Rough-leaf Cat’s-whiskers

Rotheca myricoides subsp. Myricoides – previously known as Clerodendrum myricoides; Rough-leaf Cat’s-whiskers, Blue-flowered Tinderwood; Growweblaarkatsnorbos (Afrik); umBozwa (Zulu); umTyatyambane (Xhosa)

 

This species has a wide distribution in our region from the Transkei and Eastern Cape, up through coastal KwaZulu-Natal, into Mpumalanga and Swaziland and then into Mozambique and up north into Zimbabwe. It is frost-tolerant but is best placed in a sunny position up against a warm, north-facing wall to reduce the effects of the cold.

This plant sets plenty of seed that is very palatable to monkeys and birds, but I find it a bit too pungent for my human palate. If you can get to the seeds before the other critters, they grow easily but I tend to use cuttings as my preferred method of propagation. The rule of thumb that applies here is that the early spring and summer are the best time for taking the semi-hard to hardwood cuttings, with stems of about 10mm in diameter. Place the cuttings in coarse, sharp river sand in a tray that is in a warm, well-lit situation. I use a mist bed but for the domestic gardener, a tray covered over with a clear plastic bag will do just as well. I haven’t used rooting hormone for this species but I’m sure that a little hormone will help to speed things up.

With us here on the coast, this shrub is found quite commonly in our drier, warm areas especially in river valleys amongst the more open valley bushveld-veld type vegetation though a surprising thing is that in the Durban area, I have found this species scrambling its way up the dune bush along the edges of fairly dense forest.

The leaves are arranged in whorls of three at each node on the stem, in a triangular grappling hook configuration that seems to help the plant climb up on its neighbor, which is the key to getting up into the light. The slightly toothed leaves in our region, give off a strong pungent smell when crushed and it was this smell that first put me onto the plant while trying to make my way through the forest.

The flowers are very attractive - blue to purple with paler calyx making them very conspicuous to passing carpenter bees and short-beaked Collared Sunbirds, who spend many minutes working over the bush in search of nectar. The flower buds are also interesting and draw the eye to the plant.

For the garden, this species makes a very pleasing accent shrub near a verandah or garden bench so that you can sit and contemplate your favourite view that is populated with birds and insects coming to feed on the nectar or fruits. In my part of the world, the Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Olive Thrush and Black-bellied Starling all feed on the ripe purple-black fruits.

 


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