Barleria repens

Family: Acanthaceae
Common names: small bush violet; bosviooltjie, kleinbosviooltjie (Afr.)

Barleria repens

The small bush violet produces masses of pretty tubular flowers and will happily scramble up into surrounding vegetation if conditions are good.

Red formIt usually forms a rounded to spreading bushy shrub, 0.7 m high by 1 m wide, but sometimes also climbs/leans into nearby trees and shrubs (up to 2 m!). New branches tend to root as they touch ground, so this plant can quickly increase its territory if not kept under surveillance! Evergreen, it has soft, shiny, dark green leaves. Flowers are fairly large, and are a deep purple-mauve or pink-red, appearing from late summer to autumn (February to April). The fruit is an explosive, club-shaped capsule, forming in autumn (March to May).

Natural distribution
Woodland and forest, from KwaZulu-Natal northwards to tropical Africa.

Name derivation
Named in honour of the Rev. James Barrelier MD of Paris. The Latin word repens means 'creeping and rooting'. There are 60 species of Barleria in South Africa. Most are bushy shrubs, some with a tendency to scramble, such as B. obtusa, which is often cultivated. B. greenii and several others show merit as garden plants too.

The flowers attract insects which, in turn, become food for insect-eating birds such as bulbuls, orioles, bush shrikes, thrushes and boubou shrikes.

Growing Baleria repens

This plant is easily propagated from cuttings - pinch out young shoots to encourage bushiness. An even easier method is to lift rooted runners - plant into individual containers (size depends on size of roots attached) and water carefully until properly established. Don't let them dry out completely, but don't keep them saturated. When growing strongly, transfer to the garden.

Fast-growing and wonderfully easy-going, Barleria repens will adapt to a number of situations. Plant it in a large container, or on top of a low wall, where its foliage and flowers can cascade down and show to advantage. Mass plant it in partial shade under trees to form a groundcover, or plant along the edge of an informal border, or in a lightly shaded rockery. When planted in very deep shade it tends to become lanky and untidy and does not produce as many flowers. Always provide good, light, well-drained soil and plenty of compost and other organic material. Spread a layer of mulch on the surface of the soil after planting, and renew regularly. Water well in summer, but much less in winter. Plants thrive when fed with slow release 3: 1: 5 at intervals of 6-8 weeks (throughout growing season). Prune the plant back hard after flowering (at the end of autumn/winter) to keep it neat. Regard the prunings as free mulch!

Pest-free and fairly frost-tolerant, it can take sun or light shade, and can handle temperatures ranging from about -2°C to 36°C.


  • Joffe, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants. A South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust.

Pitta Joffe
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
April 2003

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