Freylinia lanceolata

(L.f.) G.Don

Family: Scrophulariaceae
Common names:
honeybells, honeybell bush, heuningklokkiesbos (Afr.)

Freylinia lanceolata

Honeybells is a small tree with a charm all of its own, and attracts hosts of butterflies and other pollinators.

Golden-yellow, honey-scented bells appear rather incongruous on this sometimes untidy, evergreen shrub (4.5 x 4.5 m). Flowering is mainly from June (winter) to August (early spring), but can occur sporadically throughout the year. Freylinia lanceolata has long, arching, drooping branches of willow-like foliage. Usually multi-stemmed, it occasionally develops into a single-stemmed, weeping tree. The grey bark is smooth. Fruits are small brown capsules produced all year.

Natural distribution
This plant occurs in moist areas, along streams or on the edge of marshes/'vleis'in the southwestern Cape, northwards to Calvinia and eastwards to Uitenhage.

Name derivation
It was first cultivated in the garden of Count Freylino in Italy (1817), where, being a new plant, it caused quite a stir. The Latin name lanceolata means 'lance-shaped'. Freylinia is an African genus and there are nine species in South Africa. Most are shrubby, but a couple may occasionally become small trees. Freylinia tropica is another species often cultivated in gardens.

The flowers attract a variety of insects, which become food for insectivorous (insect-eating) birds such as blackheaded oriole, pied and crested barbets, Cape robin and thrushes.

Uses and cultural aspects
According to a note on a herbarium specimen, the wood is not strong enough to be of use, but the plant is attractive and has horticultural potential.

Growing Freylinia lanceolata

This plant is easily propagated from seed. The tiny, wingless seeds germinate readily within three weeks. Take stem cuttings during the warmer summer months. Under suitable conditions young plants grow fast and may flower within a couple of seasons. Add lots of compost to the planting area and mulch well. Water regularly, particularly if the shrub is planted in a herbaceous border away from water. It enjoys moist conditions and is very fast-growing if well-watered. It would be perfectly at home positioned alongside a large dam, pond or water feature, where it could be kept pruned and tidied. If you have the time to spare, try pruning it into a single-stemmed tree. On farms, plant it on stream banks or in a large shrubbery, where the pretty flowers can be appreciated at close range. In home gardens, place it towards the back of an informal border-it is probably better suited to medium and larger gardens.

Wind-resistant, frost-hardy and relatively pest-free, F. lanceolata prefers a sunny spot in the garden. It fares equally well in summer and winter rainfall areas. Prune this adaptable plant whenever necessary to keep it neat. If you want to harvest seed for propagation purposes, don't cut off the old flowerheads. It tolerates temperatures ranging from about -2°C to 37°C.


  • COATES-PALGRAVE, K. 1988. Trees of southern Africa, edn 2. Struik, Cape Town.
  • JOFFE, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plant-a South African guide. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • PALMER, E. & PITMAN, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • VAN WYK, B. & VAN WYK, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.

Pitta Joffe
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
October 2002

To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.

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