Agapanthus praecox

Willd. subsp. minimus (Lindl.) F.M.Leight. ' Adelaide '
Family: Agapanthaceae (Agapanthus Family)
Common Names : Adelaide agapanthus

Agapanthus 'Adelaide'

This floriferous dwarf agapanthus is the first to start flowering and one of the last to finish, a star performer in full sun or semi-shade.

Description
Like all other agapanthus, this cultivar has rhizomatous roots, strap-like leaves and an umbellate inflorescence on a stalk held above the leaves. 'Adelaide' is an evergreen dwarf agapanthus, forming a neat clump of narrow leaves 400 - 500 mm high. Dainty heads of bright blue flowers on stalks 600 - 800 mm high are produced during summer. Like all the other agapanthus, each plant sends out only one flowering stem during the season, but 'Adelaide' plants are small and the clumps contain many individual plants, which is why it appears to flower so abundantly and all summer long.

Flowers all summer long

Distribution
Agapanthus praecox subsp. minimus occurs in the southeastern Western Cape and Eastern Cape. 'Adelaide' is a particularly good form of this subspecies that was collected near the town of Adelaide in the Eastern Cape.

Derivation of the name & historical aspects
More about the derivation of the name Agapanthus and the six species can be found in the web pages for Agapanthus campanulatus and Agapanthus praecox. This particular form was named after the town where it was found.

Uses & cultural aspects
Agapanthus is considered to be both a magical and a medicinal plant, and the plant of fertility and pregnancy. Xhosa women use the roots to make antenatal medicine, and they make a necklace using the roots that they wear as a charm to bring healthy, strong babies. The Zulu use agapanthus to treat heart disease, paralysis, coughs, colds, chest pains and tightness. It is also used with other plants in various medicines taken during pregnancy to ensure healthy children, or to augment or induce labour. It is also used as a love charm and by people afraid of thunderstorms, and to ward off thunder. Margaret Roberts (1990) advises hikers to put leaves in their shoes to soothe the feet, and to wrap weary feet in the leaves for half an hour. The long, strap-like leaves also make an excellent bandage to hold a dressing or poultice in place, and winding leaves around the wrists are said to help bring a fever down. Agapanthus contains several saponins and sapogenins that generally have anti-inflammatory (reduce swelling and inflammation), anti-oedema (oedema = swelling due to accumulation of fluid), antitussive (relieve or suppress coughing) and immunoregulatory (have influence on the immune system) properties. Although the precise activity of agapanthus compounds is not known, preliminary tests have shown uterotonic activity (increases the tone of uterine muscles). Agapanthus is suspected of causing haemolytic poisoning in humans, and the sap causes severe ulceration of the mouth.

Growing with Watsonia pillansii in Kirstenbosch

Growing Agapanthus 'Adelaide'

Agapanthus 'Adelaide' is easy to grow and it does well even in the poorest of soils, but it must receive some water in spring-summer. To perform at its best, give it rich, well-drained soil with ample compost and plenty of water in spring and summer. As with most plants they benefit most from regular (e.g. weekly) deep drenching as opposed to frequent superficial waterings. Agapanthus ' Adelaide ' does equally well in full sun or partial shade. All the evergreen agapanthus are best lifted and divided every four or five years or for optimal flowering. Agapanthus ' Adelaide ' will tolerate light frost, but is hardy only in the milder parts of the Northern Hemisphere, like the southwest of England and in the Mediterranean. In areas with extreme winter temperatures it is best grown in the cool greenhouse, or in containers that can be taken into a glasshouse during winter.

This agapanthus is magnificent when mass planted, it is an ideal edging plant especially along a pathway or in clumps in the front of the border, or in rockeries, and an excellent groundcover in full sun or in partial shade. It can be used to stabilise a bank and prevent erosion. Agapanthus 'Adelaide' is also a rewarding potplant and a good cutflower.

Growing in semi-shade

To propagate this cultivar, and keep it pure, it can only be multiplied by division. Clumps are best lifted and divided just after the end of their flowering period in early March (late summer - autumn). Reduce the length of the foliage by one half and reduce the roots by two-thirds. Replant immediately and water thoroughly. Unlike the deciduous species, which should be left alone for up to 6 years and often don't flower the first year after being divided, the evergreens are best lifted every four years and usually flower best in their first season after dividing.

Although Agapanthus 'Adelaide' sets seed freely and the seed germinates readily the seedlings will not resemble the parent exactly. Also, agapanthus hybridise with each other quite freely so in addition to the natural variation within the species, you will also get unknown hybrids with whatever other agapanthus are flowering in the vicinity. Seed can be sown fresh, in late summer - autumn, but in cold climates it can be kept refrigerated (not frozen) and sown in spring. It must be kept in the refrigerator or it will perish. Seed should be sown in deep (10 cm) trays, in a mixture of equal parts river sand and fine compost, and kept semi-shaded and moist. Seed germinates readily within six to eight weeks. The seed should be sown thinly as the seedlings will stay in the tray for their first year. Seedlings should be potted up into individual containers during their second year and can be planted into the garden or permanent pots in their third year. Flowering can be expected from their third or fourth year.

Agapanthus 'Adelaide' is generally pest- and disease-free. Foliage may be attacked by red spider mites, thrips, and mealy bug but need only be sprayed if infestation is severe. Agapanthus are famous for harbouring snails, although the snails do not seem to cause any damage to the plants themselves. The best way to combat them is to remove them by hand or to keep ducks. Botrytis, visible as brownish lesions, may attack the flowers preventing them from opening. There is no cure, it can only be prevented by spraying before and after the buds break open. The foliage may be attacked by the fungus Macrophoma agapanthii causing die-back of the leaves, and in severe cases can be combatted with a fungicide like mancozeb or captab as a full cover spray.

References:

  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds) 2003 Plants of southern Africa : an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
  • Duncan, G. 1998. Grow Agapanthus. A guide to the species, cultivation and propagation of the genus Agapanthus. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
  • Hutchings, A. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants, an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
  • Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera. University of Cape Town Printing Dept., Cape Town.
  • Leighton, F.M. 1965. The genus Agapanthus L'Heritier. Journal of South African Botany, suppl. vol. no. 4. National Botanic Gardens, Cape Town.
  • Roberts, M. 1990. Indigenous healing plants. Southern Book Publishers, Halfway House, Gauteng, South Africa.
  • Van Wyk, B.E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.

 

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