Neorautanenia ficifolia (Benth. ex Harv.) C.A.Sm.
Common names: fig-leaf trailing pea (Eng.); blou-ertjie, wilde-pronkertjie (Afr.)
A beautiful herb, with attractive bright blue flowers and trailing stems up to 1.5 m long, from an extensive rootstock. It is easily propagated and thrives in well-drained soil with some water and plenty of sun.
A prostrate and generally trailing perennial herb, with stems up to 1.5 m long. The plant is covered with long, roughish, spreading, pale hairs. It has enormous underground tubers, with creeping flowering branches bearing large, hairy, lobed leaves. Leaves pinnately 3-foliate.
Flowers are blue, dark blue, violet or purple, compactly few (6–20), and they develop into large, linear-oblong to oblong, dehiscent, woody pods. Pods 60–110 mm long, dehiscent, swollen, appressed brown, silky-hairy. Seeds 3–8, sub-globose or ovoid-oblong, compressed, black. Flowering time is in early to midsummer: October–January.
It is Red Listed as Least Concern (LC.)
Distribution and habitat
Neorautanenia ficifolia is widely distributed in southern Africa; it occurs in Namibia, Botswana, and in the Limpopo, North West, Northern Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Free State Provinces of South Africa. It grows in grassveld, on sandy soils and is found at altitudes 365–1 713 m, in low rainfall Terminalia sericea–Acacia giraffae wooded grasssland, associated with grasses such as Anthephora, Brachiaria, Schmidtia, etc.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus was named after Martti Rautanen, who lived from 1845–1926. He was a Russian-born Lutheran church missionary. In 1868 he went to Namibia and assisted Dr Hans Schinz in collecting plants. The species name ficifolia means ‘with leaves like the genus Ficus’, commonly called figs.
The genus consists of 2 species only, Neorautanenia mitis (A.Rich.) Verdc. and N. ficifolia. They occur in southern Africa, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
Neorautanenia ficifolia can survive drought because of its large underground tubers that store water.
Toxic both to humans, stock and insects. The tuber, which attains a weight of 9 to 13 kg, is inedible and is also said to be poisonous. In Namibia the tuber serves as a storehouse for water for the Herero and the Bushman in case of necessity. Both tuber and bean contain a poisonous resin which is an active fish poison. The plant leaves and roots are harvested from the wild and used as an insecticide.
Growing Neorautanenia ficifolia
It is propagated from seed sown in spring or early summer or cuttings taken in summer. It grows best in a sunny position in well-drained soil with moderate water and can also be grown in containers.
- Burtt Davy, J. 1932. Papilionaceae (pea and bean family). Vigna Savi. Manual of flowering plants and ferns of Transvaal with Swaziland, South Africa 2: 417. Longmans, Green & Co., London.
- Fox, F.W. & Norwood Young, E. 1982. Food from the veld: edible wild plants of southern Africa. Delta Books, Cape Town.
- Useful Tropical Plants, Neorautanenia mitis. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Neorautanenia+mitis [Accessed 29 January 2017]
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Mackinder, B. et al. 2001. Papilionoideae. Flora zambesiaca 3, 5: 76.
- Nkonki, T. 2003. Neorautanenia. In G. Germishuizen & N.L. Meyer (eds), Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14: 534, 535. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Steyn, D.G. 1962. The toxicity of (A) Neorautanenia ficifolia (Benth.) C.A. Smith and (B) Neorautanenia coriacea C.A. Smith. South African Medical Journal 36,44: 922.
- Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Verdcourt, B. 1970. The genus Neorautanenia Schinz. Kew Bulletin 24: 300–307.
National Herbarium, Pretoria
& S. Tibini
University of Johannesburg
Plant Type: Climber, Perennial
SA Distribution: Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Early Summer
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Blue, Purple
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy