Arctopus echinatus is a geophytic plant in the Apiaceae family. The genus has only three species, all found in the Western Cape fynbos, although this one is also found in Namaqualand and the Eastern Cape. The thick, tuberous taproot is much used in traditional medicine. One of its Afrikaans names, sieketroos, means comfort for the sick. They have apparently been used medicinally in ancient times by the Khoi tribes and the dried roots are still for sale around the Cape.
The plant is dioecious (sexes on different plants) with the flowers occurring in the centre of the spread of prostrate leaves. There are marked differences between the sessile (stalkless) female flowers, each surrounded by spiny tipped involucral bracts and the white or pink male flowers that do have stalks.
The rosette of large, glossy leaves lies flat on the ground, radiating out from the base on thick, yellowish, spongy petioles. The leaves have bristly edges and are irregularly lobed. The leaf shape is ovate, but variable, also in size. Sharp spines occur on their edges in the areas between the lobes (Van Wyk and Gericke, 2000).