Greyia radlkoferi


Greyiaceae (wild bottlebrush family)
Common names:
woolly bottlebrush, Natal bottlebrush (Eng.); wollerige baakhout (Afr.); inHlazane (Siswati), inDlebelembila (Swazi)


The snarled branches of Greyia radlkoferi make this small tree or shrub an attractive structural element for any garden. In nature, growing in misty gullies along rivers, its scarlet flowers stand out as if painted on the landscape. There are also white forms that are worth cultivating too.

Attractive velvety  leavesG. radlkoferi is a small tree or shrub growing up to 5 m in height. The branches have yellowish smooth bark when young, turning grey and deeply furrowed as the tree ages. The leaves are oval to heart-shaped, coarsely toothed and lobed at the base, sparsely hairy above and deeply woolly underneath, a characteristic that gives this tree its common name and distinguishes it from its more commonly planted cousin G. sutherlandii. The petioles of G. radlkoferi are also very hairy and the longest of all three species.

The dense clusters of flowers are deep scarlet, blooming in upright racemes. The individual flowers are 20 mm long, with deep red stamens projecting from the mouth of the petal tube, which are slightly narrowed at the base. The 80 mm long racemes are borne at the end of the stems, before or with the young leaves in July to October, which makes them all the more conspicuous. The cylindrical fruit capsules split open at one end to release seed in the autumn.

Distribution and Habitat

Greyia radlkoferi occurs mainly in the mist-belt mountains of Mpumalanga, in KwaZulu-Natal near Ngome and in Swaziland. It grows in deep channels along streambanks, bordering evergreen forest and among rocks.

The genus Greyia is named after Sir George Grey (1812-1898), explorer and governor of South Australia, the Cape Colony and New Zealand. The species name is derived from Ludwig Radlkofer (1829-1927), Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanical Museum in Munich. The Swazi name means dassie's ear.

Growing Greyia radlkoferi

The plants are easy to grow from seed or cuttings. For best results take woody cuttings in spring and keep misted, but not damp. When sowing seed place them in a sunny location and keep moist. Both cuttings and seeds will root faster if they have bottom heat.

Prick out seedlings into trays or small packets in midsummer and leave them there for the remainder of the season. When the cold weather arrives the young plants will drop their leaves. Transplant to the garden the following spring. G. radlkoferi will grow at the coast but it won't flower as well, as this plant needs colder, drier winters to set bud. It does flower in Cape Town at Kirstenbosch, where it receives winter rain.

The open structure of the G. radlkoferi provides a dappled shade perfect for growing Agapanthus, Dietes or Tulbaghia.

This Greyia is susceptible to aphid infestations during its flowering and leafing out period.

References and further reading

  • Coates Palgrave, M. 2002. Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of southern Africa, edn 3. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Nichols, G. 1998. Lively up your garden. Farmer's Weekly 84: 68.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa, vol. 2. Balkema, Cape Town.

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

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website