What’s not to love about Agapanthus!

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Image by congerdesign from PixabayImage by congerdesign from PixabayOur very own Agapanthus is one of South Africa’s botanical treasures which has been exported to all corners of the earth, and it remains a popular garden plant, not only for its voluptuous umbels of flowers which bloom for a long season, but also for its ease of cultivation. The name agapanthus comes from the Greek words “agape,” meaning love, and “anthos” meaning flower, therefore its name literally means ‘flower of love.’

 The Agapanthaceae family has only one genus which is endemic to southern Africa, meaning that it does not occur Agapanthus 'Little Diamond'Agapanthus 'Little Diamond'naturally anywhere else in the world.  With the exception of the Northern Cape, the 6 species of Agapanthus grow wild in all our provinces, as well as in Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. The species cover a wide range of habitats, occurring from sea level to about 2000m, extending along the south-western, southern and eastern coastlines, and inland to the Limpopo River, and frequenting areas which receive more than 500mm of rainfall per annum.

Agapanthus species easily hybridize with each other, and as a result, a bewildering array of garden hybrids have arisen, but  virtually all the Agapanthus that we grow in our gardens are hybrids of our two beautiful evergreen Agapanthus species, whose flowers range in colour from blues to white.

A great many breeding programmes have given rise to a wide variety of exciting dwarf, medium, and taller growing Agapanthus, ranging in height from just 20cm right up to those with 2m tall flower stems.  The small varieties have an abundance of small blooms, while the larger ones can produce quite spectacularly large umbels on tall, strong stems. The colours are also quite remarkable nowadays and come in all shades, including the well-known blue-purple hues, to white, and even pink and bi-colour varieties.

Agapanthus 'Midnight Blue' Agapanthus 'Midnight Blue' The versatility of Agapanthus is legendary because it can be incorporated almost anywhere in the garden, even in containers. And, if your gardening time is limited and you want a relatively maintenance free garden, Agapanthus certainly fits the bill.

Evergreen Agapanthus

The Agapanthus family includes two evergreen species, namely: Agapanthus africanus, and Agapanthus praecox, which grow wild in the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape, and in the year-round rainfall regions of the Eastern Cape.

Cape Agapanthus, Fynbos Agapanthus, Kleinbloulelei (Agapanthus africanus)

This evergreen Agapanthus has lovely blue flowers, but is not easy to grow in the garden. The subspecies Agapanthus africanus subsp. africanus is found only in the Western Cape Province, growing wild from the Cape Peninsula to Paarl and Stellenbosch, and as far eastwards as Swellendam. The flowers appear mainly from December to February and are mainly deep blue, to light blue, with rare sightings of white flowered plants having been recorded. Fires stimulate profuse flowering, and this subspecies is quite common because of the fairly inaccessible terrain where it grows.

Common Agapanthus, Agapant, Isicakathi, Ubani (Agapanthus praecox)

This evergreen occurs in the Eastern Cape and produces its medium-blue flowers in mid to late summer (December to April) on stems +- 70cm tall. It is an extremely variable species consisting of three subspecies, all of which fare well in seaside gardens as they can take strong winds and salty sea air. The species are:  Agapanthus subsp. praecox, Agapanthus subsp. orientalis, and Agapanthus subsp. minimus. 

Common Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox subsp. praecox)

This evergreen is generally 80cm to 1 m tall and produces its medium-blue flowers in mid to late summer (December to February.)

Common Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox subsp. orientalis)

This evergreen grows in the Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal, generally growing +-80cm to 1m tall, and producing densely packed, pale to medium blue or pure white flowers, which appear in mid to late summer (December to February).

Common Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox subsp. minimus)

This is a smaller evergreen species which occurs in the south-eastern Western Cape, and Eastern Cape. It is small, growing +- 30 to 60cm tall, and will flower well in semi-shade. The flowers range from pale to dark blue, and white, and the flowering season is longer than the other evergreen species (November to March).

(Agapanthus praecox subsp. minimus 'Adelaide')

This evergreen subspecies was collected near the town of Adelaide in the Eastern Cape. It is extremely floriferous and is one of the first Agapanthus to start blooming and one of the last to finish, producing dainty, bright blue umbels, on stalks 60 to 80cm high, all summer long. It also does well in semi-shade, and takes light frost.

