Ajuga ophrydis Burch. ex Benth.
Common names: bugle plant (Eng.); moonyane, se-nyarela (S. Sotho)
A perennial herb that can grow 60–250 mm high, with beautiful mauve, white or blue flowers. It is usually distributed in grassland areas and it is the only species of Ajuga indigenous to South Africa, with most other species native to the northern hemisphere.
Ajuga ophrydis is a low-growing perennial herb, with several stems arising annually from a short underground rhizome. The leaves are thick and grey-green, 30–70 × 50–40 mm, with irregularly hairy and toothed margins, mostly in a basal rosette. The inflorescence is a spike which stands about 200 mm high, arising from the basal rosette of leaves. The flowers are small, 12 × 14 mm, either white, blue or mauve and are arranged in whorls, with a hairy calyx about 7 mm long, in which the seed is enclosed. Flowering is in summer, from October to February.
According to the Red List South African plants, the conservation status of this plant is Least Concern (LC), meaning that it is not threatened in its natural habitat.
Distribution and habitat
Ajuga ophrydis occurs naturally in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga Provinces of South Africa, and in Swaziland and Lesotho. The species is found mainly in grassland or bushveld on rocky slopes and open grassland, occurring at an altitude of 0–2 700 m.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Ajuga means ‘bugle', in Latin. Ophrydis refers to the orchid genus Ophrys, which this plant resembles. The name is derived from the Greek word for ‘eyebrow’, referring to the hairy edged lips of the flowers. Ajuga is in the mint family (Lamiaceae). There are about 40 species; mostly from the northern hemisphere and Ajuga ophrydis is the only species that is indigenous to South Africa.
Ajuga produces beautiful mauve, white or blue flowers that attract insects, including bees and butterflies, which assist with pollination. Ajuga ophrydis is very hardy and cold resistant. In winter, the plant is dormant and all above-ground parts are withered and dry. Grassland burning encourages seasonal new growth of the plant in spring.
Ajuga is traditionally used to treat female sterility and painful menstruation.
Growing Ajuga ophrydis
For optimal growth, Ajuga ophrydis must be planted in a sunny position, in a well-drained and composted loam soil. It should receive summer rainfall, with moderate water during the spring and summer growing season, and kept dry during winter. It is an ideal addition to a grassland garden and should be inter-planted with grass species, and can also be used as a groundcover and in herbaceous mixed borders. It should not be disturbed, once planted.
Propagation can be done by division of the plants, by separating the underground rhizomes, as well as by soft, tip cuttings taken in spring and summer. They can also be grown from seed, although seed is difficult to obtain, and consequently most plants are propagated by cuttings. Cuttings should be made in summer from November to February; each cutting should comprise several nodes and the leaves removed. They should be planted a ⅓ deep in well drained, clean sand and kept in a well-lit position, but not direct in sunlight. Cuttings should be watered daily until rooted. The use of rooting hormone is recommended. Cuttings can remain green throughout the winter months, by keeping them in a warm greenhouse and continuing with watering. Rooted cuttings can be planted into individual containers in their second season of growth. Feed with an organic fertilizer.
No significant insects or disease problems have been noted for this species in cultivation, but crown rot can be a problem, usually in humid conditions and waterlogged soil.
- Codd, L.E. 1985. Flora of southern Africa. Volume 28. Part 4. Lamiaceae family. Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agriculture and Water Supply.
- Fabian, A. & Germishuizen, G. 1997. Wild flowers of northern South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg.
- Pooley, E. 2013. A field guide to wild flowers KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Wild Flower Nursery website: Ajuga ophrydis. http://wildflowernursery.co.za/indigenous-plant-database/ajuga-ophrydis/ (Accessed 31 May 2016)
Lungisani Zondi and Andrew Hankey
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Ground Cover, Perennial
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer
Flower colour: Blue, White, Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy