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Melinus repens

(Natal Red Top)

A perennial tufted grass with attractive, hairy inflorescences. Spikelets are covered with long velvety, red, pink to white hairs. It flowers from September to June. It grows in sunny, dry places, in all type of soil but prefers a well-drained soil. It is very pretty when in flower. The birds use the seed heads as nesting material. Named from the Greek meline - name for grain (millet) Melinis is Greek for quince-yellow. The word 'repens' means creeping which refers to it's growth habit.

Mentha longifolia

(Wild Spearmint)

An evergreen, fast-growing, perennial herb that creeps along the ground and spreads rapidly. It can reach up to 1.5 m high in favourable conditions, but is usually between 0.5-1 m high and even shorter in dry conditions. The small flowers of Mentha longifolia are crowded into spikes at the tip of the stems. This wild mint flowers throughout the summer and the flowers are white and mauve. They are heavy feeders and water lovers. Mint grows in semi-shade and full sun. They do well in pots where they are contained. It is mostly the leaves that are used, usually to make a tea that is drunk for coughs, cystitis, colds, stomach cramps, asthma, flatulence, indigestion and headaches. Wild mint leaves have been used topically to treat wounds and swollen glands. Some farmers make a bath of mint "tea" to wash their dogs to rid them of fleas. It can be used in the kitchen as a substitute for the exotic mints. I make a glass jug of cold mint tea which is refreshing on hot summer days. It is the larval host plant of the Bush Bronze and the Tsomo Blue butterflies.Mentha is the Latin name for mint from the nymph Minthie, mistress of Pluto, daughter of Cocytus, who was turned into mint by the jealous Proserpine.

Merwillia plumbea (was Scilla natalensis)

(Blue Squill)

This very fast growing, graceful bulb grows to 50cm x 20cm. It is deciduous, growing during summer and dormant in the winter and should be kept dry during that period. This is an easy plant in cultivation and is ideally suited to the rockery but will do equally well in a container. It can also be used to good effect planted in clumps or drifts in the mixed border. It is lovely used in an indigenous meadow, planted amongst indigenous grasses. Each individual flower is not long-lasting, but there are so many of them opening in succession that the inflorescence will last for up to a month in the garden, and it is a useful cut flower. It requires a sunny or semi-shaded position. The lovely rocket shaped spikes of misty-blue flowers open in summer and are displayed on long stalks. It is traditionally used to heal internal tumours, boils and sores. The bulbs are hung and take 5 months to dry. The powered bulb is used to treat fractures and sprains. The cooked bulb is eaten as a laxative. It is analgesic and anti microbial. It is also used as an emetic to rejuvenate the body and promote fertility in women.It attracts butterflies. Named for Frederick Ziervogel van der Merwe ( 1894-1968), a South African botanist and medical doctor. His medical degrees were achieved at Trinity College in Dublin, Liverpool University and Wits. As a medical inspector he travelled widely and he had an interest in botany, particularly the Aloe and Scilla families. His other interest was collecting sheet music of Africana value. He also wrote the first Afrikaans dictionary of medical terms. The name is derived from the Greek skilla=squill or sea leek and the Greek skyllo=injure which refers to the poisonous bulb. This is a protected plant in South Africa.

Metarungia longistrobus

(Sunbird Bush)

It is a small, soft shrub, branching near the base to form a dense shrub 1–2 m tall with a spread of 1–2 m. Branchlets are densely covered in short white hairs that are close to the stem, and are stiff to silky to the touch. The flowers are orange-brown to yellow and are produced twice a year, mainly in late summer to autumn but also in winter to spring. It is quick-growing and easy to grow. It needs well-drained, well-composted, fertile soil with water during the summer months. It requires a position that is semi-shaded, or in light shade, but flowers better in a position that receives a couple of hours of sun a day. It is suitable for planting on the south (shady) side of the house. It is a low-maintenance, undemanding garden shrub. Prune at the end of winter to keep it tidy and to encourage branching. It is also suitable for containers. It attracts birds and butterflies. The name is derived from the Greek meta= after, beyond; Rungia.. A genus was originally called Macroungia but had to be renamed when the name was found to be illigitimate. So this new name was 'after' Rungia.

