The common name African daisy has been applied to almost every plant in the aster family that has come to horticulture from South Africa. The name has been used for Gerbera, Osteospermum, Arctotis and Dimorphotheca interchangeably, so we should think of it more as descriptive of a large group of plants, not one single genus. With this broad linguistic sweep, we gain hundreds of lively and colorful groundcovers and tender shrubs wonderfully adapted to our Missouri summer gardens. Visit any nursery or garden center today, and you will meet many of these excellent South African selections.
The Original African Daisy – Gerbera
My grandmother grew classic Gerbera daisies in her coastal Florida perennial bed. She would use them as cut flowers for the center of the dining room table. Every time I see a pot of them at the grocery store or a box of cut stems at the florist, her lush garden comes to mind. We have many more choices of Gerberas to grow today, thanks to a vigorous history of hybridization between Gerbera jamesonii and G.viridifolia. One of the most popular South African plants, Gerbera daisies are easy to grow as a houseplant or in a Missouri summer garden. For several years, mine have survived the mild string of winters with thick mulch and returned to bloom again. This year, I’ll have the opportunity to change colors when replanting as there is no chance they survived the temperatures this past winter. Look for flashy new hybrids with clear, vibrant colors and zippy two-tones, brights with dark centers surrounded by halos of white or yellow or spiky spider-form petals for a pompom look. Keep them all dead -headed for constant bloom, and use milkshake straws to straighten curvy stems in arrangements.
The African Daisy Now - Arctotis
Arctotis probably gets the most votes for the name African daisy. It offers wonderful, trailing, silvery foliage with Gerbera daisy-like flowers for spring and fall bloom. Not winter-hardy for us, but successful as an annual, the ‘Ravers’ series offers some fabulous, rich colors.
The Namaqua Daisy - Gazania
Namaqualand is famous for the spring and summer carpets of flowers with postcard-perfect views. I’ve had the great fortune of being there in the African spring (October) and seen Gazania in its native habitat. This is a great annual garden plant for us, with roots that knit the soil together and a ‘plays-well-with-others’ attitude. Perfect for that hot, dry strip along the driveway, Gazanias will grow in some pretty tough conditions. Spreaders by nature, about 10 inches across, they will fill nicely in patio containers or as summer groundcovers in rock gardens.
The Cape Daisy - Osteospermum
The Cape daisy or sun daisy, Osteospermum, is a tender perennial we use in St. Louis as an annual. They can be grown from seed or bought as bedding starts. With about 35 species in South Africa, many horticultural hybrids and selections have been made. Current selections have been chosen for continuous bloom and will fill in our summer pots and borders with constant color. Just never let them dry out completely as it derails the flowering cycle. Julie likes O. barberiae ‘Purple Mountain’ and rates the bloom best in spring and fall. More flowers may be encouraged by light pruning.
The Cape Marigold - Dimorphotheca
Another African daisy, known as the Cape marigold, Dimorphotheca sinuata, is a fabulous veldt plant that performs well on dry, gritty soils. Happy on sandy or stony ground, they are perfect for our hot summer gardens. The large, bright flowers close at night and on cloudy days and come in cheerful yellows, oranges, apricots and soft whites. Low, spreading branches with elegant silvery leaves spill gracefully over retaining walls, rock garden slopes or from hanging baskets.
The Ice Daisy - Delosperma
Last year, I searched for tough, deer-resistant, groundcovers and discovered the hardy ice plant Delosperma at Bowood Farms. Delosperma has tiny jelly-bean-like leaves with a silvery sheen. ‘Fire Spinner’, the cultivar I selected, has warm red petals that shade into hot orange at the tips and look like tiny fireworks on the darker foliage. Once established, this high African mountain selection, recently introduced by Denver Botanical Garden, is very drought-tolerant and hardy. Now in its second full season, this lovely low-growing emerald green mat will soon be covered again with tangerine stars. Still fairly new in our area, Julie Hess has also had good success with it at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
The African Shrub Daisy - Felicia
True, clear blue is a very difficult color to find for our summer gardens. Most blues tend to the purple side and do not marry well with many of the hot summer colors. ‘Cape Town Blue’ Felicia is an excellent clean fresh blue flowered tender shrub daisy that spans spring in to early summer bloom and fits well in color pots as a great filler. The cool cornflower blue, yellow-eyed flowers blend well with everything. Growing about a foot tall by mid-season, the fine foliage knits nicely with larger textured plants. Felicia ‘Cape Town Blue’ is an annual that bridges the seasons and, if deadheaded and protected from the blazing summer sun, will sometimes re-bloom in the fall.