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Merwilla plumbea

Botanical name

Merwilla plumbea

Other names

Wild squill; blouslangkop (Afrikaans); inguduza (Zulu); Scilla natalensis

Family

Hyacinthaceae

Dimensions

Erect growing bulbous perennial

Description of stem

Flowering stem curves mildly, earning the Afrikaans name referring to a snake

Description of leaves

About seven straight, smooth green, broad, but tapering and pointed leaves of 40 cm in length form a rosette around the inflorescence that appears before the leaves in spring; the leaves turn yellow and die off in autumn

Description of flowers

About a meter high (but variable in height); raceme with many small light blue, violet blue or blue and white flowers appearing in spring; floral parts in sixes; stalks of the individual flowers coloured as the petals; white filaments

Description of seed/fruit

Wrinkled seeds released by from a dehiscent capsule

Description of roots

Bulb 10 to 15 cm in diameter; over half of the bulb positioned above ground level; cartilaginous tunic around the bulb

Variation

Bulb size, flower and leaf colour; blue or mauve flowers

 

 

Propagation and cultivation

Transplants easily, also offset bulbs (forming readily around well-growing mature bulbs) or seed can be planted; requires well-drained soil; takes about three years to bloom

Tolerances

Needs shelter from frost in cold climates

Uses

To make medicine for female infertility and male impotency; also used in the treatment of skin conditions; ash from the burnt plant has been used on open sores garden plant in clumps on rockeries, also a good container plant; soap making

Ecological rarity

Probably threatened by its popularity in the indigenous medicine trade

Pests and diseases

 

Other

 

Location

In rocky grassland

Distribution (SA provinces)

Mpumalanga, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal (common in the Drakensberg) and Eastern Cape

Country

South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland

 

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