Bulbine frutescens is an attractive, succulent shrub that makes a very good groundcover. The flowers are yellow or orange and are borne on slender spikes from August through summer to June. The sap from the leaves has wonderful skin healing properties. As it is drought hardy and cold hardy it makes a good plant for areas that are prone to neglect.
As it is drought hardy and cold hardy, Bulbine frutescens, is a good groundcover for areas that are difficult to look after.
Family:                                 ASPHODELACEAE                (Aloe family) Name Derivation:
  • Bulbine – bulbous plants.
  • frutescens – shruby
Common Names:
  • Snake flower, stalked Bulbine (Eng), geelkatstert, balsemkopiva (Afr), ibhucu and elimpofu (Zul).
Form:                                   A small, shrubby, succulent groundcover. Size:                                      40 cm by 60 cm.  Flower:
  • Small, star-shaped flowers that have feathery stamens.
  • Borne on an upright inflorescence (30 cm).
  • Flowers open (and close) progressively from the bottom of the spike upwards.
  • Free flowering.
Bulbine frutescens forms a small, shrubby succulent about 40 by 60 cm.
This is the orange flowered form of Bulbine frutescens that is not not quite as common as the yellow flowered form.
Colour:                             Yellow or orange. Fragrant:                            No fragrance. Flowering Months:         Sep – Jun.  Foliage:
  • Evergreen.
  • The leaves are elongated and cylindrical, (up to 15 cm by .5 cm), tapering to a pointed tip.
Thorns:                           No thorns. Fruit:                               The fruit is a small dry capsule.

Bulbine frutescens and Felicia ameloides grown together and complementing each other very effectively.

 In the Garden:

  • This plant is a useful groundcover in areas where regular maintenance is difficult.

  • Can be very showy when mass planted.

  • Very popular with landscape designers for dry and cold areas that require tough plants.

  • A very water-wise plant.

  • Planted with plants with blue flowers, like Felicia ameloides or blue Agapanthus can create a wonderful effect.

  • Plant a few plants close to the house as a medicine chest for burns, bites and stings.

Planting spacing:    4 per square metre.  Soil Needs:                 Will grow in most soil types.  Care:
  • A low maintenance garden plant.
  • Feed with a mulch of compost.
  • Plants respond well to fairly regular watering.
  • Remove the old flower heads to encourage more flowering and to keep plants neat.
Cold Hardiness:                Very hardy.
Bulbine frutescens grown as a groundcover in partial shade in the Free State Botanical Gardens in Bloemfontein.
Bees and adult butterflies feed from Bulbine frutescens flowers.
Water Requirements:
  • Very drought resistant, but responds well to regular watering.
  • Water-wise.
Light Requirements:     Light shade to full sun. Roots:                                   Not invasive. Birds:                                   Not a recognized bird plant.  
Insects and Butterflies:
  • The flowers attract adult butterflies
  • Bees are attracted to the flowers.
  • The sap from the leaves is widely used as a treatment for cuts, burns, rashes, acne and eczema.
  • This sap will also bring relief to bee and scorpion stings and mosquito bites.
  • It can also be used to treat cracked lips.
Poisonous:                         Not Poisonous. Notes of interest:      
  • The leaves contain compounds that are very similar to those found in Aloe vera
  • Have often, incorrectly, been called Bulbinella.
The sap from the leaves is widely used as a relief and cure to many skins irritations and problems.
Natural Distribution:
  • Found in the western NC, WC, EC, Les, FS, KZN, Swa, M, L, G and NW.
  • Endemic to southern Africa.
Natural Habitat:            Succulent Karoo, Nama-karoo, fynbos, grassland and bushveld-savvana.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2013 & 2018.