Serruria fucifolia
Salisb. ex Knight

Family : Proteaceae
Common names
: northern spiderhead (Eng.); sandveldspinnekopbos (Afr.)

Serruria fucifolia shrub

Serruria fucifolia is a charming medium-sized fynbos shrub. During late winter and early spring it is covered in sweetly-scented silver-pink flowers. Its vigour and neat habit make this a rewarding garden plant.

Shrubs are rounded, erect and grow to 0.8–1.5 m tall. Branches and leaves are covered in fine hairs giving a matt appearance. Leaves are grey-green, finely divided, and curve upwards. They are 35–60 mm long.

Serruria fucifolia flowers & foliage Serruria fucifolia flowers & foliage

Flowering occurs from late winter to spring (July–October) and bushes are covered in silver-pink flowers. Flowering stems appear on the tips of branches and in upper leaf axils. Flowers fade to a dull purple, and seeds are released approximately two months after pollination.

Conservation status
Endangered (Raimondo et al. 2009).

The natural habitat of Serruria fucifolia is under threat from expanding agricultural plantations of potatoes in the south and rooibos tea in the north. Predictions are that 50% of the remaining habitat will be lost over the next 10 years.

Other threats include extraction of groundwater, overgrazing, infrequent fires and climate change.

Distribution and habitat
Serruria fucifolia is endemic to the Western Cape and occurs in a band along the western coastline. It occurs in Sand Fynbos at Blaauwberg in the south, the Piketberg, the eastern Cedarberg near Wuppertal, and the northernmost populations occur in the Nardou area.

It grows in white sandy soils on the flats and on rocky sandstone higher up. Altitude varies between 150 and 920 m. Winters are cold and wet with frost seldom experienced, and summers are hot, dry and very windy.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Serruria was given after Dr James Serrurier who was a professor of botany at Utrecht in the early 18th century.

The genus Serruria contains about 55 species. Spiderheads occur only in the winter rainfall fynbos region, from the Matsikamma Mountains in the north to the Cape Peninsula and to George in the east. Other noteworthy Serruria species include S. florida, the blushing bride, a well-known and popular cutflower.

Insects pollinate the flowers. After pollination, seeds are produced and fall to the ground. Each seed has a white waxy tip at its base; this is called an elaiosome and is a favourite food of indigenous ants. Ants disperse the seed by carrying them underground to their nests where they eat off the elaiosome. The seed is now in safe storage, hidden away from predators like mice. Fire moves through the fynbos in late summer, killing all the mother plants of S. fucifolia. In early winter the rains begin and new seedlings germinate from the ant nests where they were safely protected from the fire.

Uses and cultural aspects
Serruria fucifolia has good horticultural potential as a hardy fynbos landscaping plant. It is floriferous, fast-growing and currently underutilized.

Serruria fucifolia growing at Kirstenbosch

Growing Serruria fucifolia

Serruria fucifolia is at home in a fynbos garden but lends itself to being planted into many different garden styles. The soft silver-pink flowers and matt foliage combine well with typical cottage-garden-type plants. It is one of the easiest and most vigorous spiderheads to grow and is tolerant of many soil types providing it is in full sun and has good drainage.

Incorporate well-rotted compost into the soil before planting and feed twice a year during spring and autumn with a fertilizer specifically formulated for fynbos plants. Another option, instead of fertilising, is to mulch mature plantings with compost which breaks down and releases nutrients.

Water early while the morning is cool. This enables the plant to dry off before the heat of the midday sun. If plants are watered in hot conditions the water droplets magnify the sun's rays and scorch the leaves, as well as creating ideal growing conditions for fungi and bacteria. Apply a thick layer of mulch or plant matting groundcovers to keep the soil cool and moist for longer. Water new plantings often for the first couple of months, thereafter water can be reduced.

Spiderheads are not long-lived plants and require replacing every few years. Serruria fucifolia has a neat habit and does not require regular pruning.

Propagate Serruria fucifolia from cuttings or seed.

Make cuttings from December to March (summer to autumn). Take cuttings 30–50 mm long from the current season's growth.. Dip the cuttings into a rooting hormone solution or powder and plant into a medium of 50% polystyrene and 50% finely milled pine bark. Place in a growing house with bottom heat (25ºC) and intermittent mist. Once the roots are well developed, remove from the mist unit and harden off for three weeks. Plant the cuttings into small pots and grow on until ready to plant into the garden.

Sow seed in April when days are warm and nights start to cool down (late summer to autumn). Smoke-treat and dust the seed with a systemic fungicide. Sow the seed into a seed tray and place in a brightly lit position. Sow on a well-drained medium consisting of 1 part loam, 1 part bark, and 2 parts sand; firm down and cover with a layer of sifted sand. Germination begins after four weeks. Once two true leaves have appeared, prick the seedlings out into small pots or plugs. Place the seedlings in a lightly shaded area with good air circulation. When plants are ± 50–100 mm tall, or after one year's growth, they can be planted into the garden. Nipping out the tips of the seedlings will encourage branching and produce a neater shrub.

The best time to plant into the garden is at the start of the rainy season. This enables plants to establish themselves and send down deep roots before the hot, dry summer arrives.

References and further reading

  • Plants of southern Africa: an online checklist.
  • Protea Atlas Project website.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Vogts, M. 1982. South Africa's Proteaceae, know them and grow them. Struik Publications, Cape Town.



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Kirstenbosch NBG
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