The subtle beauty of the little known mauve-pink plume bush, Syncolostemon latidens, has won the heart of those who have seen this small perennial shrub flowering along forest margins in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. It belongs to the large sage and mint family, Lamiaceae, with its characteristically fragrant leaves and square stems. The family includes such popular South African indigenous plants as Plectranthus, Orthosiphon, Hemizygia and Becium.
A soft shrub reaching 1-1.5m in height,. Produces a profusion of mauve to deep pink flowers in mid-summer (January to March). Codd (1985: 191) describes the flowers of S. latidens as being born in a dense terminal panicle up to 200 mm long, with verticels usually six-flowered, 4-8 mm apart, with bracts up to 5 mm long and slightly longer than wide. The corolla tube is up to 25mm long, gradually widening to about 6 mm at the mouth, with the lower lip protruding 3-5 mm. Petiole very short, less than 10 mm, leaves open ovate to broadly ovate, 30-50 mm long, and 20-35 mm wide, opposite, with a prominent main vein and small lateral veins; margin entire at the base but crenate to broadly dentate towards the apex. First described by N.E. Br in 1910 as an Orthosiphon and later transferred to Syncolostemon by Codd in 1976.
Known only from a restricted area near Kranskop in central KwaZulu-Natal, where it grows in and near forest margins (Codd, 1985). It is found in mistbelt grassland at altitudes of between 900 and 1100m on Natal Group sandstone. Scott-Shaw (1999) lists the conservation status of the species as 'vulnerable', but states that it is important to find more populations to enable a better assessment of the geographic distribution.
Derivation of name
Syncolostemon (syn - united; kolos - stunted; stemon - pillar, lower pair of filaments joined to the flower tube) (Pooley, 1998: 188); latidens (broad-toothed, referring to the apical margins of the leaf).
Flower scent appears to attracts bees and other small insects for pollination. Long togued flies may also be involved.
Uses and cultural aspects
A potentially very attractive garden subject useful for landscaping as a low to medium height contrasting feature when grown in mass. The close relative, S. parviflorus is used traditionally to treat loss of appetite (Pooley, 1998: 188).
Growing Syncolostemon latidens
Raised easily from seed in slightly acidic soil. Seed should be sown fresh in trays soon after harvesting as it does not keep well. Seedlings should be kept under light shade to avoid wilting.
Grows well massed in beds in full sun to semi-shade, but needs annual pruning to stop it straggling and to stimulate flowering. High temperatures may result in wilting if insufficiently watered.. Plants may die back after severe frost, but recover quickly.
The KwaZulu Natal Botanical Garden in Pietermaritzburg has a number of shrubs grown from seed making an attractive massed effect near the restaurant.
- Codd, L.E., 1976..The genus Syncolostemon in Bothalia vol 12: pp 21-27.
- Codd, L.E., 1985. Lamiaceae, Flora of Southern Africa, vol 28: 4, pp 1-247.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field-guide to wild flowers: KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region, Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban..
KwaZulu_Natal National Botanical Garden