Mackaya bella is a beautiful shrub or small tree with slender
branches bearing dark green leaves. The leaves are simple and oppositely
arranged. Small, hairy pockets are often found in the axil of the
veins. It has beautiful, large and attractive mauve to white flowers
in terminal racemes usually marked with fine purple-pink lines.
The genus Mackaya was named after James Townsend Mackay,
author of Flora Hibernica. There is only one species in the genus
Mackaya. The genus Mackaya was once included in the
Its specific name bella means "beautiful", a tribute
to its large bell shaped flowers.
The forest bell bush occurs naturally in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu
Natal, Swaziland and Northern Province in evergreen forest, often
along the edges of stream. This plant occurs nowhere else in the
world except in Southern Africa which means is endemic to this region.
bella is commercially available in almost any local nursery
in South Africa. It makes a stunning display if planted in a pot
and can also serve for screening in a semi-shade area. The river
bell is a desirable garden plant, which thrives in shade but flowers
best with more sun, although this may cause leaves to yellow. The
wood was once used to kindle fire by friction. The beautiful Blue
Pansy butterfly caterpillars (Precis oenone oenone) feed
on this shrub.
Gowing Mackaya bella
Growing Mackaya bella is easy from semi-hardwood stem cuttings
taken during spring and autumn. Plants can also be propagated from
seeds. Cutting materials may be treated with root stimulating hormone
and should be planted in washed river sand. Rooting can be hastened
by keeping the cuttings in a misted bed.
In the garden forest bell bush should be planted in well-drained
soil, with plenty of compost. Water well in summer, but less frequently
in winter. To encourage bushiness plants should be pruned often.
Mackaya bella is frost tender and it is advisable to plant
it in a protected spot in cold regions. If is frosted, it should
be drastically pruned to encourage new growth from the base.
Mackaya bella performs best in sub-tropical to temperate
- Joffe, P.1993. The gardener's guide to South African Plants.
Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Kroon, D.M. 1999. Lepidoptera of Southern Africa, Host-plants
and other associations. Lepidopterists' Society of Africa
& D.M. Kroon. Jukskei Park & Sasolburg.
- Migdoll, I.1987. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Southern
Africa. Struik. Cape Town.
- Pooley, E.1997. The complete field guide to trees of Natal,
Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora publication, Durban.
Thompson T. Mutshinyalo
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden