A small to a medium-sized, evergreen tree. Buddleja saligna, False Olive, or witolienhout,  is one of our fastest-growing, most water-wise, and cold-resistant trees.

It has a gray-green appearance except when it is in flower when it turns white or cream under the masses of clusters of small flowers.

Unlike most other indigenous Buddlejas that flower late winter or early spring, Buddleja saligna flowers in spring and summer. The flowers are fragrant and smell of honey.

A Buddleja saligna tree in flower.

Family:                      BUDDLEJACEAE        (Buddleja family).

                                    Alternatively Scrophulariaceae (in broad sense) (Snapdragon Family)

Name Derivation:

  •  Buddleja – named after the Rev. Adam Buddle (1660 – 1715) an English amateur botanist and vicar of Farnham, Essex.
  • saligna – ‘willow-like’, referring to the leaves.

Common Names:

False-olive, olive-sagewood (Zim) (Eng), witolienhout (Afr), umgceba (Swa), motlhwaretshogwana (Tsw), umgqeba (Xho), and igqeba (Zul)

FSA Number:         636                Zim Number:        835

Buddleja saligna stem and bark.

Old Buddleja saligna stems are often twisted and fluted..


Features of Buddleja saligna


A large, dense shrub or small to medium tree..

Size:                 3 – 5 m (–10 m) by 3 – 5 m.

Stem and Bark:

  • The single stem is fluted and twisted.
  • Bark on old stems is pale gray-brown, fissured and flaking.

Thorns:      No thorns.


  • Evergreen.
  • Leaves are simple, gray-green above, pale gray below, narrowly lanceolate and are opposite.
  • Margin is entire, rolled under.
  • Veins sunken on upper surface, raised on under surface.
  • Secondary veins join near the margin to form a continuous line around the edge of the leaf.
Buddleja saligna leaves are narrowly lanceolate.

The leaves are opposite, narrowly lanceolate and are a grey-green on the upper surface and grey-white below.

Buddleja saligna tiny flowers are borne in large clusters.

Buddleja saligna’s tiny, creamy-white flowers are borne in large clusters.


  • Small, white to creamy-white flowers are borne in large terminal and auxiliary heads.
  • Trees in flower may be very showy.
  • Old flower-heads remain on the tree for some time, turning reddish-brown.

Colour:               White to creamy-white..

Flowering Months:   Aug – Feb.

Fragrance:       The flowers are honey scented.

Fruit:   Fruit is a small, brown capsule containing many fine seed.

Growing Buddlja saligna


  In the Garden:

  • Very fast growing, this is a very good plant for screening or as a wind break.
  • Can be pruned and trimmed to form a formal hedge.
  • A good plant for a wildlife friendly garden.
  • A water-wise choice.
  • Can be planted close to walls and paving.
  • Makes a lovely bonsai subject.
  • May be pruned to retain it as a shrub.
  • Young plants grow quickly, up to 1.5 metres per year.

Soil Needs:        Grows best in humus rich soils.


  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Prune it to shape.
  • Feed annualy with a good organic fertilizer.

Cold Hardiness:              Very cold hardy.

Water Requirements:

  • Very drought hardy.
  • Water-wise.

Light Requirements:      Full sun or partial shade.

Space Requirements:     Plant 2 to 4 metres apart.

Roots:        The roots are not aggressive.

Buddleja saligna in a landscape in the Free State Botanical Gardens.

A building in the Free State Botanical Gardens in Bloemfontein sheltered by Buddleja saligna.

Buddleja saligna can be pruned very harshly.

Buddleja saligna can be pruned very harshly, which makes it a very good subject for hedging and for a bonsai.

Buddleja saligna flowers prolificly.

Buddleja saligna plants flower proliffically and are an important source of nectar and pollen for honey bees.

Ecology of Buddleja saligna


  • Insectivorous birds utilize Buddleja saligna plants for foraging and gleaning.
  • Plants are utilized by birds for nesting and roosting sites.


  • Bees are attracted to the flowers.
  • Bee keepers often plant Buddleja saligna as a pollen and nectar source.

Butterflies and other Insects:

  • Beetles, adult butterflies and moths, feed from and on the flowers.
  • Not known to host any butterfly or moth larva.


  • Leaves are used in traditional medicine to treat colds and coughs.
  • Roots are used as a purgative.

Poisonous:                 Not poisonous.

Notes of interest:

  • Straight stems are used for fence posts.
  • Wood is used as a fuel for fires.
  • The association of the common names to the Olive (Olea europaea) is unfortunate and creates confusion with budding naturalists and gardeners.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in WC, EC, NC FS, Les, KZN, Esw, G, NWP, M, L, and south-western Zim.
  • It is endemic to southern Africa.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands, thickets, fynbos, Nama-Karoo, savanna-bushveld and forest.
  • Found in dry scrub forest, in forest margins, in wooded kloofs, along rivers and in wooded grasslands.
  • It is often a pioneer tree.
Buddleja salgna saplings in habitat.

A group of young Buddleja saligna sapplings in a natural habitat.

Links to other species of the Buddleja genus.

To go to the “plant blog” click on the picture or the plant name below the picture.


Aubrey, Alice  “Buddleja saligna”  2002  Plantza, Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens   Link:  pza.sanbi.org/buddleja-saligna

Boon, Richard  “Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa, a Complete Guide”  2nd ed. 2010  Flora & Fauna Publications  Durban.

Botha, Charles & Julia  “Bring Nature back to Your Garden”  1995  Natal Branch of the Wildlife Society. Durban

Coates Palgrave, K C, edited Coates Palgrave, M C  “Trees of Southern Africa”  2002  Struik Publishers  Cape Town

Honig, Marijke  “Indigenous Plant Palettes”  2014  Quivertree Publications  Cape Town

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 Trees” 2002, Struik Publishers  Cape Town

Palmer, E & Pitman, N  “Trees of Southern Africa Volume 3”  1973  A A Balkema  Cape Town

Schmidt, E, Lotter M  Cleland W  “Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park  2002  Jacana  Johannesburg

Van Wyk, A, van den Berg, E, Coates Palgrave, M & Jordaan, M  Dictionary of names for southern African trees”  2011..Briza Publications  Pretoria

Wikipedia  “Buddleja saligna”     Link  wiki/Buddleja_saligna

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2021.