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Syncarpha vestita

Syncarpha vestita
Syncarpha vestita

Retired UBC Botanical Garden educator David Tarrant sent along these photographs from his November excursion to South Africa's Cape Floristic Region. Thank you, David.

Syncarpha vestita has the common name of Cape snow in English or [wit]sewejaartjie in Afrikaans. The genus is restricted to the Eastern Cape and Western Cape regions of South Africa, with about 30 species. In the evergreen fire-dependent shrubland known as fynbos, Cape snow is one of the many different shrubby species of this region.

David noted to me in his email that Syncarpha vestita has upright woolly grey-green leaves that overlap and large rounded composite flower heads with papery white bracts. From a distance, Plantzafrica describes these plants as "[resembling] flocks of beautiful, clean sheep". Plantzafrica (first link in the previous paragraph) also suggests that the pollinators for Syncarpha vestita are likely palynivorous (pollen-eating) beetles such as Spilocephalus viridipennis and Trichostetha capensis.

Syncarpha vestita is also described as a fire-ephemeral species. Seeds germinate after fires (fires are often lightning-induced). The seedlings grow rapidly, so this shrublet will often be a major component of the plant community for the seven or so years following a fire. After seven years, the dynamics of the plant community are such that Syncarpha vestita gets outcompeted by initially slower-growing species and begins to decline in number. The strategy for Cape snow is to then exist as dormant seeds, waiting for the next fire (it is akin to the hare from the tortoise and the hare stories). To read more about the germination of the seed after fires, see: Brown, NAC. 1993. Seed Germination in the Fynbos Fire Ephemeral, Syncarpha vestita (L.) B. Nord. is Promoted by Smoke, Aqueous Extracts of Smoke and Charred Wood Derived from Burning the Ericoid-Leaved Shrub, Passerina vulgaris Thoday. (PDF). Int. J. Wildland Fire. 3(4):203-206.

10 Comments

Thank you for this beautiful photo! What a pretty flower.

Thank you for these gorgeous Spring photos and interesting write up on this wintery day here in Maine.

I love when posted beautiful flowers

"Clean white sheep", love it, what a pleasant oxymoron.

That is a totally enchanting flower. Just lovely.

Thanks so much for all the background info. Delightful and fascinating, as always.

I love this site.

"Clean, white sheep? Not an oxymoron at all if you've ever seen Australian sheep ... Australian farmers have been known to accuse NZ farmers of washing the sheep in their roadside paddocks!
However, a gorgeous flower, red and white for Christmas?

What a gorgeous flower! many "white" blooms are more cream colored than true white...this one is quite stunning in its brightness!

Beautiful flowers!
What is the frequency of wildfires in this ecosystem?

Beautiful flowers. These are noticeably similar to Helipterum sp., and it appears that Helipterum has been rearranged with some (presumably the South African species) going to Syncarpha.

The optimal time period between fires in the Fynbos is 10-14 years. See: http://www.fynboshub.co.za/fynbos-and-fire/

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