Shrub to 50 cm. Branches crooked or zigzagging, downy when young, terminating in a spine. Leaves to about 2.5 cm long, with 1–3 oblong-spathulate or oblong-obovate leaflets with tapered base and rounded apex, silky hairy, especially beneath. Flowers solitary or in very short-stalked axillary clusters of about 3 flowers. Calyx 3–5 mm, sparsely silky-hairy, tubular; teeth triangular, much shorter than the tube. Petals yellow. Fruit single-seeded. (Tutin et al. 1968; Bean 1976; Brullo & del Galdo 2006)
Distribution Albania France Corsica Greece Italy Malta Turkey
Habitat Mediterranean shrublands and rocky mountain slopes, 0–2,400 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
A sparsely spiny Mediterranean shrub, A. hermanniae is sometimes grown in sunny, well-drained sites in our area, usually in its smaller forms which suit the rock garden or alpine house (see below). It has a dense, bushy habit and a greyish look. The bright yellow flowers scattered across the plant in summer are its main attraction.
As a wild plant it is commonest in the northeastern Mediterranean, with much more scattered populations further west (Brullo & del Galdo 2006). Quite variable, several subspecies have been described, but their names are seldom if ever seen in gardens: see Brullo & del Galdo (2006) for details and a key). The coastal Minorcan endemic A. hystrix (Willk. ex Barceló) Cardona, J.Cont. & E.Sierra is closely related, differing in being much more densely spiny and having flowers in groups of up to 6. While occasionally grown in Mediterranean areas, it is probably not hardy in our area. A. hystrix is listed in the catalogue of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in high, dry Colorado; however, no garden location is given (Betty Ford Alpine Gardens 2023).
A widespread European species, A. hermanniae has long been known to science; Linnaeus’ (1753) specific epithet probably commemorates the 17th centruy botanist Paul Hermann, although it is unclear why. It has been cultivated in Europe for several centuries, at least some forms proving fairly hardy. Bean (1976) repeats a claim that it was not uncommonly grown in Britain before the great frost of 1739–40, when most plants were destroyed. In more recent times it has been grown at Kew both against a wall and in the open, where cold winters cut back the upper parts but did not kill the plant (Bean 1976). It is currently recorded from RBG Edinburgh (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2023) and Arboretum Provincaal Domein Bokrijk, Belgium (Plantcol 2023), probably a good indication of the limits of its garden range.
In North America it would suit lower altitudes on the Pacific seaboard, where it is recorded at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden (University of British Columbia 2023).
In cooler areas seed might not ripen, in which case it can be propagated from cuttings in summer (Bean 1976).
Synonyms / alternative names
Anthyllis hermanniae 'Compacta'
Anthyllis hermanniae 'Nana'
Low-growing, in scale for rock gardens, troughs and alpine houses (Pottertons Nursery 2023). We are agnostic as to which cultivar name should take priority, or even whether multiple clones are grown. Interestingly, at least one British nursery claims height and spread of 50 cm (Langthorns Plantery 2023), which would not be dwarf at all. Beckett & Grey-Wilson (1994) list ‘Nana’ as ‘seldom above 10 cm tall’ but ‘rarely cultivated’.