South Africa Plant LifeThe Agapanthus (africanus and praecox)
Vibrant blue and crisp white Agapanthus flowers are often seen lining the streets of South African towns and cities. They create pretty vistas and fabulous additions to the garden or vase.
They belong to the Amaryllidaceae family and the Agapanthoideae subfamily. There are six main species, but these can be further subdivided. The two evergreen species are the 1) Agapanthus africanus and the 2) Agapanthus praecox. These two species are found in the winter rainfall regions of South Africa.
Despite a common misconception, the Agapanthus is not a lily. Interestingly, they are indigenous to South Africa, with their natural distribution stretches from the southernmost tip of Africa in the Western Cape (relatively close to Cape Town) all the way up to the Limpopo Province on the east side of the country.
The Agapanthus is a herbaceous perennial that usually flowers in the summer months (December to around March) and towards early Autumn (April and May). The flowers resemble a funnel and have an easily recognisable cornflower-blue shade, sometimes veering towards a pretty dark purple hue or a lighter powdery colour. Some species even produce a white flower, which makes for a lovely addition to any bouquet. Certain hybrids have managed to produce quite unusual colours, but these are not found naturally. The basal leaves are long and curved, reaching up to 60 centimetres in length. They are evergreen. The flowers are arranged in a rounded cluster at the top of the long, thick stem, which averages a length of between 1.5 and two metres.
Use in the garden
While not proven to have medicinal properties associated with fertility, the Agapanthus is esteemed by South African Xhosa tribes for its magical powers in this respect. The plant is brewed and consumed by pregnant mothers in their third trimester to aid in the birth and the newborn is bathed in a similar concoction with the belief that this will make the child strong and healthy.
The Zulu culture uses Agapanthus to treat heart conditions, paralysis, coughs, chest problems (such as tightness or pains), tired feet (when the plaited leaves are applied as a bandage to the feet), colds and flu. Significantly, the plant (roots included) is considered to be poisonous to human beings, making all of these applications rather interesting for the associated risk.
Most species of Agapanthus bloom in the summer and early autumn; that is around December to April or even May. They are hardy, though, and flowers may appear outside of these months in some cases and areas.
Within the scope of South Africa, the Agapanthus has a fairly wide distribution. These plants boast their blue blooms all the way from the Cape Peninsula in the Western Cape Province to the towns and countryside of Limpopo on the eastern coastline. Some varieties of Agapanthus are limited to certain areas. For example, the Agapanthus africanus subsp. africanus is only found in the Western Cape, extending from Cape Point to Swellendam.
Growing Agapanthus in your garden
Most Agapanthus varieties are fairly easy to grow in the garden, often not very demanding on good quality soil. However, regular watering is of utmost importance if they are to survive, especially during the warmer months and seasons. They prefer being steeped in a lot of water once a week than being sprinkled with limited water more often. The evergreen varieties should be lifted and divided every four to five years for the best results.
The two Agapanthus africanus varieties are more difficult to grow in the garden. They do better in rockeries or shallow pots that are well drained. They require a slow-release fertiliser for the best flowering conditions. Most Agapanthus species can withstand droughts for limited periods of time, making them a rather undemanding, easy addition to any garden. During extremely dry periods, they should be drenched in water twice a week, as opposed to once. Once flowers have faded in colour, remove them so that they do not go to seed and start growing randomly all over the garden. Rather, the plant should be lifted and divided (usually in late March) to ensure a healthy plant and optimal flowering.
The Agapanthus plant is best propagated naturally, by wind and bee pollination. They also grow very well from cuttings of the thick roots and from fresh seed.
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