Melianthus comosus

Vahl
Family name: Melianthaceae
Common names: Honey Flower (E), Kruidjie-roer-my -nie (A)

Melianthus comosus

Melianthus comosus is an ideal plant for a low maintenance, waterwise garden, but it does need to be pruned to keep it neat and to encourage new growth. It can also be planted in the informal shrub border and makes a good accent at the side of a pond. It prefers light, well-drained, good garden soil.

Description
LeavesMelianthus comosus is an attractive multi-stemmed shrub; all parts of the plant produce a strong, unpleasant smell when bruised, hence the Afrikaans name. The large, grey-green, serrated leaves are clustered towards the tips of the branches. The small, nectar rich bird pollinated flowers are borne in a short cluster, followed by a four-winged bladdery capsules which are often as decorative as the
flowers.

Distribution
Melianthus comosus has a wide distribution, mainly in the dry interior of South Africa. Its extends from Namibia to the North West Province, Gauteng Province, Mpumalanga Province, Free State Province, Lesotho, Northern Cape Province, Western Cape Province and Eastern Cape Province.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Melianthus comes from the Greek word Meli = honey and anthos = flower meaning that it has abundant nectar. Comosus means "with a tuft of hair or leaves". There are six species of Melianthus, which are all found in South Africa. Melianthus major is also a very attractive plant, cultivated in gardens internationally as a foliage and accent plant.

Flowers and  seedpods developing


Ecology
The brightly coloured red flowered petals produce an abundance of nectar that attracts Sunbirds, Cape White Eyes, bees and butterflies.

Uses and cultural aspects
Leaf poultices and leaf decoctions are widely used to treat septic wounds, sores, bruises, backache and rheumatic joints. It is a traditional remedy for snakebite.When placing traps for jackals and other wild animals, branches of Melianthus comosus are used to wipe the ground to remove the smell of humans.

Growing Melianthus comosus

Melianthus comosus is easily propagated from seed, which is large, black and easy to handle. When the seed is ripe, sow it in autumn (March - May), in deep seed trays in a medium of compost only. When sowing seed in the colder months, germination may take about four weeks. Cover the seeds, keep them moist, leave the seedlings in the trays until the fourth leaf stage. Transplant into a medium of 2 parts compost and 2 parts loam. It is important in cold areas to keep the pots warm and sheltered during winter.

Snails that eat the leaves of the young seedlings are the only known pests of this plant.

References

  • Hyam, R. & Pankhurst, R. 1995. Plants and their names: A Concise Dictionary, Oxford University Press
  • Shearing, D. 1994. Karoo-Veldblomgids van Suid- Afrika 6, Nasionale Boekdrukkers
  • Van Wyk, B.E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997.Medicinal Plants of South Africa, Briza Publications
  • Van Wyk, B.E.& Gericke, N. 2000.People`s plants: A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa, Briza Publications

 


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Author
Shireen Harris
Free State National Botanical Garden
September 2004

 


This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.

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