Phylica is a genus in the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceace) with about 150 species in South Africa, Madagascar and South Atlantic Islands. The center of distribution for the family is the Cape Province of South Africa where many of the 130 species located there are endemic. Of these there are two particularly attractive species, Phylica plumosa and Phylica pubescens, that have been grown by gardeners since being brought to Europe in the 17th century. These attractive plants are densely covered with hairy leaves that seem to gather the sunlight and glow. Unfortunately these two plants are often confused and because we grow both, we hope that this page will help educate gardeners on the correct names for them and their differences.
A small dense evergreen shrub to 1-2 feet tall with rough needle thin leaves that are about ½ inch long. The small flowers are yellow and hidden within dense terminal clusters of feathery golden bracts. Plant in full sun and irrigate little to occasionally. Hardy to temperatures down to the low 20's F. This species grows in Cape Town and slightly north along the west coast, and it is found on clay and granite soils.
A medium sized open evergreen shrub up to 5 feet tall by slighlty wider wider with leathery, hair-covered narrow 1 ½ inch long leaves that are crowded at the branch tips. The large capitate flower heads have small white flowers hidden in rings of feathery bracts. Plant in full sun and irrigate little to occasionally. Hardy to temperatures down to the low 20's F. It grows rom Cape Town eastwards, on sandstone and limestone slopes.
While both Phylica pubescens and P. plumosa are very attractive, the larger Phylica pubescens with its plumy heads of flowers was the plant that first attracted the cut flower trade in the United States. Unfortunately the plant was initially misidentified as Phylica plumosa and this name continues to erroneously be used for this plant. It was in fact our belief that we had ordered seeds for the larger plant that led us to grow the smaller, yet very attractive Phylica plumose as well.