Saturday, 15 February 2014
Indigenous Plant Of The month
Mentha longifolia; Wild Spearmint; Kruisement (Afrikaans); bohatsu, koena-ya-thaba (South Sotho); inxina, inzinziniba (Xhosa); ufuthane lomhlanga (Zulu)
For years I have wanted to make a scented garden but have never had the space, time or client to be able to do this. We have such a variety of plants in this country that would enable any gardener to make a scented garden, not just in flower scents but scents that are given off from the leaves.
The distribution of this mint is one of the most widespread, from down in the Western Cape, to right up the eastern side of Africa and even across from Ethiopia into Europe and Eastern Asia. With us here in the summer rainfall areas, it occurs on the higher ground of the Midlands and lower Drakensberg. The plant can take frost plus it lives in wetlands and along stream banks. (I have it growing successfully in my Durban garden - Ed.)
This is a great plant for wettish areas in a garden, especially next to ponds and taps where there is a little more water. What excites me about this species is that it is robust for a mint it will grow up to about a metre in height (the books say 1,5 metres tall but I am yet to see plants this tall.) The leaves are long and narrow compared to the normal garden mint that you all grow. Plants form upright clumps with each stem being tipped in the summer and autumn with an inflorescence that resembles a miniature bottlebrush of tiny, white to pinkish flowers. The colour of the flowers varies from place to place, especially as you move further inland - gaining altitude, the flowers tend to have a purplish hue. I presume this is to mask the flowers a bit from the intense sunlight.
The propagation of this species is from seed or suckers or cuttings. I prefer using suckers for which this plant is famous. It cannot stay in one place it has to move about. In a nursery it is always growing out of the little drainage holes at the bottom of each bag. Not just the roots get out but the reddish purple creeping stem is already a few centimetres away from the parent by the time you notice it. For a nurseryman this is great as it means you have another plant to sell. For the gardener it means a bigger clump of mint and for the wildlife, in the form of pollinating insects, it means another batch of flowers on which to feed. There is also a delightful praying mantis that inhabits these and other plants, that when it is young, adjusts its camouflage to suit the colour of the flower it is using, as you can see in the picture.
For me the ideal spot to plant this species is on a pathway that humans frequent. Humans are always brushing up against the plant and the smell given off by the leaves always lifts the spirit. Watching children brush up against a plant and then seeing them notice the smell and turn to look for the source, is a great fascination for me. Adults seldom notice and they are just too engrossed in their own thoughts to stop and smell the mint.
I have used this plant on the edges of an artificial wetland where the primary filters of sedges and grasses do the real work and this plant then polishes the waste water before it goes into a stream. The smell of mint on the wind masks the smell of grey water very nicely. With all these nutrients in the water, the plants just go wild and the creeping stems with their pale roots running over the soil surface make a very good, matted final filter.
Growing Endostemon plants is simple - give them plenty of water to establish their root systems and then leave the plant alone without too much fuss. I prune the plants lightly in late winter to stimulate new spring growth which gives more flowering stems and thus more flowers for bees. I have started collecting seeds from my plant now - they are brown and really tiny (about the size of a pinhead) - and I have a healthy little population of this plant scattered throughout my garden.
Win! One lucky reader can win a Mentha longifolia donated by Geoff. Send a postcard to: Mentha Giveaway: P.O.Box 41120, Rossburgh, 4072 to reach us by 31.03.14 (Please include your phone number). Winners must collect their plant from our offices.