Aneilema dregeanum; Blue Aneilema
It’s funny how often a plant comes into your life from a very unexpected quarter. This one did when I was checking a sand dune that had been badly eroded by humans. There amongst our debris was this semi-succulent groundcover, hanging on by its roots, clinging onto what little sand and leaf litter was left of the area. It was just flowering, and its medium-blue-coloured flowers were being visited by small solitary bees and the local hover and bee flies. These insects were very busy, and as it was only about 7am, I was wondering why. Later in the day, when I walked past the same area to collect a few cuttings, I was surprised to find all the flowers were closed, even though it was only noon. I do recall that this was a hot day, but on cool days the flowers do stay open till much later in the afternoon.
About seven years after that first encounter, the image for this article was taken at around 7am in my own garden where this plant has taken over the understorey of my illusionary forest. As a garden plant, this is a perfect groundcover, with horticultural potential for both semi-shade and full shade situations. The natural habitat of this species is along forest edges in low-lying areas. It is found inland up into the bigger river valley systems that traverse from west to east in KwaZulu-Natal, and up into the Lowveld areas of Mpumalanga and Swaziland.
This plant, like many of its family Commelinaceae, is able to propagate itself from suckers and will grow from cuttings taken at almost anytime in the year except when it is extremely cold. It roots easily, as long as the plants are in a sheltered shady spot. If grown in a hot sunny area, the plant does go through a phase of temporary wilting each day but will recover once the baking rays of the sun move off the leaves.
Forest antelope browse this species, and in our region, the Bushbuck and Blue Duiker are the main animals. Bushpig are grubbers of its trailing stems, wherever the plant is growing near the damp areas that these pigs inhabit.
In cultivation this plant will grow out and away from its original position by using its habit of rooting at each node as it grows. If a stem gets severed, it then just carries on growing using its own energy resources. This makes it ideal for forest understorey plantings where the soil is left bare after disturbance. It also grows easily from seed and in my garden, a little family of visiting Green Twinspots have found the seeds - they spend minutes at a time on this and the other creeping forest grasses that I have growing together with the Blue Aneilema.