Melianthus major - Honey Flower for the Birds!
By Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa
Almost a year in our new False Bay home and I start a fresh Dozen for Diana. The carob tree was the first Discovered Treasure. In November I choose pelargoniums for my new Dozen.
Thru the livingroom window we look across the checkerboard of Rose Courtyard backed by next door's garage wall. A small stage set and the actress who opens the performance is Melianthus major.
As a gardener I am uncomfortable with a garden overflowing with plants I didn't choose. Even a small garden needs some variety in texture from fussy little leaves. In my garden l choose the first plant for dramatic leaves in glaucous blue grey. With teeth not just along the leaf margins, but also along the compound leaf stalk. Teeth and yet visitors reach out to stroke it, so soft! It has a weird smell described as peanut butter. Bad name as the plant is poisonous! Kruidjie-roer-my-nie. Don’t-touch-me-plant.
In the chaos of renovating and settling in I forgot to take pictures of the flower buds - but these are in our Porterville garden in August 2011.
The flowers are prima donna material. Tall and stately it is burgundy overlaid with chocolate brown, with hints of vibrant green, and golden stamens. Chocolate dipped strawberries anyone?
Black nectar drips from the flowers. We garden for biodiversity and the flowers are for the sunbirds. In False Bay I've only seen the white eyes who like figs and berries and tiny bugs. One day the sunbirds will discover the plant and a delighted bird will proclaim THIS is all MINE! Melianthus means honey flower (meli = honey, and anthus = flower. Agapanthus = for love of a flower).
Remembering the sunbirds we supported in Porterville. It grows fast, huge and rampant in the winter rain. A triffid out to devour unwary gardeners. There are 6 species.
A day when I discovered our Porterville plant supporting an entire army of Rothschild bugs.
For a third act the flowers turn to elaborately sculpted green seeds (Porterville in November 2012)
On the Sevilla Rock Art Trail we walked in cool gloom through a Melianthus comosus forest tucked in a rocky cleft near the river. Melianthus major grows along stream banks and is happy in kind gardens with some water. Or it will rest quietly thru a hot dry summer waiting for autumn rain.
When I see Melianthus major nurtured, and tucked up for the winter by northern gardeners, I learn, both to look at it with even more appreciative eyes, and to cut it back hard. For here, neither frost nor drought holds it back. Once it lolls off the stage, I will cut the stalks to the ground, one by one. Between the seasonal change and the future birds Melianthus makes a perfect thru the window plant. Planted in December 2014.
|Newly planted in December 2014|
If I had an internal courtyard I would go minimalist and share the space between Melianthus and An Other. Since we need to break the expanse of wall she must perform with a large inherited pale pink Pelargonium (giving me branches as support in a vase) and Brachylaena discolor and Diospyros whyteana trees.
Do you have a cherished Dozen plant for October?
(Or looking ahead to November, second Wednesday the 11th)
Donna from GardensEyeView in upstate New York has chosen Rudbeckia, whose dark heart echoes my Melianthus.
Beth from PlantPostings in Wisconsin picks Jack in the Pulpit, some with subtle burgundy stripes.
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For Pam at Digging's Foliage Follow-up
and for Tina and My Gardener Says ... Wildlife Wednesday
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