Hyacinthaceae - The hyacinth family.
English: Wild squill; Blue squill; Blue hyacinth
Afrikaans: Blouberglelie; Blouslangkop
IsiXhosa: ugontsana; umasixabane
Sesotho sa Leboa: ichita
Merwilla plumbea, previously known as Scilla natalensis, is a deciduous bulb, much of the upper part of which is usually above ground. The bulbs are relatively large (10 - 15 cm in diameter) and are covered with protective, dry, brown to purplish scales, reminiscent of an onion.
The broad tapering leaves emerge in spring, before or after flowering, in an attractive rosette and are very variable:
Leaves are shed in autumn but may remain evergreen if well watered. The plant will tolerate winter rain if well-drained, preferably planted on a slope, but will die if heavily frosted.
Bees pollinate the flowers which become honey scented in the evening. The seeds are formed in capsules that split when dry and are dispersed by the wind.
Merwilla plumbea is a very popular item in the KwaZulu-Natal muthi trade and intensive harvesting over an ever-increasing area of its distribution range is causing a marked decline in wild populations. As a result, it's Red Data conservation status has recently been upgraded Vulnerable.
This bulb should be planted with discretion as it is toxic to humans and some animals and can be fatal if any part of it is eaten.
many small, star-shaped flowers, 10 mm in diameter, clustered at the end of a single erect stem of 75 cm to over a meter long
|Distribution and Habitat||
in the provinces of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Mpumalanga, as well as in Swaziland and Lesotho, solitary or in groups, in grasslands, highland mist belt , steep, sunny, well drained slopes, rocky hills, damp cliff faces, near waterfalls, in moist depressions, and on the edges of streams and vleis.
The bulbs should be planted with at least two-thirds to one half of the bulb above ground in good, well-drained soil enriched with compost. Best planting time is in late winter to early spring. Keep a good layer of mulch around them throughout the year to retain moisture and enrich the soil. A sprinkle of slow release organic fertiliser can be applied every now and then.
They are relatively tolerant of drought but water well during the summer months for best results. Withhold water in late summer as the leaves begin to yellow and keep them dry during winter. Resume watering in spring. They are reportedly able to survive the winter rains of the Western Cape as long as the soil is very well drained and more so if planted in sloping ground. If the climate is severely cold in winter they should be grown in containers that can be stored indoors during winter.
The plant grows easily from seed but these must be absolutely fresh - plant straight after collection and will take 4-7 years before they mature.
Merwilla plumbea resents being disturbed and may not flower for a season or two after being moved. If left undisturbed for a few years, the bulb will develop into a clump. This can be lifted and divided during winter but if possible, rather remove only the outer bulbs so that the mother plant can remain undisturbed.
|Lorraine's Garden Notes||
Merwilla plumbea is used extensively as a medicinal plant. Warmed fresh bulb scales, slightly burned bulb scales, ash from the burned plant and decoctions of the bulb are used in various ways as ointments for wound-healing, to treat sprains, fractures, boils and sores, to draw abscesses, for female infertility, to enhance male potency and libido, as a purgative, a laxative, for enemas, for internal tumours, chest pain and kidney troubles as well as an ingredient for the treatment of lung disease in cattle.
In some areas the powdered bulb is rubbed into the back, joints and other body parts to increase strength and resistance to witchcraft.
This plant should be treated with extreme caution, as taking any part of it internally is potentially fatal. Use only under the guidance of an experienced traditional healer.