Agapanthus inapertus 'Deepest Blue' Agapanthus inapertus 'Deepest Blue' Deciduous Agapanthus

Four deciduous Agapanthus species come from the summer rainfall regions of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, The Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo. They go totally dormant in winter, and remain dormant until the first spring rains. They are:  Agapanthus campanulatus, Agapanthus caulescens, Agapanthus coddii, and Agapanthus inapertus.

Bell Agapanthus, Bloulelie, Ugebeleweni, Ubani, Leta-laphofu, (Agapanthus campanulatus)

This deciduous Agapanthus can be found growing in colonies in moist grassland or on moist slopes, valley bottoms, drainage lines, damp cliffs, and even on rocky slopes up to 2400m, occurring in the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, KwaZulu-Natal (Drakensberg), Gauteng, and Mpumalanga. Agapanthus campanulatus subspecies campanulatus is found at lower altitudes in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal and in the Eastern Cape and the Free State. This Agapanthus is a good choice for gardeners in cold areas who struggle to grow evergreen agapanthus.

Stem Agapanthus (Agapanthus caulescens)

This is one of the most beautiful and easy to grow deciduous species in the agapanthus family, with its tall stems of blue or white flowers, but unfortunately it is virtually unknown as a garden plant as it is seldom available from nurseries. There are three subspecies of Agapanthus caulescens, and all occur in the summer rainfall areas, where they can be found growing in open grassland, often between rocks and boulders.  The species are: Agapanthus caulescens subsp. caulescens,   Agapanthus caulescens subsp. angustifolius, and Agapanthus caulescens subsp. gracilis.

Agapanthus caulescens subsp. caulescens occurs in Swaziland, Agapanthus caulescens subsp. angustifolius occurs in Swaziland, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga, while Agapanthus caulescens subsp. gracilis occurs in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo Province. All plants are found in open grasslands, often between rocks and boulders.

Waterberg Agapanthus, Codd's Agapanthus, Waterberg-bloulelie (Agapanthus coddii)

This is one of the lesser known deciduous Agapanthus but one of the most beautiful, with its dense umbels of light but bright blue flowers, born atop really long stalks, +-1 to 1.5m high.  According to the Red List of South African plants, Agapanthus coddii is a rare species. It occurs only in the western Waterberg in a restricted range of 160 km², but its habitat is relatively inaccessible and protected in conservancies and reserves, and it is thus not considered to be threatened.

Drakensberg Agapanthus, Drooping Agapanthus, Bloulelie, Hlakahla (Agapanthus inapertus)

This deciduous species occurs through Mpumalanga, Swaziland, northern KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, and the Northern Province. It grows naturally in open grassland and on forest margins, and often occurs in mountainous, rocky areas, and is common along the Drakensberg Escarpment. It produces beautifully drooping, dark blue to violet, and occasionally white flowers, held in dense heads on stalks up to 1.5m tall. Flowering takes place from January to March. There are five subspecies: Apagapanthus inapertus subsp. inapertus, Apagapanthus subsp. hollandii, Apagapanthus subsp. intermedius, Apagapanthus subsp. parviflorus, and Apagapanthus subsp. pendulus.

(Agapanthus inapertus pendulus)

A stunning deciduous Agapanthus which grows +-80cm to 1m tall, with beautiful pendulous, pale to dark blue flowers in summer (August to February.) 

(Agapanthus inapertus pendulus 'Snow Queen')

A deciduous and produces stunning white, pendulous flowers in summer (August to February) on +-1m tall flowering stems.

(Agapanthus inapertus pendulus 'Graskop')

A deciduous with pendulous, midnight blue flowers in summer (August to February) on +-1m tall stems.

(Agapanthus inapertus 'Deepest Blue')

A selection which is very similar to 'Graskop’ but is less compact. It produces full heads of the deepest blue flowers.

Agapanthus inapertus ssp pendulus Agapanthus inapertus ssp pendulus There are thousands of garden hybrids of Agapanthus, with a plethora of exciting common names, so it is advisable to consult with a reputable garden centre to find agapanthus varieties which are perfect for your growing region, and which will suit your needs.

