Silene capensis - Silene undulata

Click on an image to enlarge it.
Botanical Name
Silene capensis - Silene undulata
Caryophyllaceae - The Pink or Carnation family.
sy-LEE-nee ka-PEN-sis
Common Name(s)
English: Gunpowder plant; Wild Tobacco; African dream root
Afrikaans: Wildetabak ; Wildetwak
IsiXhosa: ubulawu obumhlope; unozitholana; iinkomo yentaba; icham
Sesotho: Lithotoana ; Molokoloko
Plant Group
  • Ground Cover A plant with a low-growing, spreading habit, grown specifically to cover the ground.
  • Perennial A plant whose life cycle lasts for three or more seasons.
  • Veld Flower Small veld flowers of interest, rather than for their usefulness in the garden. Some of these plants have garden potential, particularly for less formal garden situations.
Plant Size
  • Small to Medium
    Tree8m to 15m
    Shrub75cm to 1m
    Perennial/ground cover20cm to 40cm
    Bulb30cm to 40cm
    Succulent20cm to 40cm
  • Canopy Shade Canopy shade is found below closely grown trees where some light filters through. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Dry Shade Shady areas where soil has poor water retention or are dependent on rain for their moisture needs.
  • 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.
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Drought Tolerance: High The plant is well adapted to arid conditions; it can survive long periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen to semi-deciduous The plant is evergreen in warmer, wetter parts of the country, but may lose some of its leaves during winter in colder, drier situations.
  • Fragrant / Aromatic These plants posses a strong, usually pleasant odour.
  • Frost: Hardy The plant can withstand freezing temperatures or frost without artificial protection.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
  • Wind Tolerant Plants able to withstand the effect of strong winds.
Specific Information

A delightful sight in the veld on dull days and evenings, Silene capensis appears messy in a garden bed or formal situation. Growth habit is lax and the many dead flower stems need to be cut away at the end of the flowering season. They seed very freely and can easily become invasive if not checked. The small grey seeds, which apparently look like gunpowder, are held in an urn-like capsule which opens at the top when ripe, the seeds being shaken out as the long flower stems blow in the wind. According to reports from growers in the USA, this herb is tolerant of extreme heat (+40C) and, extreme cold and even snow. They are very fragrant, particularly in the evening.

Ad Break

ten petals, fused at the base in pairs, about 5 cm in diameter on the end of a stem up to 60 cm long

  • Spring to Autumn Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • white
  • pale pink
Growth Rate
  • Very 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.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
Distribution and Habitat

in all provinces of South Africa, in river valleys and shrubby grasslands

Planting Suggestions

Easily grown but must be well-drained. Plant seeds in autumn or spring in a seed box or open ground and keep slightly moist. When the plantlets are about 5 cm tall they can be planted into position or thinned out. Despite a number of references stating that this is a water loving plant, I have found it growing successfully in very dry situations in the veld. Add a little compost if the soil is very sandy.

Medicinal Uses

Silene capensis is a sacred herb used by the Xhosa tribe in South Africa as an oneirogenic agent - a substance that causes lucid, vivid dreams, noticeably in color and vibrancy. The root is traditionally used to induce vivid lucid dreams during the initiation process of a shaman. Reputedly, a small amount of the root of this species is pulverised with water to produce a white froth. This froth is then sucked off and swallowed. The user's dreams for the following several nights are said to be more vivid and memorable than usual. It is regarded across the world as one of the most powerful of the dream enhancing ethnobotanical plants.

Ad Break


Good Day

I see you are situated in the eastern cape.

I am from the Botanical Garden in Stellenbosh, and would like to know if you can help us with one of our projects for the Botanical garden.

We would like to develop an interesting selection of a few medicinal plants indigenous to South Africa. How can we get hold of four to five interesting plant species like Silene capensis. If we can get hold of their seed it would be fine.

We would appreciate your help or advice.

Thank you.
Marga den Hartigh

Hi Marga
I've made up a list of a few of the medicinal plants that come to mind, some of which are quite well known, but there are many more. I have not included trees or large shrubs.

