Walking up the Camphor Avenue at Kirstenbosch during autumn it
is difficult to miss the striking pink beds of Plectranthus fruticosus
This plectranthus is a particularly attractive form of Plectranthus
fruticosus, a shade-loving species with flowers mostly in shades
of mauve but also in blue and pink. Compared to the species, Plectranthus
fruticosus 'James' has smaller, more succulent leaves and pink
flowers. It is a robust, fast-growing, upright, soft-wooded perennial
that will reach a height of up to 2m. The leaves are very decorative,
rich green in colour, softly hairy to the touch with margins that
are attractively toothed and crinkled.The
veins are stained purple, particularly the midrib, and are very
noticeable, particularly on the underside. The margins are also
tinged with purple, so that even when not in flower, the beautiful
foliage makes this cultivar a very decorative plant.
The striking inflorescence is an elongated branched terminal panicle,
80-250 mm long. Each little flower is pale pink speckled with purple,
protruding from a deep pink to purple calyx which persists long
after the flower has fallen. To add to the colour, the stem of the
inflorescence is also stained purple. The inflorescences are held
above the plant and are borne in profusion giving the overall effect
of a very showy, misty haze in many shades of pink and purple. Flowering
season begins in late summer (February) and peaks in autumn (March
& April). The seed is a small smooth nutlet that can be seen
inside the calyx attached to the base.
Plectranthus fruticosus occurs in forests and shady rocky
places from Caledon in the Western Cape to the Northern Province,
now called the Limpopo Province. Plectranthus fruticosus
'James' is found at high altitudes (1000m+) on exposed rocky outcrops
in an area around the Mpumalanga - Swaziland border. Another feature
that distinguishes Plectranthus fruticosus 'James' from the
species is its ability to take full sun. It is also much more tolerant
of drought than Plectranthus fruticosus.
Like many members of the sage and mint family, the leaves and branches
of Plectranthus fruticosus 'James' are aromatic, and release
a pungent odour when touched or crushed. Whether pleasant or objectionable
tends to be a matter of opinion. The Afrikaans common name, muishondblaar,
means skunk leaf, and refers to this pungent odour. The name vlieëbos,
which means fly-repellant bush, refers to the practice of using
the plants odour to deter flies by keeping bunches of this plant
in the house or rubbing leaves and stems on windowsills.
The genus Plectranthus is named from the Greek plektron,
a spur, and anthos, a flower, referring to the base of the
flower tube which is expanded near the base. The species name fruticosus
is Latin for bushy or shrubby. Plectranthus fruticosus 'James'
is named after James Culverwell, the conservationist who found this
plant and brought it to the attention of Ernst van Jaarsveld who
got it growing and introduced it to horticulture. There are roughly
300 species of Plectranthus spread throughout the tropical
and warm regions of the old world with 45 species widespread in
southern Africa, absent only from the Northern Cape.
Growing Plectranthus fruticosus 'James'
Plectranthus fruticosus 'James' is easy to grow. It is very
effective when mass planted, but also makes an attractive shrub
or container plant when planted singly or in threes. Plants flourish
on the southern and eastern sides of houses (in the southern hemisphere)
where they have sunlight for some of the day, but grow equally well
in light shade under trees, next to shrubs or on the edge of a forest.
Unlike most species of Plectranthus, Plectranthus fruticosus
'James' will also thrive in full sun. It performs best in well-composted
soil and although tolerant of prolonged periods of drought, a fuller
more luxuriant plant will develop if given adequate water during
Plectranthus fruticosus 'James' is frost tender, but will
be able to survive occasional dips to -1oC / 4oF (USDA zone 10)
or so. If it is cut down by frost, it will resprout in the spring,
but it most likely will not be able to survive prolonged periods
at freezing temperature and below.
To keep Plectranthus fruticosus 'James' neat, compact and
bushy, it is best to prune plants back to between 1/3 and 1/4 of
their height at the end of winter just before the new growth begins
in spring. The stems should be neatly cut at an angle just above
the nodes. After pruning is the ideal time to feed the plants and
to dress the soil by applying a thick layer of compost or organic
mulch and a dose of a balanced fertilizer. Both the pruning and
the feeding will improve the quality of plants and stimulate flowering.
Plectranthus fruticosus 'James' is best propagated by means
of cuttings. The best time for processing cuttings is in spring
or summer when rooting is optimal. Softwood, semi-hardwood or tip
cuttings can be taken from healthy plants. The ideal cutting is
one with at least two nodes, 80-120 mm long. The bottom end of the
cutting is cut beneath the node and the lower leaves are removed
to prevent unnecessary moisture loss. Cuttings are placed in a container
filled with washed coarse river sand or perlite. The cuttings should
not be dipped in rooting hormone or placed under mist irrigation
as this can cause rotting, but should be placed in a shady spot,
preferably under a roof and not be allowed to dry out. Cuttings
will also root in a glass of water on a cool windowsill. Rooting
takes place after 2-3 weeks, when plants are ready to be transplanted
or potted up. Newly rooted plants should kept in a sheltered spot
for 2-3 weeks before being planted into the garden.
Plectranthus fruticosus 'James' can also be propagated by
seed sown in spring or summer. Use a suitable seed tray with adequate
drainage holes. The seed tray should be filled with a soil mixture
consisting of two parts leaf mould or peat moss, one part loam and
one part sand well mixed. Plectranthus seed is very fine and should
be broadcast evenly on the surface of the soil. After sowing, cover
with a thin layer of fine, clean river sand. Place the seed tray
in a shady spot, under roof to prevent rain from washing away the
seed. The seed trays are watered regularly to prevent the growing
medium from drying out. Germination occurs in 2 to 4 weeks. The
seedlings grow rapidly and require regular watering. Seedlings can
be planted out into individual bags as soon as they are large enough
- van Jaarsveld, Ernst, personal communication.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J., 2000, Cape Plants, A Conspectus
of the Cape Flora of South Africa, National Botanical Institute,
Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Missouri
- Jackson, W.P.U., 1990, Origins and Meanings of Names of South
African Plant Genera, U.C.T. Printing Dept., Cape Town.
- Smith, C.A., 1966, Common Names of South African Plants, Dept.
of Agricultural Technical Services, Botanical Survey Memoir No
35, Government Printer.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.), 2000, Seed plants of southern Africa:
families and genera, Strelitzia 10., National Botanical Institute,
Norma Jodamus & Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden