Abelmoschus esculentus flower

African lily


Agapanthus sp.

L'Hér. 1788

pronounced: ag-uh-PAN-thuss species

(Amaryllidaceae — the amaryllis family)

common names: African lily, lily of the Nile

Agapanthus is from the Greek αγαπη (agapé), love, and ανθος (anthos), a flower – flower of love. Do remember, however, that the ancient Greeks had quite a few different words for ‘love’, and this one means ‘brotherly love’. In the early Christian church, the agape was a religious meal shared after Holy Communion as a sign of love and fellowship.

These are tough, drought-tolerant, sun-loving plants, in a variety of colours from white to blue, mauve, purple and pink. There is also now available a bicoloured Agapanthus with blue and white flowers. There are dwarf varieties such as ‘Snowball’ that are excellent for rockeries and containers. Although related to the onion, Agapanthus does not produce a true bulb, although the thickened fleshy roots perform much the same function. In the UK, the tuberous root of the plant is often potted in attractive containers and given, in a dry state, as a Christmas present. The recipient then waters the plant, and it soon begins to shoot and grow. I had some friends there who always tried to have an Agapanthus coming into bloom on Christmas Day itself, by beginning to water the plant a certain number of days earlier. They occasionally succeeded!

This is a South African native, from the Cape of Good Hope. There are about 10 species of the plant, which seems to like coastal areas. The one photographed was in a roadside garden in Barbarra Street, Picnic Bay. Agapanthus flowers in large umbels, the infundibuliform flowers growing at the end of a thick, tall stem that can be up to about a metre long. The plants produce attractive clumps of long, curved, shiny green strap-like leaves. The plants are usually propagated by division. They will grow from seed, but this is a slow process. The seeds usually take 2 or 3 months to germinate, and it is then up to 3 or 4 years before the plants flower. Many gardeners dead-head the flowers before they seed by snapping them off at the base of the stems. The seeds, if left to develop, will be dispersed by the wind, and Agapanthus can be fairly invasive. There are non-seeding varieties that can be grown in areas of sensitive native vegetation.

Agapanthus has been used medically for cardiac complaints. It contains chemical compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties, will reduce oedema, and also help to suppress coughing, as well as influencing the immune system. On the down side, some chemicals from the plant are suspected of being able to destroy red corpuscles in the blood, and the sap from the plant will cause severe ulcers in the mouth. The use of this plant for home remedies is not advised!

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.

Photographed in Picnic Bay 2018
Page last updated 30th September 2018