Orphium frutescens (L) E. Mey.

Family: Gentianaceae
Common Names: Sea-rose, Sticky flower, Teringbos

Orphium frutescens
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Flowering in the heat of summer the glossy pink stars of Orphium frutescens always attract attention, especially with the surrounding vegetation going brown and dormant. The sea-rose is found along the coast of the south western Cape, growing in clumps on the sandy flats and marshes from Lambert's Bay to George.

Orphium frutescens is an evergreen perennial, growing upright, often bushy to about 60 cm. The lush green leaves and stems have small white hairs which give them a velvety feel. The size of the leaves vary, but they are all long and narrow, pointing upwards,opposite each other all the way up the stems.

O.frutescens white floweredFrom November to February large showy flowers are formed at the tips of the stems, singly or in clusters. The flowers also vary in colour and size, but deep pink is the most common. Each delicate flower has 5 broad glossy petals, that are slightly sticky, and bright yellow twisted anthers in the centre. These twisted anthers have adapted in a fascinating way to only release pollen. They open pores at their tips, when visited by a certain bee whose wings vibrate at a particular frequency - this is called buzz pollination.

In the garden Orphium frutescens is a wonderful plant with its bright summer flowers, fresh green leaves and the ability to grow in wet spots. It is a remarkably tough plant, able to grow close to the sea, coping with ease with the wind, sand and brakish soil.

Orphium frutescens It grows just as well in the garden with light, well-drained soil containing compost and regular watering. Plant orphiums in full sun and pinch the tips of the young plants to encourage bushy growth. For the best display plant them close to each other for support as they often get untidy at the base and fall over. Orphium plants should be replaced after two years in the garden as they become rather straggly and untidy. They also look beautiful peeping through the long narrow stems of restios and the strappy leaves of Dietes or Agapanthus.

Growing Orphium frutescens

Orphium frutescens can be propagated from seed or cuttings. The seeds are hard, little, brownish balls, which germinate freely in about two weeks. Sow them in a container filled with well-drained soil and cover lightly with a thin layer of milled bark or white sand after sowing. Place the tray in a well-ventilated shady spot and keep moist. The seedlings can be planted out as soon as they are big enough to handle, directly into the garden or into pots to grow on. Orphium frutescens responds well to feeding with organic fertilizer like Seagro. Cuttings made from the tips also root quite easily.

Orphium frutescensOrphium was named by Linnaeus after Orpheus of classical myth. With no obvious character link between Orphium the plant and Orpheus the greek god, one assumes that Linnaes desperate for names, borrowed from the classic history to enable him to continue classifying thousands of plants from around the world.

Orphium frutescens is the only species in the genus.

Author: Liesl van der Walt
Kirstenbosch
November 2000


To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.