Indigofera jucunda is a scrambling shrub
or small graceful tree (1-4m ). The main stem is greyish brown and
the leaves are dark green and compound with leaflets, occurring
in pairs of 4 to 7 plus a terminal one. Flowers are small, pink
or white and sweetly scented. They are borne from December through
to April in lovely dainty spikes up to 5cm long. Smooth, reddish-brown
cylindrical pods with 8 to 10 seeds each, occur from May to July.
This plant was formerly known by the name Indigofera cylindrica. Botanical investigation in the 1990's found that the name I.cylindrica had been incorrectly applied to this species and that the name was synomous with Indigofera frutescens which is a shorter plant from the fynbos with bright pink, purple flowers in a lax racemes. This popular garden plant received the new name of Indigofera jucunda. Confusion still occurs in the nursery trade over the name of this plant unfortunately and you may find it incorrectly labelled.
indigo occurs naturally in riverine forest or scrub and on sandstone
outcrops in Transkei and southern Kwazulu-Natal.
Several species of butterflies including the common Lucerne Blue,
Lampides boeticus, and the Drakensberg Blue, Lepidochrysops
niobe, breed on members of the genus.
Growing Indigofera jucunda
Indigofera is not a striking plant, but it is dainty and
showy when in flower, making it an interesting garden subject.
jucunda is semi-deciduous and prefers a warm, sunny position
in the garden, although it will tolerate semi-shade conditions.
It grows easily in good, loamy soil. It will grow easily from seed
that should be sown in September and takes from 3 to 6 weeks to
germinate. The seedlings should be pricked out and planted in individual
containers until they are about 20cm in height. They will flower
in the 2nd or 3rd year. These plants may also be propagated by means
More about the pea family
Members of the pea family include a wide range of plants including
economically important crops such as beans, peas and clover, as
well as herbs, shrubs and a few beautiful flowering trees. The characteristic
sweet-pea flowers of this family have a large upper petal (the standard),
two side petals (wings) and two lower petals that are fused to form
a 'keel' enfolding the stamens and pistil.
The genus Indigofera has a long history in trade because
one of the species from the East Indies, I. tinctoria, yields
the dye Indigo."Indigo" referring to the colour and the
Latin "fero" meaning "to bear". Indigo is one
of the oldest colouring agents known to man. The leaves are the
main source of the dye but roots are sometimes also used. It gives
a light purple to mauve colour or sometimes dark brown or grey,
depending on the dyeing time. Natural indigo was originally produced
for commercial use through a complicated process of aerobic fermentation
and agitation, followed by heating the precipitated sludge, which
was then formed into cakes for shipment.
Other species of Indigofera have medicinal uses such as
helping with infertility and menstrual cramps. One is even believed
to be able to change the sex of a baby before birth. Another species
has its twigs used as toothbrushes and it's sap used as mouthwash.
Indigofera is a large genus of over 800 species, mostly
herbs and undershrubs, with two tree-like species. They are to be
found in all tropical and subtropical countries with over 200 species
in South Africa alone.
Author: Cherise Dorfling
With additions by Yvonne Reynolds 2008.