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.
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
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.
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.
- 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
Free State National Botanical Garden