Plectranthus neochilus Schltr.
Common names: smelly spur flower, lobster flower (Eng.); rotstuinsalie (Afr.)
This is a hardy, versatile herbaceous perennial, suitable both for shady subtropical and sunny water-wise gardens.
P. neochilus is a perennial, aromatic, succulent herb, which grows up to 500 mm high and 600 mm wide. The deep blue and purple flowers are borne from September to April. This plectranthus has succulent, grey-green leaves, which form an attractive ground cover even when the plant is not in flower. It is reported that in some other parts of Africa, such as in Namibia, P. neochilus occurs as an annual.
Distribution and habitat
Plants can be found growing naturally in dry thicket, open and sometimes rocky woodland, from the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga to Limpopo in South Africa, as well as in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Plectranthus hails from the Greek word plektron, a spur, and anthos, a flower and neochilus is derived from the Latin word chilo, which refers to the (calyx) lips.
Although currently not documented, P. neochilus plants are believed to scare away snakes from human dwellings (perhaps because of their unpleasant aromatic smell) and other documented reports indicate that these plants can be used effectively as an air purifier.
Growing Plectranthus neochilus
Plants perform exceptionally well as ground covers, in warm dry areas, but can be successfully grown in light shade as well. If planted in rockeries the results are even better. Stems root easily and the plant spreads, forming a tidy clump. The plant is often used in the landscaping of difficult sites. It may look a little stressed in very dry conditions, but bounces back when it receives some water.
This Plectranthus prefers loam to sandy soil with good drainage and has relatively low water requirements. This might be attributed to the light coloured foliage (grey-green), which is often associated with water-wise plants. The leaves reflect the sun's rays, keeping the plant cool and ultimately reducing transpiration.
Plectranthus neochilus plants are easily propagated from softwood cuttings, and this is the recommended method. They are seldom attacked by pests.
- Codd, L.E. 1975. Plectranthus (Labiatae) and allied genera in southern Africa. Bothalia 11: 371-442.
- Codd, L.E. 1985. Lamiaceae. Flora of southern Africa 28,4: 137-172.
- Hankey, A, Joffe, P. & Turner, S. 1999. Water-wise gardening for summer rainfall regions. National Botanical Institute and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Pretoria.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Floral Publications Trust, Durban.
- Van Jaarsveld, E. 1987. The Plectranthus handbook. National Botanic Gardens, Kirstenbosch.
- Van Jaarsveld, E. 1997. Veld gardening in South Africa: the Valley Bushveld/Noorsveld. Veld & Flora 83: 20-25.
- Van Jaarsveld, E. 1997. Veld gardening in South Africa: the forest garden. Veld & Flora 83: 51-53.Author Tovhowani Mukoma Lowveld NBG June 2004
Lowveld National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Ground Cover, Perennial, Succulent
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Late Summer
Flower colour: Blue, Purple
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy