With such a profusion of roses in bloom at the moment – along road sides, cascading down fences, mostly white and pink, but if you peer over into the gardens the variety of colours is breath taking – you can be forgiven for not noticing a tiny intensely blue flower that has recently started flowering.
This is the indigenous Aristea ecklonii – a member of the Iridaceae family. This indigenous, evergreen perennial with sword-shaped leaves grows well in direct sun or light shade in well-drained soil. It is perfect for a mixed border in an informal garden as one can forget about it for most of the year – and then enjoy the beautiful little flowers in early summer which attract lots of butterflies. The plants produce heaps of seeds which can be sown at any time, although they wait for spring before emerging. The plants can also be propagated by dividing the rooted clumps in autumn. In the wild they flower most profusely a year after fires have swept through their growing area. A bit tricky to replicate in the domestic garden! However, ours seem to flower well without the stimulation of fire.
The botanical name comes from the Latin word arista meaning spike or point – referring to the pointed leaves, and the name of a Danish apothecary and plant collector, Christian Ecklon – ecklonii. In the late 1820s Ecklon travelled extensively in the Eastern Cape including George and Knysna, publishing in 1830 ‘A List of plants found in the district of Uitenhage, 1829-1830’ – believed to be the first botanical article of note to appear in South Africa.
Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones