Plumbago is an extremely reliable, resilient plant which has been
popular for home gardens as well as for commercial landscapes for
many years. Plumbago may be found in gardens all over the world,
and was apparently popular as a standard plant in Europe.
In nature plumbago is a scrambling shrub, about 3m x 3m. It grows
in scrub and thicket (valley bushveld). The new growth is bright
green, darker when mature. The leaves are thin in texture and have
minute gland dots. The leaf stalk is winged at the base, and clasps
the stem. Underneath the leaves are greyish green, sometimes with
whitish scales apparently for light reflection.
summer the bush is covered with pretty trusses of pale sky blue
flowers, although there are often flowers at other times of the
year. The main flowering period is between November and May. "Royal
Cape" is a darker blue form which is available in many nurseries.
There is also a white form which is very attractive. It is slightly
less vigorous than the normal blue but is a prolific flowerer and
wonderful for working gardeners who only see their gardens in the
twilight - the white blooms appear to glow in the dusk.
The distribution ranges from the southern Cape, Eastern Cape and
into KwaZulu-Natal. It appears in Gauteng and the adjacent areas
of the Free State and North West Province. There is also an isolated
distribution in Mpumalanga. Plumbago shares a habitat with Tecomaria
capensis, the Cape Honeysuckle.
genus Plumbago comprises 10 species from the warmer parts
of the world. There are 5 species in South Africa.
The name Plumbago is derived from plumbum meaning
lead - referring to it being a supposed cure for lead poisoning.
Auriculata means ear shaped and refers to the leaf base.
Plumbago auriculata was known as P. capensis, which
was the name given by the botanist, Thunberg in 1794. However, the
plant had already been named auriculata by Lamarck in 1786
in what was known as the East Indies where it had been taken as
a garden plant! The Dutch East India Company trade routes included
the Cape and this was most likely how the plant reached the East
Plumbago is visited by butterflies and is one of the larval foods
plant for the common blue butterfly (Cyclyrius pirithous)
which is apparently fairly common in gardens as a result of the
popularity of plumbago as a garden plant.
Children often make "earrings" with the sticky flowers
- letting them stick to their earlobes. There are sticky, gland
tipped hairs on the flower calyx. The seed capsule retains the stickiness
which presumably helps disperse the seed by attaching to animals.
The top of the capsule splits opens and drops the seed out.
Plumbago is used traditionally to treat warts, broken bones and
wounds. It is taken as a snuff for headaches and as an emetic to
dispel bad dreams. A stick of the plant is placed in the thatch
of huts to ward off lightning.
Growing Plumbago auriculata
makes a very good informal or formal hedge as it responds well to
pruning. It will flower profusely after being cut back or after
a growth flush, as it bears flowers on new wood. It may need to
be cut back after winter to keep it tidy, even if this is only done
every few years. Plumbago will scramble into trees if allowed and,
depending on the size and style of your garden, you may need to
control it. It is very useful in large gardens and landscapes as
it forms suckers and will cover fairly big areas. It is fast growing,
drought resistant and rewarding and will grow in any soil but will
perform best if planted with plenty of compost. Plumbago is somewhat
frost tender but will quickly re-grow if damaged.
A relatively recent South African trend is to attract birds and
other wildlife to gardens by creating the right habitat. Plumbago
makes a good, fast growing "exclusion zone" or bush-clump
plant for attracting birds such as robins which like dense plant
Plumbago is propagated easily from seed, cuttings and suckers.
Sow seed in spring in seedling trays. Use good seedling mix and
cover the seeds lightly. Do not allow to dry out. The easiest method
of propagation is to remove rooted suckers from the mother plant.
- Batten, A. 1986. Flowers of Southern Africa. Frandsen Publishers.
- Joffe, P. 1993. The Gardener's Guide to South African Plants.
- Kroon, D.M. 1999. Lepidoptera of Southern Africa: Host Plants
associations. Lepidopterists Society of Africa & D.M.
- Migdoll, I. 1987. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Southern
- Pooley, E. 1998. A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of Kwazulu-Natal
Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust. Durban
- Van Wyk, B-E, van Oudtshoorn, B & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal
of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden