Hebenstretia dura

Choisy

Family:
Scrophulariaceae (snapdragon & foxglove family)
Common names:
Cat's tail, katstert (Afr.), slugwort, slakblom (Afr.)


Hebenstretia dura

Hebenstretia dura is a long-flowering, summer perennial with masses of small white flowers tied like little bows along the upright stems.

Description: This narrow-leaved perennial forms bushy clumps up to about 0.6 m high, branching from the ground with many strong upright stems. The glossy green, narrow leaves are about 15 mm long with a serrated edge and are produced densely all along the stems. The many white flowers are all crowded along the top 100 mm of the stems, with the bottom flowers opening first while the top ones are still in bud. The individual flowers are about 10 mm long, with a slender tube opening into 4 separate lobes. They are pure white marked with a bright orange blotch in the throat. Flowering usually starts in early summer (November) and continues until late autumn (April).

Distribution: This small herbaceous perennial is found throughout the summer rainfall areas of South Africa, usually in the rocky grasslands from the Eastern Cape to the Northern Province.

Derivation of the name: The genus Hebenstretia is named after Johann Hebenstreit (1720-1791), a professor of medicine at Leipzig and also St Petersburg. The name cat's tail is applied to many species with long, cylindric inflorescences that are suggestive of a cat's tail. It is unclear as to how the genus Hebenstretia attracted the name slugwort, possibly because snails and slugs were often seen on or around the base of the plant. There are more than 40 species of Hebenstretia, mostly annuals and perennials that are found in southern and tropical Africa.

Growing in the garden

Growing Hebenstretia dura

Because Hebenstretia dura flowers all summer long, this little perennial is an excellent choice for summer display in the garden. Planted in pots and planters they fill out to make a lovely show, waving their white flowering stems. In the beds they form a strong edge in the front of a border. When mixed in large sweeps with other summer perennials like the blue Anchusa capensis (Cape-forget-me-not), the white Lasiospermum bipinnatum (wild chamomile) and Osteospermum jucundum 'White Moon', they form an ongoing display for months. Plants can be pruned back lightly to encourage new growth, and usually need to be replaced every 2-3 years when they start to become untidy.

Hebenstretia dura is easy to propagate from cuttings and seed. Cuttings can be taken throughout the year, from the new growth shooting from the bottom of the bushes. They root within 2-3 weeks in spring and autumn. Seed should be sown in spring or early summer. The young plants react very well to feeding, and pinching the tips of the young stems encourages bushy growth.

References
POOLEY, E. 1998. Wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust.
GOLDBLATT, P. & MANNING, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town and Missouri Botanical Garden.
SMITH, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35. Department of Agricultural Technical Services, Pretoria.


Liesl van der Walt
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
November 2002



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