Tree of the week: Plumbago auriculata – Cape leadwort – Umabophe

Plumbago auriculata is classified as a scrambling shrub that grows to a height of 3 m with a spread of 3 m. The name Plumbago was derived from plumbum meaning lead, this plant is used to cure lead poisoning. Auriculata refers to the ear-shaped leaf base. This pretty shrub is utilised in many home gardens and urban landscapes as an ornamental feature.

The leaves are thin and bright green in colour, maturing to a darker green. Main flowering takes place between November and May, but blooms are often found during other times of the year. The flowers appear in trusses and the most common colour is a pale sky blue. Darker blue and even white variants are also available from nurseries. The flower calyx has sticky, gland-tipped hairs and children often pick the flowers to use as earrings! Seed capsules follow the flowers and are also coated in a sticky substance to enhance the dispersing of seeds.

Plumbago auriculata makes a very good informal or formal hedge. It can also be used as a groundcover under trees. This adaptable plant can climb through other plants, this makes it a perfect gap filler in the garden. Plumbago auriculata responds well to pruning and will flower even more profusely after being cut back. This shrub is sensitive to frost, but will bounce back quickly if damaged during cold spells. Its beautiful flowers will attract birds and butterflies to your garden, making it even more vibrant and full of life. In Africa, the plant is used as a dye, the sap of the roots is sometimes used for tatoos.