Mackaya bella

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Botanical Name
Mackaya bella
Acanthaceae - The acanthus family.
MAK-kay-uh BEL-luh
Common Name(s)
Plant Group
  • Shrub A woody plant of relatively low height, having several stems arising from the base and lacking a single trunk; a bush.
Plant Size
  • Medium
    Tree10m to 16m
    Shrub1m to 2m
    Perennial/ground cover40cm to 60cm
    Bulb40cm to 60cm
    Succulent40cm to 60cm
  • Canopy Shade Canopy shade is found below closely grown trees where some light filters through. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Light or Dappled Shade Found below trees with sparse, open foliage. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Partial Shade The area is in shade for part of the day and in full sun for part of the day.
General Information
  • Drought Tolerance: Low The plant is unable to survive drought and needs to be watered.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Frost: Tender A plant that will not survive any frost or low winter temperatures.
  • Prune hard after flowering Fast growing shrubs that grow lanky within a season. Cut off branches and stems of these plants to a third of their original length. This will increase the yield of flowers, improve the plants shape and enhance the structural strength of main branches.
  • Roots Non-invasive Safe to plant near pools, paving, walls or buildings.
  • Water Moderate These plants will need some extra watering compared to water-wise plants. Plant them together, in at least some shade and in a convenient proximity to the house so that grey water can be utilised during times of drought.
Specific Information

Mackaya bella is a shrub or small tree with large, glossy, dark green leaves and slender branches. It grows best in sub-tropical to temperate regions but with sufficient water and a protected position, it can also be successful in cooler climates. A few hours of sun will encourage flowering but too much direct sun may cause the leaves to turn yellow.

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large bell-shaped flowers with five petals marked with fine purple-pink lines

  • Spring to Summer Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • white
  • lilac
Growth Rate
  • Moderate to Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Border A strip of ground, at the edge of a driveway or path in which ornamental plants or shrubs are planted.
  • Boundary A plant useful for planting around the edges of the property to form a green or colourful backdrop, an impenetrable hedge, to hide walls or create privacy.
  • Container Trees, shrubs and ornamental species that can adapt to growing in a restricted environment.
  • Filler Either a fast growing tree or shrub used temporarily to fill in an area while the permanent plants grow to a desired size, or a plant used to fill gaps in borders or beds.
Distribution and Habitat

from the northern tip of the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, as well as Swaziland, in evergreen forest, often along the edges of streams

Planting Suggestions

Plant Mackaya bella in well-drained soil, with plenty of  compost and a top layer of mulch. Water well in summer, but less frequently in winter. Choose a well protected spot in cold regions. If frosted, cut the bush back very hard to encourage new growth from the base. Mackaya belle should be regularly but lightly pruned to encourage bushiness. 

Medicinal Uses

The wood of Mackaya bella  was previously used to kindle fire by friction.

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Can Mackaya Bella be transplanted? If it can, when is the best time to move the plant?

Hi Caryl

I have had no experience in transplanting Mackaya bella so I have no idea of the plant's reaction, but here are some general pointers as to how I would go about it.

Bear in mind the age of the plant: a younger plant will usually transplant better than an old one.
Prune the plant to about half its size, ensuring that there are growing nodes at the end of each stem, and cut out any dead wood.
Dig and prepare the hole for the plant's new position before removing the plant.
Dig a moat around the plant and then underneath so as to get a sizable root ball which can be planted straight into the new hole and watered immediately.
Go to to get a general idea about digging out a root ball. Your project will be on a much smaller scale. I can't say how far from the plant you should start digging as this will depend on the size of the bush, but my instincts say that for a young plant the ball would be about the size of a supermarket bag. The more undisturbed root you can include, the better.

Lastly, the time to do it is now, before spring sets in.

As I said, I have not done this before and I don't guarantee it will work. If you do go ahead with the transplant, please post a comment to let me know if the transplant was/was not successful. The fact that if frosted, the shrub may be killed to the ground but will grow again in spring, seems a positive sign that the plant can take a fair amount of punishment.

It would be interesting to hear from anyone else who has had experience with this.

Kind regards

I have 5 Makaya Bella in an area of my garden in Bryasnton Sandton that gets bad frost. I have always covered the entire plant with frost cover material, but they are now very big. Can I just cover the base and then prune off the branches that frost. We are close to a river in a low lying area so our night temperatures are cold and when we have a black frost the whole Makaya Be3lla turns absolutely black, even when covered.

Hi Colleen

I am surprised that they are able to survive your frosty conditions at all. The fact that they have grown big suggests that they will be able to recover anyway, but covering the lower parts of the bushes will give the root area that bit of extra protection and warmth. Give them a good thick layer of mulch as well, to keep the roots warm. It is a good idea to extend the mulch quite a bit past the drip area so as to protect the finer roots.

Just a thought: if they are going to get frosted anyway, (which is probably a given), perhaps experiment with one of the bushes by cutting it down to a size at which you can cover it. You will then be able to assess which method is better for the following winter.

Kind regards

Please can you tell me about the roots of this plant as it's been in a pot which is now cracked and I have to replace the pot. Unfortunately my garden is so root bound I cannot plant it in the ground hence it being in a pot.
Many thanks,

Hi Sandy

I am afraid there is little I can tell you about the roots of Mackaya bella except that the root system grows fast and vigorously, which is probably why yours cracked its pot. There are ways of trimming overly large roots when re-potting, but what the effect would be on the plant, I cannot say. Google: 'prune roots repotting shrubs' for many sites that will guide you through this process.

Kind regards

Will this shrub tolerate a very windy position in PE.

Hi Adrian

In a word, no. Mackaya bella needs a sheltered position out of the wind. The one in my garden and those I have seen in the area are ragged, poorly formed and generally sad and dispirited due to the 35 to 50 km winds we get here.

Kind regards

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