Lessertia frutescens (Cancer bush); Pelargonium reniforme and sidoides; Bulbine Latifolia (Rooi rabbas); Geranium incanum (Vroue tee); Lantana rugosa (Bird's Brandy); Hypoxis hemerocallidea (Yellow star,'African potato'); Clematis brachiata (Traveller's joy); Artemesia afra (Wilde als); Eriocephalus species (Wild rosemary); Rhoissus tomentosa and tridentata (Wild grape); Protea repens (Sugar bush); Lobostemon fruticosus (agtdaggeneesbos)

Others: Helichrysum species, Buchu species, Bulbine species, Agapanthus, Pelargonium species.

I hope this list will be of some help. You can also get information from and a book by Ben-Erik van Wyk and Nigel Gericke called People's Plants.

I can supply seeds or cuttings of some of the above, including those of Silene capensis.


I bought seeds on ebay, planted 6 seeds, after 40 days, I have 3 seedings finally came up. 2 are the same 1 is distinctly different. could you send me your address, so that I may send you a photo and hopefully you might identify which is the silene capensis

Hi Jim

I'll do my best. Send photos to

Kind regards


I am growing silene capensis in the U.S. My climate is temperate. I would like to know how long of a winter dormancy(?) period the plant needs or wants. I grow it in a pot which I now have inside for the winter months.

I have a warm location with supplemental lighting where I have other plants growing. Our winters here last about four months. Will silene be ok inside for this long of a winter period? I can move it to the warm lighted location if needed.

The plant is looking well. I just gave it bit of water today, the first water in about a month. It's location is cool (about 45 degrees F) and I am keeping it dry for winter.

Thank You

Hi Joe

It would be useful to know your specific area and the average minimum/maximum temperatures you usually experience annually, as there is a wide variation within the temperate zone. Do you have snow or frost?

Silene undulata grows in most areas across South Africa from semi-desert to high rainfall areas and frosty conditions, and even in winter rainfall areas. Bear in mind that this more 'weed' than delicate garden plant. It can take a lot of punishment.

Rather than dormancy, I would use the phrase 'period of rest' to best describe the plant's needs in winter. It should stay green and not lose its leaves, but active growth will slow down. A little water, average light and a bit of warmth should keep your plant healthy for as long as your winters persist. A constant temperature of 45 degrees F (7.2 degrees C) may be a little cool as this does not allow for the daily warming it would normally receive.

Hope this helps.
Kind regards

I started a plant , on Vancouver island, Canada, in August. It is in a pot. It was outside until October, then brought it into sit on window ledge above kitchen sink, south facing. My daughter just showed it to me on Skype and it is thriving , leaves look to be at least 8 inches. I also planted one in a pot , down here in Arizona, in November, stays out side has about a dozen leaves, largest maybe .5 inches. I think it might have had a touch of frost. When it only had about 6 leaves I noticed it was yellowing , thought I might be over watering it, so quit and it rebounded. I think that might have set it back as it doesn't seem to be growing as fast as the one did at home. Another thing I noticed , the one in Canada, in the fall, during the day the leaves would spread out wide as thought to catch the sunlight, while at night they would stand up erect. Down here they never seem to spread out, always erect. Although the leaves aren't very big yet so that may happen when they are larger. I had very poor success in sprouting, started 8 seeds 3 times. 2 times 1 sprouted, once none. So 2 out of 24 , not a high success rate. None of those seeds came from this site, all bought on Ebay, USA sellers.

Hi there, I'm interested in growing this plant here in America, I'm in California, and I just wanted to know how I could get my hands on the seeds to grow? And what the ideal conditions are for it? Thanks!

Hi Laura

Google: 'silene capensis buy seed U.S.A.'

As to the ideal conditions, read the Planting Suggestions above as well as the comments made by other readers. As California has a temperate climate, the plant should thrive.

Kind regards

Do I need two silene capensis plants in flower to pollinate, or will one self pollinate?

Hi Jim

Nice to hear from you. I am not sure if a single flower on one plant will self-pollinate, but if the plant has a couple or more flowers open at a time, they are almost certain to be cross-pollinated by moths that visit the flowers at night.

Kind regards

I have a Silene Capensis Garden; its 3 years old; i have harvested about 500,000 seeds from it. so yeah, thats a lot in case anyone needs any. lets talk; does anyone have any Silene Capensis they want to share or trade or compare with mine?
Taylor - 970-390-6919

Discuss this plant

Share knowledge, ask a question or give an experience.

Bottom Border