With its large grey leaves and huge bronze flowers this is a striking
shrub. On a sunny day the sunbirds feast on the nectar dripping
from the flowers, but any one touching those attractive leaves is
in for a surprise. With a strong unpleasant smell, it warns all
that it is highly toxic.
Melianthus major or Kruidjie-roer-my-nie, which means herb-touch-me-not,
is a well known plant in the south western Cape where it occurs
naturally; usually along streams and roadside ditches.
Although toxic when taken internally, it is used medicinally by
the local people. They mostly use the leaves to make poultices and
decoctions that are applied directly to wounds, bruises, backache
and rheumatic joints.
growing during the winter, Melianthus major forms a large
shrub suckering and spreading as it goes. The distinctive large,
smooth leaves are a light bluish-green, deeply divided and ruffled-edged.
The bush has several thick stalks with the leaves placed at intervals
up the stem. The long flower-spikes grow out from the top of the
stems in spring. The nectar-rich, bird pollinated flowers rise up
above the leaves, drawing attention with their unusual rusty red
colouring. They are followed by pale green, bladder-like pods containing
the shiny black seeds.
Melianthus major is an easy garden plant, grown worldwide
for its attractive foliage. It prefers a warm, sunny position with
good drainage. Although quite tough and adaptable, it will flourish
in deep, rich soil, especially if given plenty of water. Melianthus
grows fast and will make a show within a few months. It is particularly
attractive in spring when in flower and sporting its new lush leaf
growth after the wet Cape winter.
During the dry summers or whenever the plants are untidy, they
should be cut back hard to encourage new growth. The plants can
survive in cold areas with frost, sending new shoots from the base
Melianthus grow very easily from seed or cuttings. The
seed is sown in autumn in seed trays filled with a well-drained
medium and covered lightly with sand or finely milled bark. Germination
is usually within a month. The young seedlings are potted up into
bags or small pots and grown on until strong enough to be planted
out into the garden. The cuttings can be made any time of the year
depending on material available. Cuttings are made from the new
shoots sprouting from the base.
There are 6 species of Melianthus, all of which are found
in South Africa.
Author: Liesl van der Walt