Noltea africana

(Soap Dogwood)

This small evergreen tree is frost resistant and fast growing in the sun. The white flowers are produced in summer. It attracts birds and is used for nesting sites. It also attracts butterflies. It has been 'adopted' by the landscaping trade, perhaps for its versatility. It makes a great screen, -windbreak or informal hedge. The plant always has an occasional red leaf right throughout the year. The glossy green leaves are a treat in our dry, brown winters in Gauteng. Its common name comes from the fact that a soapy lather is made from the leaves. It is also used medicinally to treat Black Quarter in cattle. Named for Ernst Ferdinand Nolte (1791-1875), a German botanist and physician , professor of botany and director of botanical art at Kiel. He studied medicine in Germany and at Moscow.

Olea europaea subsp. africana

(Wild Olive)

One of the oldest cultivated trees and is the symbol of peace as when Noah sent a dove from his Ark, it returned with an Olive leaf. In ancient Rome an olive branch was held to plead for peace and in ancient Greece, Irene, the Goddess of peace loved olives. The tree represents abundance and drives away evil spirits. This medium sized, evergreen tree is frost resistant, drought resistant and grows in the sun. It is neatly shaped and has a dense spreading crown. The white/green flowers open in summer and they attract bees and butterflies. The flowers are replaced with edible, purple berries which attract birds - insect and fruit eaters like starlings, pigeons, parrots and louries. They are also enjoyed by people, monkeys, baboons, mongooses, bushpigs, and warthogs. The fruit is also used to produce black dye. It's useful for nesting sites. The leaves are browsed by game and stock and is a fodder tree for mammals. It is useful as a formal, pruned hedge or an informal hedge/screen. Very popular as a bonsai subject. They sometimes have aggressive roots so plant 4 meters from a building or a pool. It is protected in the North West Province, the Cape and the Free State. There are numerous medicinal uses for eye lotions, tonics for high blood pressure, kidney ailments and sore throats. Wild Olive tonic is available commercially and is used to treat colds and to build the immune system. It is believed that inhaling the smoke from a Wild Olive fire will cure a hangover. Magical uses are to protect against lightening, by putting a branch in an open doorway. The beautiful golden brown wood is used for furniture, ornaments and fencing posts. As the wood is strong and durable, it is used for walking sticks, knobkieries and spear handles. It grows along rivers and is useful to stabilize the soil. A must for a bird garden! This is a popular bonsai subject. The name is derived from the Greek elaia and the latin olea = classical latin name for the olive.

Othonna carnosa

(Othonna)

A fast spreading, evergreen succulent with cylindrical grey green leaves ,an evergreen groundcover that grows about 10cm. Lovely for a large sunny rockery or for holding soil on banks or gentle slopes. The daisy shaped flowers opens all year long and it attract lots of bees and other insects. It is the larval host plant for the Painted Lady butterfly. It is a drought resistant plant that is easily grown and requires little attention but be careful not to over water. The name is derived from the Greek othonne = linen, cloth; referring to the soft texture of the leaves.

Pavonia praemorsa

Pavonia praemorsa is an easy to grow perennial shrub which provides a splash of color almost all year round. The dark green leaves are shiny and leathery with shallow teeth on the edges. The stems are sometimes reddish. A rounded shrub that seldom grows to more than a meter tall. The flowers open on sunny days for just a few hours before closing and turn red before dropping off. An excellent plant for a border, hedge and screen. It is suitable for smaller gardens. It also attract bees, butterflies and other insects and these will attract the insect eating birds. It is water wise and drought resistant. Named for Jose Antonio Pavon 91754-1840) a Spanish pharmacologist, botanist and explorer. In 1777 he went to study the flora of Peru and Chile for 10 years. He collected 3000 specimens, 2500 life size botanical illustrations and discovered 500 new species.

