Anchusa capensis Thunb.

Family: Boraginaceae
Common Names: Cape-forget-me-not, ystergras, koringblom

Anchusa capensis

The Cape-forget-me-not may be a bit weedy, but its bright blue flowers make it most welcome from spring to summer in the garden display. It grows wild throughout South Africa, preferring dry, sandy places and is often found in disturbed areas such as roadside verges. In spring, Anchusa capensis is easy to find flowering in the fields daisies throughout Namaqualand.

Anchusa capensis is a vigorous herb with tall stems of blue flowers shooting up from clumps of bright green leaves. The long narrow leaves are soft, but rough and hairy when touched. Each plant has many flowering stems which grow to 1 metre. The stems are thick at the bottom getting thinner as they extend, with the new growth often a beautiful deep red. The many blue flowers are carried on smaller branches which are borne all up the top half of the stem, which ends in a small cluster of flowers at the tip. Close up, the small flowers are beautiful with 5 bright blue petals and 5 feathery white scales in the center protecting the stigma and anthers.

Anchusa capensisi
Anchusa capensis

On sunny days the bees love visiting the flowers. The seeds develop inside little green cups, which are formed by the 5 sepals that have united. Inside each cup three seeds or little nuts turn hard and black as they ripen, usually about a month after flowering. Every plant produces hundreds of seeds.

Growing Anchusa capensis

In the garden Anchusa capensis is a very easy plant adapting to most soils, surviving on very little water and seeding itself readily. The basic requirements are full sun and well-drained soil. In the western Cape the plants grow during the wet winters and flower in late spring and early summer. If Anchusa capensis receives no water during the summer it dies after forming seed. This germinates freely the next winter. Although the Cape-forget-me-not is a biennial, it is best treated as an annual in the garden. The plants get very untidy in the second year and have to be cut back after flowering. When cutting back be very careful of contact with the rough leaves as they can cause an irritating rash, especially on softer skin.

If water is available Cape-for-get-me-not can easily be grown as a summer annual. At Kirstenbosch they make a beautiful display flowering with the pink diascias and white osteospermums of the Drakensberg.

Anchusa capensis is easy to propagate from seed, which can be sown almost any time of the year. For a spring display, sow the seeds late summer and for a summer display sow the seeds in winter. Sow the seeds in a seed tray filled with well-drained soil and cover them with a thin layer of sand. Place the tray in the shade and water well. Keep the soil moist; watering once a day should be enough. Germination is usually very good and within a week or two. The seedlings can be potted up as soon as they are big enough to handle and grown on before planting in the garden.

Author: Liesl van der Walt
October 2000

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