Melianthus comosus Vahl
Common names: crown honeyflower (Eng); kruidjie-roer-my -nie (Afr.)
Melianthus comosus is an ideal plant for a low-maintenance, waterwise garden, but it does need to be pruned to keep it neat and to encourage new growth. It can also be planted in the informal shrub border and makes a good accent at the side of a pond. It prefers light, well-drained, good garden soil.
Melianthus comosus is an attractive multi-stemmed shrub; all parts of the plant produce a strong, unpleasant smell when bruised, hence the Afrikaans name meaning 'touch-me-not-herb'. The large, grey-green, serrated leaves are clustered towards the tips of the branches. The small, nectar-rich bird-pollinated flowers, borne in a short cluster, form four-winged bladdery capsules, often as decorative as the flowers.
Distribution and habitat
Melianthus comosus has a wide distribution, mainly in Namibia and the dry interior of South Africa, extending across seven of the nine South African provinces: North-West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State, Northern Cape, Western Cape, and Eastern Cape. It also occurs in Lesotho.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Melianthus comes from the Greek word meli, meaning 'honey' and anthos, 'flower', meaning that it has abundant nectar. Comosus means 'with a tuft of hair or leaves'. There are six species of Melianthus, all found in South Africa. Melianthus major is also a very attractive plant, cultivated in gardens internationally as a foliage and accent plant.
The brightly coloured red flowers produce an abundance of nectar that attracts sunbirds, Cape white eyes, bees and butterflies.
Leaf poultices and leaf decoctions are widely used to treat septic wounds, sores, bruises, backache and rheumatic joints. It is a traditional remedy for snakebite. When placing traps for jackals and other wild animals, branches of Melianthus comosus are used to wipe the ground to remove the smell of humans.
Growing Melianthus comosus
Melianthus comosus is easily propagated from seed, which is large, black and easy to handle. When the seed is ripe, sow it in autumn (March - May), in deep seed trays in a medium of compost only. When sowing seed in the colder months, germination may take about four weeks. Cover the seeds, keep them moist, leave the seedlings in the trays until the fourth leaf stage. Transplant into a medium of 2 parts compost and 2 parts loam. It is important in cold areas to keep the pots warm and sheltered during winter.
Snails that eat the leaves of the young seedlings are the only known pests of this plant.
- Hyam, R. & Pankhurst, R. 1995. Plants and their names: A Concise Dictionary, Oxford University Press
- Shearing, D. 1994. Karoo-Veldblomgids van Suid- Afrika 6, Nasionale Boekdrukkers
- Van Wyk, B.E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997.Medicinal Plants of South Africa, Briza Publications
- Van Wyk, B.E.& Gericke, N. 2000.People`s plants: A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa, Briza Publications
Free State National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, Western Cape
Flower colour: Red