Melianthus major (L)
Common names: Kruidjie-roer-my-nie, Giant honey flower
With its large grey leaves and huge bronze flowers this is a striking shrub. On a sunny day the sunbirds feast on the nectar dripping from the flowers, but any one touching those attractive leaves is in for a surprise. With a strong unpleasant smell, it warns all that it is highly toxic.
Melianthus major or Kruidjie-roer-my-nie, which means herb-touch-me-not, is a well known plant in the south western Cape where it occurs naturally; usually along streams and roadside ditches.
Actively growing during the winter, Melianthus major forms a large shrub suckering and spreading as it goes. The distinctive large, smooth leaves are a light bluish-green, deeply divided and ruffled-edged. The bush has several thick stalks with the leaves placed at intervals up the stem. The long flower-spikes grow out from the top of the stems in spring. The nectar-rich, bird pollinated flowers rise up above the leaves, drawing attention with their unusual rusty red colouring. They are followed by pale green, bladder-like pods containing the shiny black seeds.
Distribution and habitat
This species occurs in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape provinces of South Africa.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
There are 6 species of Melianthus, all of which are found in South Africa. Another species sometimes seen is cultivation is Melianthus comosus.
Although toxic when taken internally, it is used medicinally by the local people. They mostly use the leaves to make poultices and decoctions that are applied directly to wounds, bruises, backache and rheumatic joints.
Growing Melianthus major
Melianthus major is an easy garden plant, grown worldwide for its attractive foliage. It prefers a warm, sunny position with good drainage. Although quite tough and adaptable, it will flourish in deep, rich soil, especially if given plenty of water. Melianthus grows fast and will make a show within a few months. It is particularly attractive in spring when in flower and sporting its new lush leaf growth after the wet Cape winter.
During the dry summers or whenever the plants are untidy, they should be cut back hard to encourage new growth. The plants can survive in cold areas with frost, sending new shoots from the base in spring.
Melianthus grow very easily from seed or cuttings. The seed is sown in autumn in seed trays filled with a well-drained medium and covered lightly with sand or finely milled bark. Germination is usually within a month. The young seedlings are potted up into bags or small pots and grown on until strong enough to be planted out into the garden. The cuttings can be made any time of the year depending on material available. Cuttings are made from the new shoots sprouting from the base.
Liesl van der WaltKirstenbosch NBG
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Clay, Loam
Flowering season: Spring
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Brown, Red
Aspect: Full Sun, Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy