Certainly one of South Africa’s most beautiful and desirable ornamental shrubs, Bauhinia natalensis is a cheerful plant that typically grows to 1.5 – 2m tall. 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 this plant in every garden.

 

Bauhinia natalensis are free flowering shrubs, and very showy when in full flower.Bauhinia natalensis are free flowering shrubs, and is very showy when in full flower.

Family:                              Fabaceae                          (Pod-bearing family

                                              Caesalpiniaceae              (Bauhinia subfamily)

Name Derivation:

  • 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                                        

Form:                                A shrub or occasionally a small tree.

Size:                                     1.5 – 2 m (–2.5 m) by 1.5 – 3 m

Flower:

  • Fairly large (3 – 4 cm), 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.

Flower Colour:                  White

Flowering Months:         Oct – Apr, older plants may have some flowers all year.

Fragrance:                         No fragrance.

The fairly large (3 to 4 cm), delicate white flowers of Bauhinia natalensis have a maroon stripe along the main veins of the upper 3 petals.

The fairly large (3 to 4 cm), delicate white flowers of Bauhinia natalensis have a maroon stripe along the main veins of the upper 3 petals.

Foliage:

  • Evergreen.
  • Compound, small leaves are deeply lobed to near the base, look like miniature butterflies..
  • The delicate leaves give the plant a soft, quite feminine appearance.
Bauhinia natalensis has a deeply lobed compound leaf, so each leaf looks like a miniature butterfly.

Bauhinia natalensis has a deeply lobed compound leaf, so each leaf looks like a miniature butterfly.

Thorns:                          No thorns.

Fruit:

  • Fruit is a fairly long (to 8cm) but narrow (up to 1.2cm) pod that narrows to a point.
  • 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).
Each half of the Bauhinia natalensis seed pod rapidly twists into a spiral when the pod is ripe and splits open. In this way the seeds are dispersed from the mother plant.

Each half of the Bauhinia natalensis seed pod rapidly twists into a spiral when the pod is ripe and splits open. In this way the seeds are dispersed from the mother plant.

Bark:                            The bark is grey-brown.

In the Garden:

  • Can be used alone as a feature plant in smaller gardens or planted in groups in large gardens.
  • 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 need drainage.

Planting spacing:

  • Use single plants as feature plants.
  • Group 3, 5 or more 1 to 2 m apart.

 Care:

  • A low maintenance garden shrub.
  • Feed with organic mulch and organic fertilizer in growing seasons for good results.
  • Over watering 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.

Water Requirements:    Quite drought hardy.          

Light Requirements:     Full sun or partial shade.

Roots:                                 The roots are not aggressive.

Birds:

  • The White-bellied sunbirds visit Bauhinia natalensis flowers for nectar.

Butterflies:

  • May host Bushveld and Giant Emperor butterfly’s larva where they occur.
  • May also be host to some moth larvae.

Bees:                                  Bees visit the flowers for food.

Medicinal:                       Not known as a medicinal plant.

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.
Bauhinia natalensis flower through the spring and summer months, with peaks after good rains.

Bauhinia natalensis flower through the spring and summer months, with peaks after good rains.

Natural Distribution:

  • Limited distribution in the north-eastern EC and southern KZN.
  • This lovely shrub is endemic to southern Africa.

Natural Habitat:

  • Thickets and savanna-bushveld.
  • Found in valley Bushveld and scrub to an altitude of 1250m.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2017.