Seven indigenous trees as gorgeous in purple as the jacaranda

Written by Life Green Group & Catherine Browne

The jacaranda once loved for its regal purple flowers has now been declared a weed in South Africa, and landscapers and botanists encourage you NOT to plant it. The good news is there are local trees that are way better for fauna that also have the beautiful lilac flowers we have come to love so much. Here, Life Green Group (giving us the landscapers perspective) and Botsoc share with you a bit about these indigenous alternatives. If purple’s your colour then these trees are the bees knees…

1. Bolusanthus speciosus  (Tree wisteria)

Bolusanthus speciosus Kirstenbosch 14 Dec 10 ALN 118cr
©Alice Notten
Bolusanthus speciosus Kirstenbosch 2 Dec 08 ALN 079
© Alice Notten

This indigenous beauty, with its amethyst-coloured flowers, is even more magnificent, than the South American invasive jacarandas. It is a splendid tree for a small to medium garden and looks fantastic in a sunny spot on the patio as a pot plant.

This tree can easily become the new pavement special in the Jacaranda City as it is non-invasive and deciduous. It also looks better planted in groups much like the silver birch or fever tree. An added benefit is that it is termite resistant. It may need a little protection from frost. Animals including monkeys, gemsbok, giraffe and grey duiker eat the leaves and pods. It grows across South Africa and cannot be removed or cut down as it is a protected tree.

2. Philenoptera violacea  (Apple-leaf)

Philenoptera violacea - Tony Rebelo
©Tony Rebelo

Our next purple flowering tree is also protected in South Africa. The name Philenoptera is derived from the Greek ‘philenos’ (meaning manageable) and ‘pteros’ (wing) which conveys that the wing makes the pod manageable to be dispersed. Violaceae is derived from the Latin ‘violaceus’ (violet) which refers to the flowers’ colour.

The apple leaf gets sprays of violet flowers from Spring to Christmas. Interesting enough it attracts another purple guest – the lilac-breasted roller as well as other cavity nest builders like the owls.

It is semi-deciduous with a wonderful rounded crown and is very eye-catching when in flower so it’s worth the wait, as it is very slow-growing. The good news is, it is drought resistant and therefore a water-wise option. Be warned this species does not handle frost.

3. Mundulea sericea (Cork bush)

Mundulea sericea - Colin Ralston
©Colin Ralston

‘Born to be botanical purple’ the cork bush is a truly delightful species for any Gauteng garden. It’s usually single stemmed with a bushy canopy and can be trained to form a hedge if planted closely to one another. It looks fantastic in rock gardens or veld gardens. Like the tree wisteria, it is very effective if planted in groups of three or five.

Come October an arc of butterflies and birds will be fluttering around its wisteria-purple flowers. Landscapers love it when a tree’s roots are non-invasive and the cork bush is non-invasive which means it can be planted close to buildings. Its leaves are delicate and soft, flowers large and showy, pea-like. Throughout autumn and into the wintery months, silvery silky pods clad the branches of the tree. Several of this species’ African names mean ‘that which resists elephants’ with reference to the strong, tough branches.

4. Polygala myrtifolia (September bush)

Sept. bush.Diego Delso
©Diego Delso
Polygala myrtifolia M.McQuillan (2)
©Monique Mcquillan

This pioneer shrub flowers a fandango purple colour all year round but most prominently in September hence the name September bush.

It’s evergreen and it flowers vary from magenta to lilac and if you want to get the most out of the flower, plant the bush near water; however it can withstand the drier inland areas as well. It too, is a water-wise option and can be used to form a hedge. It looks great in fynbos gardens.

The flowers are carried in little clusters at the ends of branches and look somewhat pea-like, but are in fact actually quite different. The showy petals are marked with darker veins and they are usually shades of purple but can also be pink scarlet or white. The September bush tolerates both moderate frost and windy coastal conditions as well as periods of drought. What an all-rounder…

5. Grewia occidentalis (Cross-berry)

cross-berry. Life green group
© Life Green Group
Grewia occidentalis fruit flower foliage 13 Dec 14 ALN 100
© Alice Notten

This attractive shrub is found in a variety of habitats. The Grewia occidentalis is fantastic for a small garden and can be planted close to infrastructure as its roots pose no threats to foundations. It is an evergreen to semi-deciduous tree and is very shrub-like so it needs some pruning in a garden-setting.
In summer, the cross-berry treats us to gorgeous little pink-mauve star-shaped flowers followed by distinctive four lobed fruits.

Leaves are browsed by cattle, goats and game. Fruits are relished by birds (loved by the Knysna Turaco). If kept cut back it develops a dense branch system ideal for shy birds like robins, the fruits attract fruit-eating birds and the flowers are especially attractive to butterflies. So draw in greater biodiversity into your green space with this indigenous gem.

6. Buddleja salviifolia (Sagewood)

sagewood. peganum
© Peganum
Buddleja salviifolia 22 Aug 10 ALN 126
© Alice Notten

Firstly, ensure you have a purple variant of the species, if that’s what you’re after. This semi-evergreen bushy shrub bears sweet-scented decorative flowers in shades of white to purple. The sagewood, with its dense rounded crown and drooping branches, makes for a wonderful background plant and forms a neat hedge. It is hardy, able to survive fires and frost, and flowers best in August.

