Scabiosa incisa with its large mauve or white flowers must be one of South Africa’s prettiest indigenous perennials. Growing in small clumps, the flowerheads stand above the foliage, gently moving with the slightest breeze. On warm summer days, butterflies are often seen on the flowers, for Scabiosa is one of their favourite nectar plants.
A fast-growing perennial, it forms a number of stems on the ground, which turn slightly woody with age at the base. The finely divided leaves form opposite each other along the lower part of the stems. The older leaves at the bottom of the stem turn brown and fall off as new fresh green leaves are formed. The soft leaves are slightly hairy at the top and bottom. The beautiful flowers are formed on long, naked stems from early spring to the middle of summer (September-December). The straggling stems vary in height but can stand up to 430 mm high with a single flowerhead at the tip. A closer look at a e flower reveals individual flowers that are crowded together to form dense, flattened flowerheads. The looser flowers along the outside have longer petals that form a frilly edge, whereas the flowers in the centre are much smaller and compact to form a tight button effect. After flowering, the seeds are formed in interesting rounded bristle heads, that slowly fall apart as the seeds ripen and are ready to be blown away by the wind.
Scabiosa incisa occurs naturally in the coastal sands from Piketberg to Grahamstown. The best-known locality for Scabiosa incisa is at Bokbaai, a farm along the West Coast, from where one has the most beautiful views of Table Mountain across the bay. Here S. incisa grows in deep sands between the coastal scrub. The winter rainfall along this part of the coast is between 50-300 mm a year. S. incisa from Bokbaai is a particularly big form with large, mauve flowers. A number of other beautiful forms are grown at Kirstenbosch. Scabiosa incisa ‘White Carpet’ has a smaller white flower which in early summer form a cloud of white above a lush carpet of tight green foliage.
Scabiosa incisa is easy to grow and most rewarding, with an abundance of flowers, flowering non-stop from spring to the middle of summer. S. incisa responds well to cultivation, with its main requirement being full sun and well-drained soil. It can survive with very little water during the summer but will produce much lusher growth with a compost mulch and occasional good watering. S. incisa is usually planted in groups to edge the front of beds.