Barleria senensis


Family : Acanthaceae
Common names
: none recorded

Barleria senensis

A hardy indigenous plant suitable for any sunny spot in your garden.

Barleria senensis is a much branched shrub up to 700 mm high. Mature stems are woody. Thorns are sometimes present in the leaf axils (the angle between the stem and the petiole or leaf stalk).The leaves are opposite, long-petioled, elliptic-lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate, with a base tapering into the petiole, and the leaf tips are armed with a short spine. Both sides of the leaf are dull green.

Flowers are solitary in a terminal (found at the tip) spike (flower head) which consists of spathulate (spoon-shaped) bracts which are modified, overlapping leaves. Flowers are orange. The corolla is 2-lipped: the upper lip 4-lobed, and lower lip entire. The anthers are orange. It flowers from February to June, during which time flowers appear sporadically.

Fruit: When ripe, the fruit capsules are brown. They burst open to distribute the seeds.

Barleria senensis reaches maturity in 2 years.

Conservation status

Distribution and habitat
Barleria senensis grows in well-drained soil (sometimes poor soils) in full sun in open woodlands, hills and roadsides in the Limpopo Province, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique. It is a water-wise plant but does well in wetter conditions. It can withstand mild frost quite well.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Barleria is derived from the name of a Dominican monk and French botanist Jacques Barrelier. The genus Barleria is found throughout Asia, Africa and America. The specific name senensis means “comes from Sena” on the Zambezi River in Mozambique.

Barleria senensis is pollinated by insects and attracts varies species of butterflies.

When the seed is ripe the fruit capsule explodes when wetted to distribute the seeds in different directions.

Uses and cultural aspects
Barleria species are exceptionally suitable to stabilise eroding soil, because of its fast growth rate and seed distribution methods There are hygroscopic hairs on the seeds which attach the seeds to the soil surface.


Growing Barleria senensis

Barleria senensis can be propagated either by seed or cuttings.

Seed: To prevent seeds being lost, they should be collected as the capsules turn brown and before they burst open.

The seeds should be planted in a mixture of two parts good soil and one part clean river sand. Place it in a shady spot in your garden and water once a week. Germination of the seeds takes place after a week. Transplant the seedlings into bags when the seedlings are more or less 100 mm high.

Cuttings: Cuttings should be taken in summer. Make use of plant material of the previous year's growth. Take cuttings of 120 mm. Treat them with a hormone powder and plant in a mixture of equal parts good soil and river sand. Put the cuttings in a shady place and water twice a week. Transplant the rooted cuttings after about three months into a good soil mixture.

References and further reading

  • Little, J. R. & Jones, C.E. 1980. A dictionary of Botany. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York, Cincinnatti, Toronto, Melbourne.  
  • Retief, E. & Herman, P.P.J. 1997. Plants of the northern provinces of South Africa: keys and diagnostic characters. Strelitzia 6. 
  • Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L.,Steenkamp, Y. &Keith, M. (eds) 2006. A checklist of South African plants. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No.41. SABONET, Pretoria.


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Willem Froneman

Lowveld National Botanical Garden

December 2011








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