Scabiosa columbaria L.
Common names: wild scabious (Engl.); bitterbos (Afr.),tlhako- ea- pitsi, selomi, mamokhale, moholungoane (South Sotho); isilawu, esikhulu, makgha (isiXhosa); ibheka (isiZulu)
This is a lovely wild flower species with faintly scented blooms, appearing throughout the year.
This is an evergreen, perennial herb that grows up to 750 mm high, with branches developing from a woody rootstock. The basal leaves are in a form of a rosette, narrow to ovate with serrated or toothed margins, light green, slightly hairy on the upper surface.
The inflorescences are borne on multi-stemmed stalks growing up to 750 mm in height, with the flowerheads about 25–35 mm in diameter. Flowers are a lovely white or pink, appearing in spring and throughout summer.
The current conservation status of Scabiosa columbaria is listed as LC (Least Concern).
Distribution and habitat
Scabiosa columbaria occurs mostly in grasslands, rocky slopes and bushveld habitats, and it is widely distributed throughout South Africa and Lesotho and Swaziland .
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The Latin word Scabiosa, is derived from the word scabies meaning ‘to scratch’, in medieval times, this species was believed to relieve the itch of scabies and skin sores. The specific epithet columbaria, is from the Latin meaning ‘a dove’, referring to some flower colour. forms.
The nectar produced by the flowers, attracts insects, bees and butterflies that act as pollinators. Scabiosa columbaria is very hardy and cold resistant, and will adapt in most habitats. Seed of this species set profusely, if left undisturbed.
Traditionally, the roots and leaves of Scabiosa columbaria were used medicinally to treat ailments, such as colic, heartburn, sterility and painful menstruation. Grounded roots were used to make baby powder. This species is also grazed by livestock; the faintly scented flowers are used in flower arrangement, and make good cut-flowers, with a long vase life: 8 to 10 days; also makes an excellent border or rockery plant.
Growing Scabiosa columbaria
Scabiosa columbaria prefers growing in a sunny position, in a well-drained, sandy soil, with plenty of compost. It thrives in temperate conditions.
Regularly feed with slow-release 3:1:5 in spring and summer. Water moderately as this species can survive short periods of drought, but avoid overwatering, as too much watering may cause the plant to die.
Propagate from seed or cuttings. Sow seed in autumn or spring in 1.5 mm deep, fine seedling mix and cover lightly. Place in a warm temperature position at 18 to 21˚C. Ensure that the soil is kept moist; germination takes place in two to three weeks after sowing. Seeds are harvested and collected in autumn; dry and store seed for the following spring season.
Division and re-planting is best done in spring or autumn. There are no known pests atacking these plants. Deadheading encourages prolonged flowering. Cut-back dead branches to promote new shoots.
- Fabian, A. & Germishuizen, G. 1997. Wild flowers of northern South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape Plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri.
- Manning, J. 2009. Field guide to wild flowers of South Africa. Struik Nature, Cape Town.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Pooley, E. 2003. Mountain flowers, a field guide to the flora of the Drakensberg and Lesotho. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants . Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Ofentse Naanyane with contributions by Azwinndini Mudau
Free State NBG
Thanks to Damien Coulson for images.
Plant Type: Perennial
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer, Sporadic/All year
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy