org/serruria-furcellata
Header image: By Andrew massyn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14417688