In Praise of Bietou

 

Bietou

Have you noticed how many little Bietou plants are emerging on the burnt hillsides? They are particularly noticeable along the road from Belvedere to Brenton.  This strong evergreen shrub with its cheerful yellow flowers followed by little black berries can grow into a small tree, and is important as a pioneer plant. It has the ability to stabilize dunes and hillsides and grows into dense bushes which make good wind-breaks. It was this stabilizing ability which led to its exportation to Australia, where it is now regarded as an invasive weed. This reminds me of how we imported the Australian Port Jackson willow (Acacia saligna) to stabilize sand dunes round Port Elizabeth and the Cape Flats – and now it is an invasive alien here! How ironic that both countries had their own indigenous plants that could stabilize dunes but for some reason felt that plants from another country would be more effective.

The Bietou bush was originally named Osteospermum moniliferum by Linnaeus in 1754. Osteospermum means ‘bone seed’ in Greek after the hard fruit. Moniliferum means ‘bearing a necklace’ in Latin – also referring to the fruit arranged in a ring on the margins of the flowers. Sometime later the name was changed to Chrysanthemoides monilifera referring to the chrysanthemum-like yellow flowers. However it is now back to being called by its original name. Nevertheless most people know it by its Khoi name ‘Bietou’.

The shrub can flower all year round but is at its best in late autumn and winter when its bright yellow flowers brighten the winter landscape. Bees love the flowers and birds (and children) love the sweet fruit which follows the flowers. The fruits used to be a staple diet of the indigenous people, who also used an infusion of the leaves to treat fevers. It grows easily, is hardy and relatively pest free as well as wind and drought resistant and well worth planting in gardens that are being re-established, particularly coastal gardens. It is quick growing and can always be pruned or removed once slower-growing plants have established themselves.

 

Text and Photo: Leonie Twentyman-Jones