Bauhinia natalensis, the Dainty or Natal Bauhinia, is a very cheerful shrub, flowering prolifically in spring and will have flowers till the end of summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Certainly one of South Africa’s most beautiful and desirable ornamental shrubs, Bauhinia natalensis is a cheerful garden plant. It 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 at least one of these plants in every garden.

Family:                               FABIACEAE       (Pea Family)

Sub-family:                       CAESALPINAIOIDEAE        (Bauhinia family)

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 – 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.

The upper petals have a mauve to maroon stripe along the main veins.

Colour:                            White

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

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.
The bi-lobed compound leaves are a characteristic of the Bauhinia genus.
The pods split open when ripe and the pod ‘blades’ twist rapidly to form a spiral, dispersing the seeds.
Fragrance:                      No fragrance.

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.

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).

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.
  • Water-wise.
  • 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.

 Care:

  • A low maintenance garden shrub.
  • Feed with organic mulch and 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.
Bauhinia natalensis can make a statement as a feature plant in a garden or can be used effectively as a fill.
Bauhinia natalensis plants start flowering and making a statement while still young.
Cold Hardiness:              Reasonably cold hardy once established.

Water Requirements:

  • Quite drought hardy.
  • Water-wise          

Light Requirements:     Full sun or partial shade.

Roots:                                The roots are not aggressive.

Birds:

  • The White-bellied sunbirds visit Bauhinia natalensis flowers for nectar.
Insects and Butterflies:

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

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 are good to plant along pathways that may be used at night, as their white flowers are visible at night.

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) 2012 & 2018.