Our recent cold weather delayed many early-flowering plants in UBC Botanical Garden. Almost everything that is presently in flower has previously been featured, so instead I sought foliage and geometry while looking for something of interest for BPotD. South African thistle met the criteria. It is rendered here in greyscale to emphasize the patterns in the rosette of leaves.
Berkheya is a poorly-known genus of plants in much of the world, with the exception of South Africa where approximately 70 of the 75 species in the genus occur. Only one species is starting to become popular in cultivation elsewhere, the lone species with a purple inflorescence, Berkheya purpurea. Others in the genus, like today’s Berkheya multijuga, can sometimes be found in botanical gardens or the private gardens of rock- or alpine-plant enthusiasts. Our plants of Berkheya multijuga were grown from seed received from the Botanischer Garten der Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel.
The plant in today’s photograph measures about 25cm (10 in.) across. It may be another year or two before this plant flowers, but when it does, a flowering stem will have bolted from the centre of the rosette around mid-summer. This flowering stem will reach a height of up to 120cm (4 ft.), and bear a number of golden sunflower-type inflorescences (see this commercial site for photographs: Berkheya multijuga). If you visit the site, you can see that the flowering heads are in a tight and somewhat tangled cluster; the multijuga part of the name (meaning “yoked many together” or “of many sorts”).
Berkheya multijuga is native to South Africa and Lesotho. Some sites use the common name of spiny berg thistle.
The genus is named after Dutch naturalist and painter, Johannes le Francq van Berkhey.
Botany / gardening resource link: The distressing story of The mystery of the horticulturalists missing in South Africa via the BBC. The couple, Rod and Rachel Saunders, have supplied UBC Botanical Garden with many intriguing plants (as seeds) over the years through their company, Silverhill Seeds. If this story doesn’t have a happy ending, as seems likely at this time, the Saunders and their enthusiasm for plants will indeed be missed.