This sweet-scented confetti bush is an ideal garden plant which
remains beautiful throughout the year. It bears masses of pink flowers
during autumn and spring and releases an aromatic fragrance when
leaves are crushed.
Coleonema pulchellum is an evergreen, erect, dense shrub
and reaches a height of 0.8 to 1 m. It forms a single stem at the
base, from where numerous slender, erect branches grow.
leaves are needle-like and about 4 to 5 times as long (8-10 mm)
as broad (0.8 mm). The petiole is 1 mm long and the teeth at the
leaf tip point upwards. The flowers are solitary, terminal on short
branchlets or axillary on reduced branchlets, often crowded towards
the tops of the branches. The flowers are pink, often white and
star-shaped (7 to 8 mm in diameter), have 5 oval petals, 5.0-5.7
mm long, each marked with a distinctive central vein. The entire
bush is covered with flowers from May to October, attracting bees,
butterflies and other interesting insects to your garden.
The fruit consists of a 5-chambered capsule, 5.1 x 4.5 mm, dotted
with glands. There is one shiny black seed per chamber and it is
2.8 to 2.9 x 1.5 mm.
Distribution and habitat
Coleonema pulchellum is found growing along coastal flats from Knysna
to Port Elizabeth. It occurs naturally from sea level to 150 m.
It flourishes along the coast and elsewhere. It is wind resistant
and can tolerate mild frost.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Coleonema is derived from the Greek koleos
meaning a sheath, and nema meaning a thread, filament. Pulchellum
means pretty in Latin. Burchell collected the first specimen
of this plant in December 1813 in Algoa Bay.
There are eight species found in this genus and they occur from
the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape. Coleonema
album, commonly known as the Cape May (Eng.), aasbossie
(Afr.), is an excellent coastal plant bearing white flowers. Fishermen
remove the odour of bait from their hands by using the leaves. C.
pulchellum with pink flowers, differs from C. pulchrum
and C. virgatum which bear pale pink or white flowers. They
have longer leaves, and bigger flowers. Although coleonemas are
sometimes called buchus because of their aromatic leaves, true buchus
such as Agathosma crenulata
belong to the genus Agathosma.
When in flower, bees, butterflies and other insects are attracted
to this confetti bush for its nectar.
As the fruit ripens, the seed in each chamber splits along the inner
side and through drying and contracting of the inner layer, forcibly
ejects the seed. This is known as ballistic dispersal. The seed
is dispersed away from the mother plant and collected by ants.
Uses and cultural aspects
Aside from being an attractive garden shrub, the foliage can be
used in floral arrangements as a filler.
Growing Coleonema pulchellum
pulchellum can be used as an accent plant or in groups to form
a hedge or informal border. Use as a filler plant in a mixed fynbos
bed with companion plants such as Protea, Leonotis, Metalasia,
Felicia, Restio, Euryops, Pelargonium and buchu. Display it
in a rockery or grow it as a potplant where it can be pruned to
keep it small and neat.
Best planted in a sunny position, it requires well-drained soil,
compost and a well-balanced fertilizer (3:2:1). Plant out in groups
of 3 or 5 with enough space to grow. To retain soil moisture and
keep weeds to a minimum, add a layer of mulch. Like other buchus,
coleonemas are best planted out during winter and spring. They require
good watering in winter and moderate watering in summer. Do not
allow plants to dry out and once established they will survive periods
Coleonema pulchellum can be propagated by sowing seed and
by taking cuttings.
Fresh seed is collected from the previous year's flowers and stored
upon ripening. The optimum time for sowing is during autumn. Seed
are cleaned and sown on a prepared medium of sand and compost in
equal parts in a seed tray. Cover seed with a thin layer of bark
and water. Place seed trays in a covered area with good light and
ventilation. Keep seed trays damp and germination will take place
within 1 to 2 months. Seedlings are pricked out when four true leaves
have developed. The growing tips of seedlings are pinched out to
encourage bushy growth. Feed buchus regularly with a balanced nutrient.
The yellowing of leaves can be treated with an application of iron
Cuttings have the advantage of producing a larger flowering plant
quicker than seedlings. Tip cuttings, 50-70 mm, are taken from the
current year's growth. Prepare cuttings by making a clean cut below
the node and remove a third of the foliage. Best time to process
cuttings is during winter and spring. Dip the base of the cutting
in a rooting hormone.. Firmly place the cuttings in a medium of
50% bark and 50 % polystyrene. Ideally these cuttings should now
be placed in an well-aerated propagation unit with a bottom heat
of 24° C. Ideally rooting occurs in 9 to 11 weeks. Carefully
pot the rooted cuttings using a well-drained, humus-rich, fynbos
potting medium (2 parts leaf mould, 1 part coarse sand). Plants
will be ready for planting in 7 to 8 months. Feed regularly with
a well-balanced nutrient.
Phytophtera cinnamonnii, a soil-borne fungus, attacks the
roots of most fynbos species. It prevents the uptake of water causing
plants to die. The fungus is most active when the soil temperature
is high, especially during summer. Remove infected plants and use
soil mulch to reduce the soil temperature. Treat plants with a special
fungicide prior to planting out. This is a precautionary measure
to control the fungus and to protect adjacent plants.
References and further reading
- Gold, M. 1992. The buchus. Cultivation and propagation.
National Botanical Institute, Kirstenbosch.
- Joffe, P. 1993. The gardener's guide to South African plants.
Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Pienaar, K. 1991. Gardening with indigenous plants. Struik,
Timmins, Cape Town.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden