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