Barleria elegans

S.Moore ex C.B.Clarke

Family : Acanthaceae
Common names : white bushveld barleria ( Eng. ); wit bosviooltjie (Afr.)

Plant in flower

Barleria elegans produces beautiful white flowers from February to July and is ideal to control erosion on embankments or for sunny areas in your garden.

Barleria elegans is a medium-sized, fairly fast-growing evergreen shrub up to 1 m high. The leaves are egg-shaped (ovate), dark green and much paler underneath. The narrowly funnel-shaped flowers are carried in few-flowered clusters in the axils (angle between the stem axis and leaf stem) and the bracteoles (reduced leaves) are spiny-toothed.

Conservation status

Distribution and habitat
Barleria elegans is found in the summer rainfall areas of South Africa where it grows in well-drained soils on rocky outcrops and hillsides in full sun to semi-shade and is able to withstand a moderate amount of frost. Rainfall ranges from 500-1 000 mm per annum with temperatures rising into the thirties (°C).

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Barleria is derived from the name of a Dominican monk and French botanist, Jacques Barrelier who lived during the 1600s. The species name elegans (Latin) means graceful. The genus consists of a group of herbs or shrubs, some producing spines and all producing fruit in the form of explosive capsules. Members of the genus occur from Japan in the far East, through southern Asia , India, Arabia, Africa, Madagascar to as far west as Central America and Mexico.

Barleria elegans is pollinated by insects and attracts various species of butterflies. The insects attract insectivorous birds; therefore this plant is a good choice for attracting life into the garden.

The fruit is a small capsule which explodes to release the seeds. The plant also carries spines to protect itself from being over-utilized by animals.

Uses and cultural aspects
Many species of Barleria would be wonderful additions to any warm garden. An increasing number of other species such as B. obtusa, B. greenii, B albostellata and B. repens are now also found in cultivation.

Bush in flower

Growing Barleria elegans

Barleria elegans grows under tropical, subtropical and relatively cold conditions and reaches maturity within two years. It can be propagated by through seed or from cuttings.

Seed : It grows easily from seed. Collect the fruit as soon as it turns brown, Don't wait too long to collect otherwise the capsules will explode and the seeds will be harder to collect or lost. Sow the seeds on the surface of a good soil, compost and sand mix in a ratio of 2:1:1,, pressing them slightly into the surface. Place in 40% shade and water once a week with a fine sprinkler. Germination takes place after a week or two. Seedlings should be transplanted when they are about 200 mm high.

Cuttings: Take cuttings from partially matured wood, 60 mm long, using no. 2 hormone powder and a growing mixture of soil, compost and river sand in a ratio of 3:2:1. The ideal temperature for optimal root development is 15-28º C.

The plants require full sun to semi-shade and should be planted in sandy to loamy soils. Mix 500 g of compost with 50 g of superphosphate, working it into the soil to improve the growth of the plants. A moderate amount of water is required and these plants do rather well in the dry season, thus a perfect choice for a water-wise garden and the rehabilitation of disturbed areas. Plants are fast growing and need to be pruned back after the flowering season.

No known pests or diseases are encountered.

References and further reading

  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to the wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Retief, E. & Herman, P.P.J. 1997. Plants of the northern provinces of South Africa : keys and diagnostic characters. Strelitzia 6.
  • Thiselton-Dyer,W.T. (ed.). 1900. Flora of tropical Africa 5: 154. Lovell Reeve, London.


If you enjoyed this webpage, please record your vote.

Excellent - I learnt a lot
Good - I learnt something new


Willem Froneman & Lou-Nita Le Roux
Lowveld National Botanical Garden
November 2007









To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.


This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website

© S A National Biodiversity Institute