Thunbergia alata

Thunbergia alata is a pretty vine that is part of the Acanthaceae family

South Africa Plant LifeThe Thunbergia alata

Probably best known as the black-eyed Susan, this pretty vine is part of the Acanthaceae family.

Thunbergia actually comprises several species, only one of which is officially called the black-eyed Susan, which is a vibrant orange flower with a black centre. It is an aesthetically lovely plant that is widespread, making for a great addition to your garden.

Quick Facts


This perennial reaches a maximum height of between two and eight metres. The flowers are pretty and relatively big, often fragrant. The leaves are hairy, but not soft. Rather, they have a rough feeling to the touch.

The symmetrical flowers of the Thunbergia can be yellow, white, cream or orange with a dark centre (like the black-eyed Susan, which is orange and black).

Flowering time

The Thunbergia is a long-flowering vine that graces gardens with its pretty flowers for most of the year. It starts flowering early on and grows quickly.

Use in the garden

This fast-growing plant is easy to grow and flowers relatively soon after planting.

It has long been used to treat skin problems, as well as joint pain, eye infections, haemorrhoids and cancer of the rectum. It is also fed to cattle and has been known to be effective in the treatment of ear problems in these animals. In addition, the Thunbergia attracts bees to the garden, which are very useful visitors to have.

Natural distribution

The Thunbergia is found throughout the tropical regions of Africa. In South Africa, it can be found in the provinces of the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. It opts for forest margins, but can also be found in open areas that are not as sheltered, since it is a semi-hardy plant.

Growing Thinbergia in your garden

To grow these flowers in your own garden, opt for a spot with full sun and soil that is well drained. They should be planted next to some sort of supports, so that they can climb against these as they mature.

They do well in pots and window boxes too, as long as there is somewhere against which for them to climb as they mature. It does not require too much maintenance or watering once established.


To propagate Thunbergia effectively, both seeds and cuttings work well. The seeds should be planted right after the coldest part of the year. The seeds should germinate about 10 to 15 days after planting. When it comes to seedlings, they should be kept indoors for the first six weeks, and then replanted outdoors.

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Did you know?

South Africa is home to more than 22 000 indigenous seed plants from almost 230 different families.

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