© G Nichols
This is a popular, waterwise garden plant, especially when planted
en masse as a ground cover, or in rock gardens. It is also cultivated
for its medicinal properties.
It is a fast growing, branched, succulent perennial with fleshy,
linear green leaves in opposite rows and clasping the stems at the
base. It forms spreading clumps with greyish stems often bearing
adventitious roots. The small 6-petaled star shaped flowers are
carried on an upright, spreading raceme during spring (or occasionally
at other times). The petals are either yellow or sometimes orange,
which combines attractively with the fluffy yellow stamens to give
a bi-coloured look. The fruit is a small, rounded capsule and contains
black seeds which are dispersed by wind (Ernst van Jaarsveld pers.comm.).
Bulbine frutescens occurs widespread throughout parts of
Northern Cape, Western and Eastern Cape; however, it reaches its
peak in the succulent-rich, dry valleys of Eastern Cape.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Bulbine comes from the Latin word bulbus meaning an onion or bulb.
This name is misleading, as plants do not have a bulbous base.
The brightly coloured flowers attract bees. The plants are very
variable in leaf length.
Uses and cultural aspects
Bulbine frutescens is often used in landscaping where a drought-resistant,
tough groundcover is required. It also has its value in the home
The fresh leaf produces a jelly-like juice that is wonderful for
burns, rashes, blisters, insect bites, cracked lips, acne, cold
sores, mouth ulcers and areas of cracked skin. This plant is ideal
to grow and is a useful first-aid remedy for childrens' daily knocks
and scrapes. The Rastafarians make an infusion of a few fresh leaves
in a cup of boiling water. The strained drink is taken for coughs,
colds and arthritis.
Growing Bulbine frutescens
This is a an easy to grow, waterwise, floriferous groundcover, which
with the minimum of care, will look good all year round. It combines
beautifully with blue dwarf agapanthus, flowering at the same time.
This succulent perennial multiplies rapidly. Prune it when untidy.
For best results it should be planted in well-drained soil preferably
enriched with compost. The dead flower heads should be removed to
encourage further flowering. These plants prefer full sun, but they
will also grow in semi-shade for part of the day. Although it will
grow indoors, it requires maximum light.
Propagation is from seed, cuttings or either division of clumps,
and should be done in spring. Once the seedlings have four leaves
and the cuttings have a well-formed root system, they can be transplanted.
- Dyson, A. 1998. Discovering indigenous healing plants of the herb and fragrance gardens at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. NBI, Cape Town.
- Joffe, P. 1993. The gardener's guide to South African plants. Table Mountain Publishers, Cape Town.
Free State National Botanical Garden