Every gardener worth their salt knows the value of grey foliage plants in the garden. I am continuously on the look out for interesting grey plants, preferably indigenous. Imagine my delight then when spotting some gorgeous grey edging plants in a new gardening friends flower beds.
At first glance I thought they were Stachys byzantine or ‘lambs ears’ as they are commonly referred to. I was corrected and learned that these were in fact an indigenous helichrysum, Helichrysum appendiculatum. SANBI refers to them as ‘sheeps ears everlastings’ I went home smiling with a generous gift of a large bag full.
On our morning explores Patch and I have been enjoying another Helichrysum which seems to flourish in our new mistbelt territory. Helichrysum cooperi is everywhere. Growing prolifically in swathes along verges, empty allotments and patches of disturbed veld. Bursting through the grass with their cheerful everlasting, sun-shiney yellow, pinched button faces. A bit of bright relief from the ongoing misty rainy days of the past two weeks.
In continuation of the sunny yellow theme this week, I decided to add yellow sunflowers to my glassware collection. Not indigenous to South Africa but certainly loved universally. Who can resist iconic golden yellow sunflowers.
I did a bit of reading up on the humble sunflower and this is what I learnt.
Sunflowers are ancient. They have been cultivated for over 4500 years! The entire plant is edible and not just the seeds. They were grown in North America long before other crops such as corn were common place. In the 1500’s Spanish explorers brought the seeds back to Europe.
Symbolically sunflowers are considered to be very positive, and are used to convey emotions such as joy, warmth, luck, adoration and all things bright and cheerful.
Sunflowers not only look like miniature suns, they have their own inbuilt biological clocks which enables them to follow the sun across the sky – like floral sun worshippers. Once fully grown they stay facing East.
In Greek mythology they are associated with the story of Clytie, a water nymph, whos unrequited love for Apollo the Sun god caused her to pine for him. She spent days gazing at him as he drove his charriot across the sky. Eventually the gods took pity on Clytie and turned her face into a flower – a sunflower. The Inca people too used sunflowers as part of their sun worship rituals.
There are 70 different kinds of Sunflowers! The most common and well known is the Helianthus Annus.
The most remarkable thing I’ve learned how ever is that sunflowers have the ability to absorb toxins! They are often planted to help the land recover after toxic spills and nuclear disasters. They can also absorb excess lead from the soil. Sunflowers are known as ‘hyperaccumulators’ because of this ability to absorb and store harmful contaminants.
I shall look upon sunflowers with a whole new level of admiration from now on! They are certainly not just a pretty face. I am ashamed to say I even dismissed them as being easy to paint, I thought I would be able to do them quickly. I was dually humbled. They needed just as much time and attention to detail as the Proteas and birds I have been painting.
Here they are painted onto some rusk jars..a happy and sunny decoration for a kitchen or pantry. These will be available as part of my stock at my stall at the Hilton ‘Posh market’ on the 16th of December.