Agapanthus plants line so many roads in South Africa that we tend to forget just how spectacular these plants are. Thanks to clever breeding programmes these indigenous treasures are now available in a wide range of striking varieties.
The Agapanthus is undoubtedly one of our indigenous botanical treasures. It has been exported to all corners of the earth, but occurs naturally only in southern Africa, where it grows in the wild in all our provinces except the Northern Cape, as well as in Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique.
The name agapanthus comes from the Greek words agapé (love) and anthos (flower), therefore literally meaning “flower of love”. Locally it is often referred to as blue lily, isicakathi (Xhosa) and ubani (Zulu), while in Europe and America it is popularly known as the African lily.
The Agapanthus is used in many traditional rituals and remedies in southern Africa. Xhosa women make a necklace from the roots of the plant to ensure healthy, strong babies, the Zulu use the plant to treat heart disease and paralysis, and it is said to revive the tired and swollen feet of hikers who wrap their feet in the leaves for half an hour. In fact, scientific studies have revealed that agapanthus does contain several chemical compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.
Agapanthus produce large clusters (known as umbrels) of funnel-shaped flowers at the end of a tall stem. The colour of Agapanthus flowers range from the well-known blue-purple hues to white, and even pink varieties, and the plants range in height from just 20cm for certain dwarf varieties to up to 2m for larger varieties. They make excellent cut flowers and will last for up to 10 days in a vase of water, although the darker coloured varieties tend to fade when brought indoors.
The Agapanthus family includes two evergreen species, namely Agapanthus africanus and Agapanthus praecox, and four deciduous species – Agapanthus campanulatus, Agapanthus caulescens, Agapanthus coddii and Agapanthus inapertus. The evergreen species are indigenous to the winter rainfall areas of our country, while the deciduous species hail from the summer rainfall areas of southern Africa. Breeding programmes have given rise to a wide variety of exciting dwarf and medium high Agapanthus with large blooms.
Agapanthus is a very undemanding plant which can withstand periods of drought very well due to its thick, fleshy roots where it stores water and food. However, they will thrive if planted in full sun in rich, well drained soil with plenty of compost. The larger varieties work very well when planted en masse at the back of garden beds, while the smaller varieties work well as an edging plant and in rockeries. Agapanthus praecox also helps to prevent soil erosion on banks in your garden and they fare well in seaside gardens as they are not susceptible to the strong winds and salty air in these settings.
Regular division of agapanthus clumps is essential to ensure that your plants continue to flower well. The best time to lift and divide agapanthus is late March after they have finished flowering. Evergreen varieties should be divided once every four years, while deciduous types fare better if divided once every six years.
Use a garden fork to prise agapanthus clumps out of the soil. Divide the clump into three pieces using the sharp end of a garden spade. Discard the central piece and replant the two outside pieces after cutting back the foliage by half and trimming the roots to two thirds of their length. Replant in well composted soil and water well.
Agapanthus plants are generally fairly resistant to pests and diseases. However, they can be susceptible to the following conditions:
Did you know? – Agapanthus plants were an immediate favourite with European arrivals to our country – they were first exported from Africa to Europe as early as the end of the 17th century.
You can find more on Agapathus on these websites: