When walking along the foreshore dunes, we easily recognise these common residents (Arctotheca populifolia) by the silvery, grey-leafed plants and yellow, daisy-like flowers. They are also knows as the sea pumpkin, beach daisy, seepampoen, tonteldoek or strandgousblom. SANBI eloquently refers to the plant as a “beach bum”!
“Arctotheca” comes from the Greek “arcto” for bear, and “theca” for capsule, referring to the dense, woolly fruit produced by the plant. “Populifolia” refers to the leaves resembling that of a poplar tree.
The heart-shaped to oval, fleshy, large leaves, covered in a dense layer of white hairs, grows like a mat and is about 200 mm high. When I saw them for the first time, it looked like a spider’s web on the leaves. Beautiful, yellow flowers of approximately 30 mm in diameter grow from short, curling stems and may be hidden under the large leaves. One usually sees the flowers during the rainy season of the area.
Bees and butterflies play an important role in pollinating the flowers and once the seeds are released, they are dispersed by the wind. Interestingly the seeds remain viable in water which means that it can be distributed by ocean currents.
This creeping herb, which is strong and tough, grows deep into the sand on the dunes and therefore is a great dune stabiliser. It is not a threatened species and grows abundantly, but may not be removed from its growth area. It is a perfect plant for coastal gardens as it is a beautiful ground cover which suppresses weeds, providing food and nectar for bees, butterflies, moths and other insects. Planting it is, therefore, an excellent way to attract insects back to the garden.
The plant may be grown from seed, cuttings or purchasing a commercially grown specimen. Being part of the daisy family, it produces parachute seeds. The seeds need to be cleaned to ensure that moisture will be absorbed and then sown in seed trays. A thin layer of seedling mix (coarse river sand, fine loam, fine sand and some compost) should lightly cover the seeds. During spring or the growth season, cuttings may be the answer. A medium strength rooting hormone and river sand as the substrate usually works. It takes about a month before one is able to replant or repot it into a well-drained, sandy area.
Always keep in mind that these plants grow on sand dunes where they endure fog, mist, sea breezes and wind. Good ventilation is therefore essential.