THE ORIGIN OF GARDEN PLANTS AND THE FSU CONTRIBUTION
The South African Center
The South African Center refers mainly to the Cape Region, the
southern point of Africa. Phytogeographers consider this area a unique
Floristic Kingdom because of its extremely unusual flora and independent
evolution. Vavilov did not define the Cape as a region of origin of
cultivated plants since so few plants of economic importance have been
brought from there. The Cape flora is, however, a significant source of
ornamentals, having provided the world's gardens with about 600 ornamental
plants, or about 12% of the total. Numerous commercially significant
herbaceous ornamentals are native to this area: various species of the
ever popular Geraniums (Pelargonium) thrive both indoors and in
the open as annuals; Bird-of-Paradise (Strelizia reginae),
best-known as a cut flower and as an indoor plant; Cape primrose
(Streptocarpus hybrida hort.) a wonderful pot plant and belladonna
lily (Amaryllis belladonna), which is a native of the Cape as well.
Giant summer hyacinth (Galtonia candicans) was brought from
Port-Natal, and Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) came from
Transvaal. The genera Crassula, Gasteria, Haworthia, Lachenalia,
Gazania (Gazania linearis, G. rigens) are frequent and abundant
in the Cape Region, various of the genus Erica and the
Proteaceae family are also common to the area. The corn flag
(Gladiolus) which is not winter hardy, has more than 100 species
there, some of which were involved in hybridization.
South African plants were most actively introduced to Europe in the
18th century. Dutch gardeners and botanists contributed
greatly to the introduction of Cape plants. The rich plant collections
in Dutch botanical gardens, in particular those of Hartekamp Garden, near
Haarlem, were studied by Carl Linnaeus, who worked there from 1735 to 1737.
Most of the plants brought from South Africa are thermophilous species
which, in the Temperate zone, must be grown in greenhouses, in winter
gardens and indoors; some species can grow in a cold climate. For example,
giant summer hyacinth (Galtonia candicans) does well in St.
Petersburg (zone 4), red hot poker (Kniphofia galpinii) can grow in
many regions in the Central and South Russia (zones 4, 5).