Becium obovatum

(E.Mey. ex Benth) N.E.Br. subsp. obovatum var. obovatum
Family : Lamiaceae
Common names : cat's whiskers ( Eng. ); katsnor (Afr.); Idada, Iziba, Ufukuzela, Umathanjane (Zulu)

Erect and sometimes spreading, low-growing perennial herb, this plant is an excellent link between lawn and a shrubby border. It is a good candidate for a water-wise garden too.

Plants are deciduous, herbaceous perennials, with plenty of new stems arising every year from the woody underground rootstock. They are low-growing herbs, up to 300 mm in height. Leaves are variable in shape and size, sometimes sparsely to heavily hairy. Leaf margins are sometimes smooth or have a few shallow teeth (saw-like). White to pale mauve flowers appear from September to February.

Becium obovatum plants are commonly found growing in grassland from the Eastern Cape , KwaZulu-Natal , and Free State to Limpopo in South Africa and from Botswana , Zimbabwe to eastern tropical Africa . Also found in India and the Arabian Islands . Plants are adapted to areas which from time to time get burnt, with a multitude of stems re-sprouting from a subterranean (underground) rootstock every year.

Derivation of name
Becium is an ancient name for sage, derived from the Greek word bekion; obovatum refers to the egg-shaped leaves. There are approximately 33 currently known species occurring in tropical Africa, southern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of India.

Plants attract Blues butterflies, such as Lepidochrysops asteris, L. tantalus, L. ignota and Eurychrysops dolorosa.

Uses and cultural aspects
These plants are reputedly used in African traditional medical practice, for stomach complaints in children as enemas, and generally as a hair-restorer.

Growing Becium obovatum

Plants seem to grow in a wide variety of soil types but preferably in a light well-drained soil, and additional compost will even bring better results. Plants can readily be grown from seeds or propagated from cuttings, in the latter with the help of a rooting hormone.

Plants make a lovely display if planted between other evergreen groundcovers, which complement their winter recession. They can be used successfully to line pathways or a shrub border. Old or dead stems need to be removed immediately to neaten the plant and encourage new growth.

References and further reading

  • Codd, L.E. 1985. Lamiaceae. Flora of southern Africa 28,4. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria .
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publication Trust, Durban .
  • Van Wyk, A.B. & Malan, S.J. 1997. Field guide to the wild flowers of the Highveld. Struik, Cape Town .


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Lowveld National Botanical garden
July 2005


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