Named garden varieties include:

(Agapanthus 'Baby Pete')

Grows about 20cm, with taller flowering stems of lovely  blue-toned flowers.

 (Agapanthus 'Nana Blue')

  A dwarf +-30cm tall, with sky blue flowers.

(Agapanthus 'Nana White')

A dwarf +-30cm tall, with pure white flowers.

(Agapanthus 'Double Diamond')

 A dwarf +-30cm tall, with double pure white flowers, with prominent yellow stamens.

(Agapanthus ‘Snowball’)

A dwarf, growing no taller than 30cm, with large white flowers on thick stems.

(Agapanthus 'Summer Gold')

Grows +-40cm tall with striking yellow and green variegated leaves, and pretty lilac-blue flowers.

(Agapanthus' Blue Zebra')

 Grows +-50cm tall with striking green leaves with a cream edge, and delightful light blue flowers.

(Agapanthus 'Midnight Blue')

Is compact, with dark-green leaves, and produces the deepest blue-purple flowers on medium height stems +-50cm.

(Agapanthus africanus ‘Peter Pan’)

Grows to a height of +-50cm and produces very large sky blue flowers in late summer.

(Agapanthus ‘Lilac Flash’)

Grows +-50cm tall and produces pretty lilac-pink flowers in mid-summer.

(Agapanthus 'Variegated')

 An exciting hybrid with green leaves, striped with silver, giving the plant year-round interest. The pretty mid-blue flowers are freely produced in summer on stems +-60cm tall.

(Agapanthus 'Lapis Lazuli')

Produces +-60cm tall flowering stems in summer, with bright blue flowers, and each petal has a darker blue stripe.

(Agapanthus ‘Strawberry Ice’)

Produces its flowers on +-60cm tall stems. The unusual flowers are white with a gorgeous flush of pink through them, which darkens as the flower ages.

(Agapanthus orientalis 'Silver Star')

Is compact with lovely umbels of lavender-blue flowers on stems +-60cm tall, in late spring and summer.

(Agapanthus 'Black Pantha')

Has intense violet-blue, almost black flowers, on +-60cm stems.

(Agapanthus 'Blue Star')

 A compact variety which produces flowering stems +-60 to 80cm tall, with mid to dark blue flowers in spring, and again in late summer.

(Agapanthus 'Opal Sky’)

has white tipped violet-blue blooms on +-80cm tall stems.

(Agapanthus 'Storms River')

Produces its +-1m tall flower stalks in mid-summer, adorned with large clusters of unusual, smoky, light blue flowers.

(Agapanthus ‘Amethyst’)

Produces long flowering stems +-1m high, and lovely amethyst-blue coloured flowers, with a darker mid-petal stripe on each petal. It will repeat bloom several times a year.

(Agapanthus 'Blue Velvet')

Produces +-1m tall stems, adorned with exquisite dark violet-blue flowers with darker midribs in summer.

(Agapanthus 'Blue Ice')

Has white flowers with an ice-blue base, produced on +-1.2m stems.

(Agapanthus 'Queen Mum')

Has bi-colour blue and white flowers on +-1.2m stems.

(Agapanthus praecox 'Blue & White')

Has large strap-like leaves, and in early summer it produces very tall and stout flowering stalks, reaching +- 115cm, with huge umbels of white or blue flowers.

(Agapanthus Praecox ‘Blue Ice’)

Has large strap-like leaves, and in early to mid-summer it produces its tall flowering stems, +-115cm, and large umbels of blue flowers with a dark blue base which fades to pure white on the outside.

(Agapanthus 'Selma Bock')

Produces extremely long and elegant stems +-130cm tall, and magnificent white flowers with a blue throat, in late summer and early autumn.

(Agapanthus ‘Purple Cloud’)

Produces very elegantly tall flowering stems +- 130cm high, with large purple-blue flowers.

Agapanthus 'Blue Star'Agapanthus 'Blue Star'Uses:

Agapanthus is considered to be both a magical and a medicinal plant, and is used in many traditional rituals and remedies in southern Africa.  It is regarded as the plant of fertility and pregnancy, and Xhosa women use the roots to make antenatal medicine. A necklace made from the roots of Agapanthus is also worn as a charm to bring healthy, strong babies. The Zulu use the plant to treat heart disease, paralysis, coughs, colds, chest pains and tightness.