Peltophorum africanum

(Weeping Wattle)

This specie occurs in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Transvaal, Natal and Swaziland. An attractive, low branching, wide spreading shade tree with a fairly dense crown of olive-green feathery foliage. This deciduous tree grows to 9m x11m and is drought resistant. It requires full sun and moderate watering. It is a half hardy plant which must be protected from frost when it is young. Its has non aggressive roots so plant it 4 meters from a building or a pool. Grows fairy fast in fertile soil. The terminal sprays of bright yellow crinkly pea shaped flowers appear in summer and are visited by bees . The wood is used for fuel and for furniture. It attracts birds and butterflies. The spittle bug exudes a liquid and that gives rise to the common name of Weeping Wattle. The leaves and pods are browsed by game, elephant, kudu, giraffe and the bark is eaten by black rhino. The bark is also used medicinally for coughs, sore throats, fever and intestinal parasites, eye complaints and VD. A root decoction is used for infertility, backache and a purification rite for widows. The leaves are also used medicinally for toothache and in a wash to expel evil. It is the larval host plant for 6 moth species and the Common Scarlet, Satyr Emperor and the Van Son's Emperor butterflies. The name is derived from the Greek pelte = small shield ; phorum = carrier; referring to the shape of the stigma.

Phoenix reclinata

(Wild Date Palm, Wildedadelboom)

This small evergreen tree is relatively frost resistant and grows in the sun or semi-shade along river banks where it stabilizes the embankment. Yellow flowers in summer are replaced by orange seed which attracts birds - insect and fruit eaters. Plant it near a water feature as an accent plant. It can also be used for informal hedging/screening or thorny security barriers. This tree is protected in South Africa. The large leaves are woven to make baskets and mats and the sap is trapped for wine and beer making. The roots produce an edible gum which children enjoy and they contain tannin. The fibres from the fruit stems are used for brooms and the leaf midribs are used for hut building and to make fish kraal fences. Special skirts made from the leaves are worn by Xhosa boys when undergoing their initiation rites. The fruits are nutritious and edible and apparently taste quite similar to the commercial date. It is used to make beer and wine. The spines are used in traditional medicine and the tree is used to treat pleurisy.The roots are eaten to aid healers. Birds, monkeys, elephant and baboons eat the ripe fruit. bushpig, nyala and bushbuck feed on fallen fruit. This is possibly a means of seed dispersal. It is the larval host for the Palm-tree Nightfighter Butterfly. The wood is light and of no use. The Caterpillar of the Skipper butterfly feed off the leaves. The Palm Swift bird uses the tree for nesting. Certainly a very useful tree. Plant it 4 meters from a building or a pool. The name comes from the early Greeks who called a Date Palm a Phoenix. The 'reclinata' comes from the Latin "bend down' or 'bend back' which refers to the arching leaves.

Phragmites australis

(Common Reed)

This evergreen reed grows to about 3 meters tall and is found in wetlands and dams. It is frost resistant and has a multitude of uses. Flowers are produced from December to June. It plays very important role in protecting the soil from erosion, filters water and offers shelter to many bird species and other animals. It is even used to make paper, baskets and is used in the chemical industry. They are tied together and used to make walls for houses. The rhizomes are edible and the hollow stems are used for pipes and musical instruments. The seeds are used to make ointment for burns. Weavers use these to build their nests on. The Bushmen of the Kalahari make their arrow shafts from this plant. The name is derived from the Greek phragmites =growing in hedges, from phragma = a fence, hedge, from phrassein = to enclose.

