Thunbergia alata

black-eyed Susan


Thunbergia alata

Bojer ex Sims 1825

pronounced: thun-BER-ghee-uh a-LAY-tuh

(Acanthaceae — the black-eyed Susan family)


common name: black-eyed Susan vine

Thunbergia was named for Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828), Swedish naturalist, explorer and pupil of Linnaeus; alata is from the Latin ala, a wing. Black-eyed Susan was a character who featured in many traditional English ballads. In The Beggar’s Opera (1728) by John Gay, she goes on to a ship in the harbour to ask the sailors where her lover, Sweet William, has gone.


      All in the Downs the fleet was moor'd,
      The streamers waving in the wind,
      When black-eyed Susan came on board,
      O! where shall I my true love find?
      Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
      If my sweet William sails among your crew?

      William, who high upon the yard,
      Rock'd with the billows to and fro,
      Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
      He sigh'd and cast his eyes below;
      The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
      And quick as lightning on the deck he stands.

      So the sweet lark, high poised in air,
      Shuts close his pinions to his breast,
      If chance his mate's shrill call he hear,
      And drops at once into her nest;
      The noblest captain in the British fleet,
      Might envy William's lips those kisses sweet.

      " O Susan, Susan, lovely dear!
      My vows shall ever true remain:
      Let me kiss off that falling tear,
      We only part to meet again:
      Change as ye list, ye winds, my heart shall be
      The faithful compass that still points to thee.

      " Believe not what the landsmen say,
      Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind;
      They'll tell thee, sailors when away,
      In every port a mistress find;
      Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
      For thou art present wheresoe'er I go.

      " If to far India's coast we sail,
      Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright,
      Thy breath is Afric's spicy gale,
      Thy skin is ivory so white;
      Thus every beauteous object that I view,
      Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.

      " Though battle calls me from thy arms,
      Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
      Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms,
      William shall to his dear return;
      Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
      Lest precious tears should drop from Susan's eye."

      The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
      The sails their swelling bosoms spread,
      No longer must she stay on board;
      They kiss'd — she sigh'd — he hung his head;
      Her less'ning boat unwilling rows to land,
      " Adieu," she cried, and waved her lily hand.

Flowers of the Rudbeckia genus are also known as Black-eyed Susan. Sweet William, of course, is the common name of Dianthus barbatus.
Our Black-eyed Susan Vine is an herbaceous perennial climbing plant. Native to East Africa, it has become naturalized in Brazil and Hawaii, along with eastern Australia, and in Texas and Florida. It is grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, and in hanging baskets. The plant photographed was climbing up a tree in the nature reserve.

Given the right conditions, it can climb to a height of about 2.5 m. It has twining stems with heart- or arrow-shaped leaves. It favours sun to partial shade and the flowers, though typically a warm orange, can range through red, red-orange, orange and bright yellow with the characteristic chocolate-purple centre that inspires the common name. The flowers are on long peduncles up to 5 cm long, and have 5 spreading petal lobes. The toothed green leaves are up to about 5 cm long. The plant will bloom most of the year, so long as the temperature does not fall below about 15ºC.

Black-eyed Susan Vine is not very drought-tolerant, and needs water and fertilizer to look its best. Occasional trimming helps to keep the plant growing vigorously and to promote more blooms.

The larvae of the Blue Argus Junonia orithya butterfly feed on the vine.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 20th April 2019