It is even known to revive the tired and swollen feet of hikers who wrap their feet in the leaves for relief, and scientific studies back this up, revealing that agapanthus does indeed contain several chemical compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.

Agapanthus praecox 'Blue & White'Agapanthus praecox 'Blue & White'In the Garden & Home:

If you want long-flowering perennials which are water-wise, can take the heat, and grow in full sun or semi-shade, Agapanthus is your plant. In the garden they are most effective if planted in massed displays, and the larger growing cultivars are wonderful if planted towards the back of the perennial flower border. The dwarf varieties make excellent container plants, and beautiful ground covers, rockery and border plants.  All are most effective in stabilising the soil on banks, and will thrive on the banks of rivers and dams, and next to water features.

Agapanthus fit into any colour scheme, the white ones will stand out in a twilight garden, and the blue shades give depth to a pastel flower border, while also complimenting brightly coloured dahlias, iris’, day lilies, rudbeckias, cannas, crocosmia, galtonia, eucomis, and watsonia, which bloom at the same time. Great water-wise companions include shrubs like: Lions Ear (Leonotis leonurus), Crane Flower (Strelitzia,) Flax like 'Yellow Wave' (Phormium), and Yellow Euryops Daisies (Euryops). Agapanthus is also striking with groundcovers like Gazanias, Osteospermum, Yellow Bulbine, as well as Sedges (Carex), and most ornamental grasses.

Agapanthus is an excellent cut flower which will last for up to 10 days in a vase, although the darker coloured varieties tend to fade when brought indoors.

Agapanthus inapertus pendulus 'Graskop'Agapanthus inapertus pendulus 'Graskop'Cultivation/Propagation:

Agapanthus is easy-to-grow in full sun, and certain varieties even flower well in semi-shade. Some are reasonably hardy to frost and cold, while others are tender, so consult with a reputable garden centre for your selection. They thrive on poor, sandy soil, and are adaptable to most soil types as long as there is perfect drainage. In poor soils plant with added compost to get your plants off to a good start. For potted specimens use a good potting soil with a little compost, and add some washed river sand to ensure perfect drainage.

Once established, these undemanding plants will withstand long periods of drought due to their thick, fleshy roots where water and food is stored. However, under these conditions the plant will go dormant, shooting again when the rains return. In the garden they will look at their best if they can be watered moderately during long, hot and dry spells, and remember, potted specimens will need more frequent watering then those growing in the ground.

In very cold areas, protect the roots (rhizomes) from frost by applying a thick layer of straw or dry sand around the plants before winter. Remove this layer in spring when the plants begin to grow again. A mulch of compost together with an application of organic 3:1:5 fertilisers in spring and late summer should keep your plants looking at their best.  Potted plants can be fed more frequently during the growing season.

Agapanthus avenueAgapanthus avenueThe biggest job when growing large clumps of Agapanthus is to cut out the dead flowering stems, to keep the plants looking neat, and to prevent reseeding.  Regular division of Agapanthus clumps is also essential to ensure that your plants continue to flower well, and this is generally done once they have finished blooming, or in spring. Evergreen varieties should be divided once every four years, while deciduous types fare better if divided once every six years. Potted plants will need dividing more frequently. After splitting, the plants may not flower for a season while they are re-establishing.

Use a garden fork to prise the clumps out of the soil before dividing the clump into three pieces, using the sharp end of a garden spade. Discard the central piece and replant the two outside pieces, after cutting back the foliage by half, and trimming the roots to two thirds of their length. Replant in well composted soil and water well.

Because Agapanthus hybridise so freely with each other, plants grown from seed may not be true to the parent plant. Therefore propagation is best done by division of the plants once they have finished flowering.

Agapanthus 'Blue Star'Agapanthus 'Blue Star'

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Agapanthus is generally pest and disease free, and snails and slugs are probably the most pesky pests, although they do not cause any serious damage to the plants themselves. If you can’t bear to have them there, remove them by hand, or control them with DIY snail baits or natural snail pellets. If you property is large enough, ducks are excellent snail killers!

The foliage may be attacked by red spider mites, thrips, and mealy bugs, but need only be sprayed if the infestation is severe.