Most adaptable in cultivation, the Tonga pelargonium, is a free
flowering garden and container plant.
are deciduous, perennial, low growing shrubby herbs, which grow
up to 200mm ( or 400 mm if the flowers included) in height with
a spread of 400mm. Plants die back in winter. The pale green stems
are slightly succulent as are the simple lobate palmate leaves which
resemble those of the popular Pelargonium peltatum.
Pelargonium tongaense flowers freely over an extended period
from spring to autumn (September - April). Plants are blessed with
bright scarlet red flowers borne in heads of 3-8 flowers on 200mm
stalks. The flowers are quite similar to those of Pelargonium
inquinans which is often cultivated in gardens.
Pelargonium tongaense plants are endemic (naturally restricted)
to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), and are recorded from a small area in the
northeastern KZN. They can be found growing in forests, under bushy
trees, on loose reddish sandy soil, near the Pongolo River from
Tete Pan north to Tembe. These plants occur in temperate to cool
growing areas, with an annual rainfall of between of 600 mm to 800
mm during summer months (November-December).
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Pelargonium come from Pelargos (Greek
word): meaning, stork; Stork's Bill which refers to the rostrum
(beak-like extension) of the schizocarp (dry splitting fruit into
two or more parts) which resembles the bill of a stork. Tongaense
refers to the Tongaland area, KZN where this species was discovered.
Material of P. tongaense was originally collected in 1955
by Mr. Jobe Mafuleka (a farm-worker), and he brought the plants
to Mr Ian Garland who cultivated them. Reports indicate that in
October 1973, the existence of these plants was known to botanists
J.J.A. Van der Walt & P.J. Vorster and they expressed some doubts
as to whether the plants were indigenous or not. The climatic conditions
where these plants grow naturally in Tongaland were found to be
somehow uncommon for the genus Pelargonium, and was then
thought these plants were perhaps hybrids from P. peltatum
& P. inquinans. It was only in November 1981, when Libelepi,
young son of Mr Mafuleka took the above- mentioned experts to the
natural locality where P. tongaense grows, that the two were
then convinced that this was a separate species and it was formally
Plants attract certain insects including butterflies.
Uses and cultural aspects
are vigorous and extremely showy garden subjects, which can be grown
either as container plants or as groundcovers under trees. Since
these plants grow well and flower in shaded areas contrary to other
common winter rainfall pelargoniums, they are recommended for mixed
borders in subtropical gardens.
Growing Pelargonium tongaense
Plants prefer light to dense shade (but can be grown in full sun
as well), and grow optimally in loose, well-drained, sandy soil.
The plants die back in winter and should not receive much water
then or they may rot. Prune dead flowers as soon as possible in
order to maintain the attractiveness of these plants, since their
bright green, lobed leaves are equally attractive.
P. tongaense plants are easily propagated from cuttings
or seeds, and experience has shown that if seeds are sown whilst
fresh the results are much better.
- JOFFE, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants:
A South African Guide. Pretoria: Briza Publications.
- POOLEY, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers KwaZulu -Natal
and the eastern region. Durban: Natal Flora Publication Trust.
- SCOT-SHAW, R. 1999. Rare and Threatened Plants of Kwazulu-Natal
and the neighbouring Regions: Pietermaritzburg. KwaZulu-Natal
Nature Conservation Services.
- VAN DER WALT, J.J.A., & VORSTER, P.J. 1988. Pelargoniums
of southern Africa: Vol. 3:Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens.
Lowveld National Botanical Garden