Hybanthus enneaspermus

lilac spade flower


Hybanthus enneaspermus

(L.) F.Muell. 1876

pronounced: hy-BAN-thuss en-nee-uh-SPER-muss

(Violaceae — the pansy family)


common name: lilac spade flower

native 4Hybanthus comes from the Greek 'υβος (hybos) hump-backed, and ανθος (anthos), a flower, referring to the spurred lower petal; enneaspermus is also Greek, εννεα (ennea), nine, and σπερμα (sperma), a seed.

This is a plant of coastal savannah, grassland, cultivated fields, barren lands and roadsides, and is often found growing on open grassland near the seashore. It is found widely in Africa and Madagascar, scattered in India, Sri Lanka, Indochina, south-east China, the Philippines, Borneo, East Java, New Guinea and the northern parts of Australia, and recently found in the Hengchun Peninsula of Taiwan. It has been recorded in NSW, but is apparently very rare there. The plant pictured was in the grass on the Picnic Bay foreshore, between the Dunoon development and the beach.

This is a small perennial herb with a woody base and numerous diffuse or ascending branches, growing 10 – 20 cm tall. The leaves are alternate, more-or-less sessile, the blade narrowly elliptic-lanceolate, 1 – 3 cm long, 2 – 5 mm wide, the apex acute with a sharp, abrupt terminal point, the margins entire or serrate, the stipules gland-tipped.

The flowers are solitary, axillary, red or purple, occasionally blue; the petals are unequal, the lowest much larger than the others, having an orbicular or obovate limb with a long claw.

The fruit is a small subglobose capsule, 4 – 9 mm long. There are 5 - 12 seeds, ellipsoidal in shape, about 2 mm long by 1.2 mm wide, longitudinally ribbed, and pitted between the ribs.

In traditional medicines, the whole plant is considered to possess tonic, diuretic and demulcent properties. A decoction of the leaves and tender branches is used to sooth the skin, and these parts of the plant are also made into a cooling liniment for the head. Dried powdered leaves are used to treat asthma. The root is diuretic, and is also administered as an infusion to treat gonorrhoea and infections of the urinary tract; it is also used to treat bowel complains in children. The fruit is reportedly used to treat stings from scorpions and other venomous creatures. Especially as administered by African witchdoctors, treatments were given with little regard for the patient’s comfort. For the treatment of gonorrhoea and infections of the urinary tract, for instance, the chosen herbal infusion was often mixed with other substances such as salt and melegueta pepper, taken into the mouth of the practitioner, and blown through a long, hollow reed-like stem inserted into the urethra. Even in parts of Africa where modern treatment facilities using western medicine have been established, the witchdoctor often still holds his inbred supremacy. After medical treatment, the patient still often consults the witchdoctor, who adds his cures to those administered in the hospital or clinic, often by rubbing herbs into numerous incisions on the forearms. Magic still plays an important part in medical practice in many primitive regions of the world – and not only in primitive regions: there are quite a few websites dedicated to the magical uses of herbs.

Caterpillars of the Glasswing butterfly Acraea andromacha feed on the plant.

This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown).


according to the specific, there should be 9 seeds


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.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 14th January 2019