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 is very showy when in full flower.
Family: Fabaceae (Pod-bearing family
Caesalpiniaceae (Bauhinia subfamily)
- 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
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Plants in full sun will flower better than those in semi-shade.
Soil Needs: Grows well even in very poor soil, but need drainage.
- Use single plants as feature plants.
- Group 3, 5 or more 1 to 2 m apart.
- 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.
- The White-bellied sunbirds visit Bauhinia natalensis flowers for nectar.
- 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.
- 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.
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2017.