Pittosporum viridiflorum

(Cheesewood)

An evergreen tree that can reach 10m and is protcted in South Africa. They occur over a wide range of altitudes and in a variety of habitats. It does occur on the Highveld but is not common.The leaves are simple and a dark green to bluish green, but appear brilliant green when seen against the sun. They are eaten by cattle, goats, grey duiker, kudu, klipspringer, nyala and bushbuck. The cream/yellow flowers open in spring and are sweetly honey scented. They attract a number of insects and therefore also the insect eating birds.The fruits are bright red seeds which are coated in a sticky resin and enjoyed by doves, pigeons, louries, barbets, bubuls and starlings. Guinea fowl and francolin enjoy the fallen fruit. The bark has a sweetish smell, but a bitter taste and it is medicinal as it is used to treat stomach complaints, pain, malaria and fever. The dried bark is taken in beer as an aphrodisiac. It is also used as a protection charm to protect patients from witchcraft. It is frost hardy and requires full sun.Ideal for containers as it does not have aggressive roots. Plant it 3 meters from a building or a pool. The name is derived from the Greek pitta = pitch; spora= seed. The seed is covered in a dark, sticky resin.

Plumbago auriculata

(Cape Leadwort)

An old faithful favourite amongst gardeners and landscapers. It is dependable, evergreen, drought hardy and fast growing. Plant it in the sun or semi shade and look out for the blue flowers in summer. These will attract butterflies and birds, which also use the bush as nesting sites. The flowers are edible and look pretty in a fruit salad or floating in a cooldrink. It responds well to pruning and if left to its own devices, it will scamper up to the tree tops. The roots and the leaves are used medicinally for headaches and the root bark is used as a bathing lotion to heal matrimonial discord. It is also magical and is said to heal fractures, and confuse enemies. Bundles of twigs are tied up into the roof rafters to ward off evil and prevent lightning. Root infusions dispel bad dreams and malaria and powdered root is put on warts and used as a snuff for headaches and fractures. A fire is made from the plant and the cattle and sheep are led through the smoke as this keeps them together and protects and defends them. This is the larval host plant to the Common Blue and the Short-toothed Blue butterflies. The name is derived from the Latin plumbum=lead; ago=resemblance, connection. The roots contain a fatty, lead coloured dye.

Plumbago auriculata alba

(Plumbago)

This medium size evergreen shrub has a tendency to scramble. It has small delicate, pale green leaves and produces masses of white phlox-like flowers throughout summer. This fast growing, fairly drought resistant shrub may also be planted against a fence to form a screen or in an informal border where it can be kept neatly pruned. This attractive plant does particularly well in frost free areas but if damaged by frost it will recover rapidly in spring. The roots are used as traditional remedies to relieve headaches, treat fractures, wounds and remove warts. It is also said to confuse enemies, ward off evil and prevent lightning.It is an ideal plant for containers. Butterflies and sunbirds are constant visitors.

Podocarpus falcatus now Afrocarpus falcatus

(Outeniqua or Common Yellowwood, Kalander)

An attractive evergreen tree that grows to 15m x 12m. It is a protected tree in South Africa. It is frost hardy, wind resistant and requires water as it naturally occurs on misty mountain slopes with high humidity. In 1976 it was listed as SA National Tree and one needs a permit to fell these trees. It is often used as a Christmas tree. Although it has the smallest leaves of all the Podocarpus species, it grows to be the tallest. This is the famous 'Big Tree' of the Knysna Forest. It is slow growing at first but once established grows fast. It looks impressive lining a driveway as an avenue and it can be used as a windbreak or screen on a farm or as a container plant on a patio. The fruit are eaten by bats, birds, monkeys and bush pigs. The bark is burnt in a kraal to prevent the cattle from straying. It is an important nesting and food for the endangered Cape Parrot, and is visited by Louries and Pigeons. The fine grained wood is used for ceilings, floors, doors, boats and furniture. The ripe fruit is edible and the sap is used medicinally for chest complaints. Plant it about 5 meters from a building and a pool. This is a popular bonsai subject. The name is derived from the Greek podos = foot and karpos - fruit, referring to the fleshy foot , the receptacle, on which the fruit develops.

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