This South African perennial makes an impressive display of contrasts on the Compositae Beds of Systematics. The rosette of foliage at the base of the plant is cucumber green and very spiny, although the undersides are covered in fine white webbing. A stout upright flowering stem arises from the centre of the plant, from which smaller also very spiny leaves emanate. The base of the leaves continue down the stems creating an interesting ridged or pleated effect.
The flowers open like large satellite dishes on a radio mast, the ray florets a pale pinky-mauve and the disc florets a powdery blue. The heavily armoured seedheads that follow in autumn are equally spectacular.
Berkheya purpurea was first described and named as Stobaea purpurea in 1838 by the French botanist A.P. de Candolle, on whose plant classification system the design of the Systematic Beds is based. The name was changed to Berkheya purpurea by M.T. Masters in 1872 (Batten 1986)