The colour orange

One of the things I love about living in my part of this part of the world is that there is always something to make you happy in the garden, even as we creep towards mid-winter (officially, that’s just three weeks away).


Every time I step out of the kitchen door, I am dazzled by the flaming blooms of a clump of wild dagga (Leonotis leonurus). Usually, I end up scaring away a sunbird or two: these lovely little birds like to poke their long beaks deep into the tubular flowers to drink their nectar. A couple of times, though, I managed to get a pic of them before they fluttered away. 

Sunbirds love the nectar of wild dagga

I grew each of these plants from cuttings taken from the garden I left in suburbia, and planted them out as little things about 18 months ago. Now, they are almost 2m tall and thick and healthy.

There is also a white cultivar of wild dagga, and I once thought I’d bought one – the label claimed it was white – but it flowered in gleaming orange, and I wasn’t about to rip it out of the ground to cart it back to the nursery.

Apart from lifting my spirits, the flowers are also lovely in a vase. They don’t last as long as, say, Strelitzia reginae, but they are gorgeous. The strelitzia – orange, of course – seem to have been flowering for months.

Pretty and fleeting as cut flowers

“Look at me!”

Orange is not a gentle colour in the garden: leave that to the soft blues and pinks. It seems to scream, “Look at me!” And a lot of gardeners dont like it for that reason.

But it is warm and zesty, which seems perfectly appropriate at this time of the year. It’s interesting that so many of the South African winter-flowering plants produce orange blooms. So the wild dagga has followed an abundant flowering of the red hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria). And there are still clivias to come.

Red hot pokers add to the show

The wild dagga, like the red hot poker, is indigenous to South Africa and both grow naturally in this area of the Eastern Cape.

In colder parts, the frost cuts the wild dagga plants back, but there’s no frost here, and you have to prune it back yourself – it’s better to take it back to a leaf shoot, I have found – or it starts to look spindly and does not flower very well.


Apparently, wild dagga is favoured in traditional medicine as a treatment for all kinds of ailments, from spider and snake bites to headaches and fevers. And it’s even used as a charm to keep snakes away (now that’s what I call useful information).

But if it’s a high you’re looking for, L. leonurus won’t oblige: it’s named after dagga (marijuana) largely because of the similarity of the leaves. Sorry.



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