One of the most noticeable species on the reserve in autumn is Stoebe capitata. It is common plant of the disturbed fynbos at the side of the entrance road. It lines each side of the track with low bushes covered in a mass of pink pompom flowers. They start flowering in February and continue through to April. The edging to the road looks as if it has been intentionally planted. The diffuse shrubs contrast well with the silvery foliage of Seriphium plumosum and fresh green of Berzelia lanuginosa.
Stoebe capitata is a member of the daisy family, Asteraceae. All members of the family have “composite heads” of flowers. This means that each individual flower is grouped together with several other flowers into a flowerhead. The pink bobbles that you see at the end of each branch are actually dense clusters of lots of little tubular flowers with 5-lobes. The species name “capitata” is a reference to the shape of these flower clusters being head-like; in other words, a rounded, slightly elongated ball. However, the situation in Stoebe is more confusing. Looking at a cross-section through one of the balls of flowers, you can that each floret is surrounded by rows of chaffy bracts known as an involucre. These bracts demarcate the individual flowerheads in an Asteraceae flower. But in Stoebe the flowerhead has been reduced to a single flower. So each individual floret actually represents a true flowerhead and these are then grouped together into the pink bobble that you see - a flowerhead of flowerheads!
Stoebe is a genus of a sixteen species confined to the Cape Floristic Region with all species found in the Western Cape, though some species also extend beyond to the north and east. It used to include the species now found in the genus Seriphium, including the well-known and widespread Seriphium plumosum (Slangbos or Bankrupt Bush). Both Stoebe and Seriphium have an individual floret in each true flowerhead, which is then clustered into a flowerhead of flowerheads. Stoebe differs from Seriphium in the larger white or pink flowers that attract insects. Seriphium have chaffy brown flowerheads and are wind-pollinated.
Stoebe capitata is not found in cultivation. However, it is worth considering for its bright cheery flowerheads that last a long time during late summer. It should be easy to grow from seed as it quickly colonizes new ground. Furthermore, it should be tolerant of garden conditions as it likes disturbed richer soils and would make a good addition for a water-wise garden. While not particularly attractive out of flower, it can be trimmed and kept in shape, which will encourage an even better show of flowers the following year.