This beautiful blue grassland flower which attracts
butterflies, shows great potential as a garden plant.
Widespread in southern Africa, and used extensively
in traditional medicine, this attractive small bush
grows easily from cuttings.
This plant is an erect perennial herb of about 600 mm,
with stout hairy stems, sprouting from a woody rootstock.
The leaves, which have no petioles (leaf stalks), are
very variable, but are usually ovate with wavy margins.
The tubular blue or lilac flowers are in dense heads
at the ends of the stems. Flowering occurs in early
summer, from August to January. The plants are long-lived
and are dormant in the winter months.
There are two subspecies, P. prunelloides subsp.prunelloides
, which has erect stems, and P. prunelloides
subsp.latifolia which has prostrate (creeping)
stems and rounder leaves.
The species is not threatened.
It is widespread in grassland throughout southern Africa,
from Eastern Cape to Tanzania, at altitudes from sea
level up to 1 980 m. It grows in well-drained soils
in full sunlight and tolerates frost.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
P. prunelloides is a member of the gardenia family
(Rubiaceae). There are about 15 species belonging to
the genus Pentanisia, three of which occur in
southern Africa. This group is closely related to the
well-known garden plant, Pentas lanceolata, which
comes from central Africa.
The name is derived from the Greek penta meaning
five, anisos which is unequal, referring to the
calyx lobes; and prunelloides means resembling
the genus Prunella (Lamiaceae) from the Latin
prunus meaning purple.
and moths use their long tongues to reach the nectar
in the bottom of the tubular flower, and in the process
carry pollen from one flower to another. One of the
first species to flower after veld fires, Pentanisia
has a large root which allows it to survive fires and
dry winter months.
Uses and cultural aspects
The Afrikaans common name, sooibrandbossie means
'heartburn shrublet' and, in fact, it appears to be
a cure-all! The tuberous roots and the leaves of this
species are used extensively in traditional medicine
to treat a wide range of ailments, although nothing
seems to be known about the chemical compounds of the
plant. Root decoctions are taken orally or as enemas
and also applied externally for burns, swellings, rheumatism,
heartburn, vomiting, fever, toothache, tuberculosis,
snakebite and haemorrhoids. It is taken by pregnant
women to ensure an easy childbirth and leaf poultices
are applied for a retained placenta. The Zulu name means
'that which puts out the fire'.
Growing Pentansia prunelloides.
Pentanisia prunelloides is ideal for a grassland
bed consisting of grasses mixed with other species such
as Berkheya and Vernonia. It can also
be used in a border where its compact shape is attractive.
However it dislikes root disturbance and usually dies
back in winter. This species does not transplant well
from the wild as it is difficult to remove the rootstock
intact and rot sets in. However, the plant can be propagated
by cuttings taken in early summer, which root readily
in a well-drained medium such as coarse pine bark. It
can also be grown from seed.
- FABIAN, A. & GERMISHUISEN, G. 1997. Wildflowers
of northern South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg,
- POOLEY, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers
of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal
Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- VAN WYK, B-E., VAN OUDTSHOORN, B. & GERICKE,
N. 2000. Medicinal plants of South Africa.
Briza Publications, Pretoria.