I spent a few days this past week just north of Maputo in Mozambique help identify plants on a 126 HA site set aside to be developed. It is only when you travel that you realize how wide spread our plants can be found in other countries. An example is the African dog Rose, Xylotheca kraussiana which was in full bloom on this site. I have seen it in many parts of Northern Zululand but never in Mozambique so it was a pleasant surprise to see it in flower. Ours flower a lot later in September as we are that much further south of Maputo and a lot colder.

Like many readers I was part of the crowd that went on the Crichton Aloe train through the Umkomaas Valley to experience thousands of Aloe ferox in full bloom. For those who have never done this trip please do go next year as it is an experience not to be missed. On the drive up to Crichton going through the Richmond to Ixopo road there was a particular shrub that stood out in the stark dry winter landscape that caught my eye and which is in full flower for the next few weeks. It belongs to the Lamiaceae or mint/Sage family of which many of our famous herbs can be found including Lavender, Rosemary, Mint, Marjoram, Thyme and Basil.

Tetradenia riparia or Iboza, Misty Plum Bush or ibozane is a robust, erect growing perennial shrub that if left to grow to maturity will grow to 3m in height. It is found on frost free wooded hillsides, riverbanks, forest margins and dry wooded valleys. The natural distribution ranges from KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Province, Mpumalanga in South Africa, to Swaziland, Namibia, Angola and northwards through tropical east Africa into Ethiopia. It flowers when not much else is in flower with the flowers ranging from white to lilac including some with pink flowers. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants with the male flower spikes creating a “mist” effect compared to the female flowers which tend to be more compact. The flowers usually appear when the plants are bare and are carried in the top section of the branches. Flowering occurs from June until August. Tetradenia is slightly succulent and has an irregular branch pattern. The stems are brown and smooth, except for the younger portions which are covered with glandular hairs which also cover both surfaces of the leaves and make them slightly sticky to the touch.

Tetradenia means- having four glands and riparia – growing on banks of rivers. This plant was previously classified under the genus Iboza, which was derived from its Zulu name and apparently this refers to the aromatic qualities of the plant. The Zulu people have many uses for the plant including the relief of chest complaints, stomach ache and malaria. Inhaling the scent of the crushed leaves apparently also relieves headaches. This is a rewarding garden plant as it is fast growing, flowers in its first year and grows easily in light, well drained and well composted soil. Water often in summer but reduce the watering in the winter months, thus making it a good water-wise plant for summer rainfall areas. It should be pruned back hard after flowering to keep it neat and promote flowering.  It grows best in full. Tetradenia riparia is best propagated from cuttings, and even quite large truncheons can be successful in well-drained river sand. As they are slightly succulent keep an eye on the new cuttings for rot.

Things to do this month:

  • As winter is nearly a think of the past and many of the winter flowering shrubs have finished flowering it is now time to cut back these shrubs. These include the following shrubs: Leonotis leonoris, Hypoestes aristata, Mackaya bella and Plectranthus ecklonii. Reduce the plant to at least a third of their size. Once pruned apply a layer of leaf mulch or well decomposed compost and water well. Once the new growth appears you can start to water and apply fertilizer for the spring growing season.
  • Do not cut your lawns. The winter dormancy period has prevented the grass from growing thus no need to cut. You also want to leave as much surface area for photosynthesis. When the first rains fall in spring you can then top-dress your lawns and start the spring treatment of your lawns. I will discuss this in the next few months.
  • Lift and split many of your groundcovers. This will allow you to fill gaps in your garden created during the dry winter months. Lifting, splitting and replanting groundcovers is an easy process. Once lifted divide the plants by breaking off some of the side shoots. Cut the leaves in half which reduces the surface area for water loss. Add compost to the soil and replant the groundcover. Once planted water well if you have access to water. This can be done with many of the groundcovers which include Tulbaghia violacea (wild garlic), Agapanthus praecox, Crassula multicarva (fairy Crassula) and Dietes grandiflora (Wild Iris) and Chlorophytum bowkeri (Hen and Chicken). Most plants respond well to being lifted, split and replanted. Make sure once you have removed the plants from the soil that you replenish the soil with compost and fertilizer before replanting.
  • Take cuttings of the shrubs you prune this year. Soft tip cuttings work well with many of the shrubs. Cut just below a node and place the cutting in a tray of river sand. Keep moist but not over watered. In about a month to 6 weeks new roots will appear. Remove from the river sand and plant in a plastic packet with potting soil. Water well and keep in a semi shady spot in your garden. Once you see lots of new growth you can then plant this shrub in your garden.
  • Most Aloes would have finished flowering. Leave the old flower spikes on the plant till the seed pods dry and split exposing the seeds. You can collect these seeds and plant them in a seedling tray. Once they germinate and grow to a decent size you can then plant them in your garden.
  • Do all your structural work such as pathways, pergolas and water features. This is best done during the dry winter months because this becomes more difficult one the rainy season begins. Design your new flower beds which must get planted in the next few weeks.

Plants in flower this month:

Cotyledon orbiculata, Plumbago auriculata, Clivia nobilis, Crassula ovata, Turraea obtusifolia, Erythrina lysistemon, Cyrtanthus sp.