Certainly one of South Africa’s most beautiful and desirable ornamental shrubs, Bauhinia natalensis is a cheerful garden plant.
Common names include Dainty Bauhinia, Natal Bauhinia, Fyn bauhinia and Natalbeesklou.
It usually grows to 2m by 3m. It has delicate white flowers that are borne with gay abandon all summer long. Well suited to most sunny flowerbeds or as a pot plant on a patio, there should be a space for at least one of these plants in every garden.
Family: FABIACEAE (Pea Family)
Sub-family: CAESALPINAIOIDEAE (Bauhinia family)
- Bauhinia – after the Swiss brothers Johan (1541 – 1613) and Caspar (1560 – 1624) Bauhin, both were botanists. The two lobes of the leaf are said to symbolize the brothers.
- natalensis – from Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal).
Common Names: Dainty bauhinia, Natal bauhinia (Eng), fynbauhinia and natalbeesklou (Afr).
FSA Number: 693
Features of Bauhinia natalensis
A shrub or occasionally a small tree.
Size: 1.5 – 2 m (–2.5 m) by 1.5 – 3 m
Stem and Bark: The bark is grey-brown.
Thorns: No thorns.
- Small, compound leaves are deeply lobed to near the base, look like miniature butterflies.
- The delicate leaves give the plant a soft, quite feminine appearance.
The bi-lobed compound leaves are a characteristic of the Bauhinia genus.
The attractive white flowers of Bauhinia natalensis have a maroon stripe down the center of each of the 3 upper petals to guide pollinator insects to the center of the flower.
- Fairly large (3 – 4cm), white, flared bell-shaped flowers.
- Borne singly in leaf axils towards the end of branchlets.
- Flowers have been compared to miniature Azaleas.
- The upper petals have a mauve to maroon stripe along the main veins.
Flowering Months: Oct – Apr, older plants may have some flowers all year.
Fragrance: The flowers are fragrant.
- The pods are green but turn fawn-brown as they ripen.
- Each pod may have 1 to 8 seeds.
- Ripe pods split open and the ‘blades’ twist rapidly to form a spiral, dispersing the seeds.
- The pods are dehiscent (remain on the plant).
The pods split open when ripe and the pod ‘blades’ twist rapidly to form a spiral, dispersing the seeds.
Growing Bauhinia natalensis
In the Garden:
- Can be used alone as a feature plant in smaller gardens or planted in groups in large gardens.
- Very free-flowering and very showy while in flower.
- Use to screen garden walls and fences.
- Very effective near to water features and ponds.
- In cold areas plant in a sheltered, north facing spot.
- Plants grow quickly and start flowering when young.
- Plants in full sun will flower better than those in semi-shade.
Soil Needs: Grows well even in very poor soil, but needs good drainage.
Bauhinia natalensis, Natal Bauhinia or Dainty Bauhinia will make a statement as a feature plant, or can be used effectively as a fill.
- A low maintenance garden shrub.
- Feed with organic mulch and fertilizer in growing seasons for good results.
- Overwatering will reduce the flower crop.
- May be lightly pruned to maintain shape and size.
- Protect from cold in cold areas when young.
Cold Hardiness: Reasonably cold hardy once established.
- Quite drought hardy.
Light Requirements: Full sun or partial shade.
Space Requirements: Plant between 1.5 and 2 m apart.
Roots: The roots are not aggressive.
Ecology of Bauhinia natalensis
- Sunbirds visit Bauhinia natalensis flowers for nectar.
- Bauhinia natalensis is not recorgnised as an important bee food sourse.
Butterflies and other Insects:
- May host Bushveld and Giant Emperor butterfly’s larva where they occur.
- May also be host to some moth larvae.
- Not known as a medicinal plant.
Sunbirds, like this male White-bellied Sunbird, regularly feed from Bauhinia natalensis flowers.
Bauhinia natalensis forms an attractive shrub.
Poisonous: Not poisonous.
Notes of interest:
- The mauve-maroon stripes in the flowers are to guide pollinators to the centre of the flower.
- Although easy to grow and well suited to cultivation, it is rare in the wild.
- Limited distribution in the north-eastern EC and southern KZN.
- This lovely shrub is endemic to southern Africa.
- Thickets and savanna-bushveld.
- Found in valley Bushveld and scrub to an altitude of 1250m.
Boon, Richard “Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa, a Complete Guide” 2nd ed. 2010 Flora & Fauna Publications Durban.
Joffe, Pitta & Oberholzer, Tinus “Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants, A South African Guide” 2nd ed. 2012 Briza Publications Pretoria
Johnson, David & Sally & Nichols, Geoff “Gardening with Indigenous Shrubs” 2002, Struik Publishers Cape Town
Coates Palgrave, K C, edited Coates Palgrave, M C “Trees of Southern Africa” 2002 Struik Publishers Cape Town
Van Wyk, A, van den Berg, E, Coates Palgrave, M & Jordaan, M Dictionary of names for southern African trees” 2011..Briza Publications Pretoria
Viljoen, Cherise “Bauhinia natalensis” 2006 PlantZA Link http://pza.sanbi.org/bauhinia-natalensis
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2021.