It is particularly useful on embankments and slopes or places that are prone to soil erosion. It is also one the best plants for insects and the host plant for the African Leopard Butterfly. Fresh or dried leaves can be used to make an aromatic herbal tea. An excellent pioneer plant in new gardens as slower plants or trees can use the temporary protection they provide.

7. Millettia grandis (Umzimbeet)

Millettia grandis - Chris Wahlberg
©Chris Wahlberg

This tree only occurs in high rainfall areas. It is a stunning garden specimen and like most South African shrubs it may need some training to make sure it grows neatly into a tree. Its roots are non-invasive so in areas with lots of rain it makes for an attractive street tree. We recommend this tree for a Natal or Eastern Cape garden. This is an attractive shade tree with grey bark, coppery red young leaves and flower buds, lovely touches of lilac-purple flowers and golden pods.

So if you’re after a dash of purple, there you go, these are great indigenous options for you.

We hope you enjoyed this blog and if so, please share it with others. If you’re enjoying what we’re posting, please follow our blog to ensure you get the latest blogs we share and more informative and fun articles to enjoy and learn from. BotSoc promotes indigenous gardening, passion sharing and biodiversity caring!

Information sources:


Life Green Group



Something tropical – South Africa’s Hibiscuses

Written by Life Green Group & Catherine Browne

Pineapples; frangipanis; heart-leafed philodendrons; coconut trees; have become synonymous with the turquoise waters, sandy white beaches and hoola girls of the tropics but there is one coastal flower that stands out in particular: the hibiscus. In fact this tropical blossom is the national flower of two humid nations, Haiti and Hawaii.

Hibiscuses form part of the Malcreava family which they share with some of the most monoculture crops like cotton and cocoa and there are many varieties that occur worldwide. It also shares a family with the gigantic baobab.

There are 59 species of hibiscus in southern Africa, three of which occur in South Africa. They are a lot daintier and wilder than the commercial hybridised version we have come so accustomed to.

Possibly one of the most exquisite flowers in the world, beside the English rose and South Africa’s Gerbera daisy, the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a popular garden plant worldwide. This is the hibiscus we all know and the image that pops to mind I bet, and some refer to as the ‘ballerina flower’. But if you are going to plant a hibiscus why not grow an indigenous one? Life Green Group and the BotSoc share with you about indigenous varieties.

1) Hibiscus tiliaceusWild cotton tree

Hibiscus tiliaceus- Monique Mcquillan (3)
©Monique Mcquillan
Hibiscus tiliaceus - Monique McQuillan(4)
©Monique Mcquillan

The hibiscus tiliaceus’ claim to fame is that it is the only hibiscus in the world to be bestowed with the title  of a tree and is frequently used as a street tree in Durban.

Although its flowers are smaller than its Polynesian cousins they still look distinctly hibiscus-like. The flowers of the wild cotton are a pale yellow that turn deep purple to maroon black at the centre, over time the yellow will change to a coral-pink orange. The blossoms are much smaller in contrast to its leaves.

The wild cotton tree loves a tropical humid environment in full sun. True to the tropical nature of hibiscuses this shrub flirts with the South African coastline all the way from the Eastern Cape through Zululand and into Mozambique – growing by estuaries and lagoons – where it gets its other common name, lagoon hibiscus. Its branches are used in African culture to build fishing baskets along the coast.

2)Hibiscus pedunculatusForest pink hibiscus

©Life Green Group
H. pendunculatus- SANBI Lowveld NBG
©SANBI Lowveld National Botanical Garden

The forest pink hibiscus is the dainty ballerina of the hibiscus family. It has slender shrubby branches and a delicate lavender-pink flower. Each flower only lasts a day but it flowers 365 days of the year.

Its seed are nestled in a candyfloss-like substance, similar to cotton. Just when you think the Hibiscus pedunculatus couldn’t get more girly, butterflies such as commodores and skippers adore it, not to mention sun-birds too.

The shrub has a very woody base so it’s best to plant it at the back or in the middle of a bed and let the pink flower pirouette out from below.

3)Hibiscus calyphyllusSun Hibiscus

H. calyphyllus- SANBI – Lowveld National Botanical Garden
© SANBI Lowveld National Botanical Garden

Otherwise called the lemon-yellow rosemallow, this hibiscus has large lemon-drop yellow flowers with an ebony centre, this bush is perfect for a small garden.

This gem prefers warmer cooler areas found in the bush along rivers and can handle a little frost. Great as a messy divider or landscapers suggest you make it the centre of attention in a little garden as it is an eye-catching plant.

Hibiscus tea and jam might be popular in the Caribbean but the sun hibiscus’ lovely flowers have been known to be eaten in times of famine in the Okavango Delta.

Our country is so richly biodiverse. We at BotSoc encourage you to grow indigenous plants, share knowledge about them and encourage others to enjoy and conserve our indigenous flora and biodiversity.

We hope you enjoyed this post and learnt something from it, we have such great indigenous gems out there. If you like what you read, please follow our blog and share it with friends/ family/ colleagues….anyone really….the more the merrier. Until next time…

Information sources:

Life Green Group



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