Thunbergia fragrans

white clockvine


Thunbergia fragrans

Roxb. 1796

pronounced: thun-BER-ghee-uh FRAY-granz

(Acanthaceae — the hibiscus family)


common names: white clockvine, white thunbergia

Thunbergia was named for Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828), a Swedish naturalist who has been called ‘the father of South African botany’ and the ‘Japanese Linnaeus’. He was a pupil of Linnaeus, and spent three years at Capetown to learn Dutch, so that he could pass himself off as a Dutchman in order to gain entry to Japan, at that time difficult for most Europeans to enter. He collected plants in both countries, and was responsible for naming many species. Fragrans is Latin for ‘sweet-smelling’.

This fast-growing, pretty vine, a native of India and Sri Lanka, is a declared Class 1 pest that has only fairly recently emerged in backyards in Townsville. It has not taken it long to cross the water – this plant is in Magnetic Street, Picnic Bay, where it is growing vigorously after the wet season, inter-twined with Coral Vine.

It is a slender perennial twiner. The stems are squarish, somewhat hairy when young. The leaves are simple, opposite to sub-opposite, the blade ovate to sagittate, usually 5–12 cm long, and entire. The veins are pinnate.

It flowers continuously through the year; the white flowers are solitary or paired, axillary on a longish pedicel. The corolla is 5-lobed with a long tube. The stamens are inserted on the tube of the corolla. The flowers have a soft, sweet fragrance.

This plant produces rounded seed capsules that end in a beak.

Thunbergia fragrans is grown as a garden plant, trellised or over porches, in many areas, but it is very good at escaping into the wild. I have read that it has recently been found in central Taiwan, of all places. I notice that it first appeared in the Whitsunday shire in about 2006, and since then the local council has been working with landowners to control the species.

According to the scientists, it has the capacity to spread over most of tropical Australia north of a line from about Townsville to Broome, and down most of the eastern coastal strip of the continent. The blue trumpet-vine, Thunbergia grandiflora, is already a serious invasive species in many parts of coastal Queensland.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009, 2010
Page last updated 20th April 2019