This endangered spiderhead is being squeezed from
its home by urbanization near greater Cape Town.
Serruria furcellata is a multi-stemmed, resprouting, erect
shrub reaching a height of 0.5 m and spanning 1 m across. The dissected
leaves, which are distinctive of this species, are hairless and
bright green. The plant produces a solitary, sweet-scented, pink
flowerhead and flowers in spring to early summer (from August to
October). The seeds are released within two months of flowering.
The plant is listed as Endangered in the Red Data Book.
furcellata grows in acid, sandy soils at low altitudes between
50-310 m on the Cape Flats. The plant experiences typical Cape Flats
weather which is cold and wet during winter and hot, dry and windy
during the summer months. The Kraaifontein spiderhead is nearly
extinct in its natural habitat in Kraaifontein and Brackenfell.
According to Rebelo (1995), in 1987 fewer than 250 plants remained
at Northpine on the Cape Flats, and the Elandskloof Mountain population
is restricted to a few scattered plants. This is mainly because
of urbanization and industrial areas being established in the area.
Derivation of name
The genus was named after J. Serrurier, a professor of botany at
the University of Utrecht in the early eighteenth century. The species
name furcellata means small fork, and refers to the distinctively
forked leaves. The common name derives from the area it originally
existed, Kraaifontein. Urbanization is threatening other members
of this genus, including Serruria
cyanoides and Serruria aemula.
The Kraaifontein spiderhead reproduces from seed. Once the seed
ripens it is shed from the flowers and falls to the ground. The
seeds are tiny, hard-shelled, oval nuts covered by a fleshy skin
called the elaisome. The elaisome secretes a chemical substance
that attracts ants. The ants carry the seed to their underground
nests where they consume the elaisome. The seed remains underground
until conditions are right for them to germinate. Serruria furcellata
is also adapted to surviving fires by resprouting. Although the
above ground parts of the plant are burnt, it has an underground
rootstock that survives and sends up new shoots. This is another
way of the plant ensuring its survival.
Growing Serruria furcellata
furcellata is grown from cuttings or seed. Tip or heel cuttings
are taken during spring or autumn. A rooting hormone is applied
to the semi-hardwood cuttings that will stimulate rooting. The cuttings
are rooted in a propagation soil mixture of 50% milled pine bark
and 50% polystyrene granules. Good rooting of the plant will take
place if the propagation greenhouse has good misting and underbench
heating. Rooting will take place from 5 weeks onwards. Rooted cuttings
are removed from the mist bench and hardened off for 4 weeks. The
hardened off cuttings are then potted in a soil medium made up especially
for fynbos plants. A suitable well-drained soil mixture consists
of composted pine bark, acidic river sand in equal parts loam/topsoil.
Seed is collected from the mature flowerhead. The seed should be
sown in late summer or early autumn. The effects of higher day temperatures
and cooler night temperatures play an important role in initiating
germination. The seeds can also be exposed to short periods of high
temperatures followed by cooling water, which, by mimicking the
autumn temperature, stimulates the seed to germinate. The seeds
should be treated with a fungicide that prevents pre- and post-emergence
damping off. The young seedling or cuttings should be grown in an
area that is well ventilated and fairly well lit. The plants should
be watered in the mornings and may be fed with an organic-based
fertilizer. The young plants can be planted out in autumn or in
the cooler months before the onset of summer. This will allow the
root system to become established and gives the young plant a good
chance of survival.
Serruria furcellata is best suited for a garden that has
sandy soil. It is a small shrub, so plant it in your garden among
other smaller shrubs or slightly taller growing plants. The plant
is a resprouter so it should not mind the occasional pruning to
keep it neat and compact. Plant in full sunlight, and a layer of
composted mulch or woodchips will help keep the soil cool and provide
the plant with nourishment.
Rebelo, A.G. 1995. Sasol proteas. A field guide to the proteas
of southern Africa. Fernwood Press, Cape Town.
Vogts, M. 1982. South Africa's Proteaceae. Know them and grow
them. Struik, Cape Town.
Author: Trevor Adams
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden