A scrambling shrub with large clusters of attractive, sky-blue or white flowers, Plumbago auriculata has become one of southern Africa’s best loved garden plants. Besides its showy display when in flower, it is a very versatile garden subject. It can be used in mass plantings, can be allowed to scramble in woolly gardens or pruned into shape in formal gardens. It will also attract birds and insects into your garden.
Family: PLUMBAGINACEAE (Plumbago family).
- Plumbago – from the Latin word ‘plumbum’, lead, as it was believed members of this genus could be used to cure lead poisoning.
- ariculata – ‘ear-shaped’ in reference to the leaf base.
Common Names: Plumbago, Cape leadwort (Eng), blousyselbos (Afr), umahophe (Xho) and utshilitshili (Zul).
Form: An evergreen, scrambling shrub.
Size: 1 – 5 m (–12 m) by 1 – 5 m.
- Thinly tubular (3 cm long) with wide, 5 lobed mouth (2cm).
- The flower tubes are glandular and sticky.
- Flowers in terminal clusters.
Colour: Pale to sky blue or white.
Flowering Months: Sep – May.
Fragrance: Not fragrant.
- The simple leaves are oblong or wedge-shaped, up to 10 by 2.5 cm.
- The leaf stalk (petiole) is winged at the base and partly wraps around the stem.
- Leaves are thin, green above and grey-green below.
- Leaves are often dotted with tiny glands.
Thorns: No thorns.
- The Fruit is a grooved capsule that is sticky.
- The top of the capsule splits open like a tin’s lid.
- Stems are grey-green.
In the Garden:
- Free flowering and very showy.
- Can be used to good effect planted en mass, especially on sloping banks.
- In small gardens it can contained by pruning, but do not prune in summer or it won’t flower very well.
- Can easily be pruned to form a formal hedge.
- A good plant for a wildlife friendly garden, attracting insects and birds.
- Makes a good subject in a planter, where it can trail over the sides.
- Fast growing.
Soil Needs: Will tolerate poor soil, best in a humus rich soil.
- Plant as a focal plant.
- Planted 1-2 m apart in mass plantings or as a hedge.
- A low maintenance plant.
- May be pruned in Sep – Oct to neaten and shape.
- Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
- Protect young plants against cold.
Cold Hardiness: Cold hardy.
Water Requirements: Drought hardy, but thrives on regular summer water.
Light Requirements: Full sun or partial shade.
Roots: The roots are not aggressive.
- Insectivorous birds are attracted to the insects that come to the flowers and leaves.
- Sunbirds are known to visit the flowers.
- Adult butterflies feed on nectar from the flowers.
- The larva of Short-toothed Zebra Blue and Common Zebra Blue feed on Plumbago auriculata.
Bees: The flowers do not appear to attract bees.
- Powdered leaves and roots are used as a snuff to relieve headaches.
- Plumbago auriculata is also used to treat warts and broken bones.
Poisonous: Not poisonous.
Notes of interest:
- Traditionally it is used as a charm to ward off evil.
- It is a popular garden plant in around the world in suitable climates.
- Flowers may be cut and used in a vase.
- Found in the EC, KZN, Les, northern FS, NWP, G, and central M.
- This beautiful plant is endemic to southern Africa.
- May be found in thickets and valley bushveld.
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2017.