Forest Bell Bush, Bosklokkiesbos, Mufhanza - Mackaya bella

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Mackaya bellaMackaya bellaalt Condensed Version:

This gorgeous indigenous evergreen is wonderful in shady gardens; producing arching sprays of white or lavender, bell-shaped flowers, marked with delicate purple or pink lines in the throat or on the petals. It flowers profusely in spring and summer, but has a long flowering period and may even flower until early December, depending on climate. The large, glossy, dark-green leaves are also most attractive.  If grown under ideal conditions, this beautiful plant is long-lived with an upright growth habit, +-1.5 to 3m tall, with an almost equal spread of about +-2m, if left un-pruned. The forest bell will thrive if planted amongst trees or near water, growing even in dense shade. It can be trained to grow as a large shrub or small tree, and is an excellent choice for an informal hedge or screen. It also grows beautifully in large containers. Because the roots are non-invasive, it is perfect for even tiny gardens.  

The forest bell bush grows best in the humid, sub-tropical and frost-free summer rainfall regions of South Africa, but also does well in the winter rainfall regions if it is watered well in summer and is planted in well-drained soil. Although it is tender to frost it can be grown in colder inland gardens which experience short spells of low temperatures down to 0°C; and will even tolerate lower temperatures if it is planted in a wind protected and very sheltered part of the garden.  If it does get frosted, the damaged branches can be pruned hard in early summer to encourage new growth from the base; but unfortunately, the early spring flowers will be affected.

Although it will grow in dense shade, it may not flower that well, preferring a bright shady position in the garden which is sheltered from strong winds. In coastal gardens it will take more sun, but in too much sun the leaves will have a yellow look. This plant thrives in deep, heavily composted, well-drained soil. Water regularly in the first year to get it established, and moderately thereafter during dry summer spells. During the summer months an application of 3:1:5 every 6 weeks is beneficial. This plant responds well to pruning and can be kept nice and compact if it is pruned ever year after it has finished blooming. Light pruning during summer is also fine.

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Description, History & Interesting Facts:

This gorgeous indigenous evergreen is wonderful in all shady gardens, and occurs only in certain regions of South Africa, and nowhere else in the world; and is therefore referred to as "endemic" to this region. It is a member of the large Acanthaceae family which includes other South African favourites for the garden like the beautiful Black-eyed-Susan creeper (Thunbergia alata) and the Bush Violet (Barleria obtusa). It is the only member of the genus Mackaya and can be found growing wild in evergreen forests, where it loves to grow alongside streams; occurring from the coastal areas of the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland, as well as in Mpumulanga and Limpopo. Bella means "beautiful" in Latin, and is a tribute to the arching sprays of white or lavender, bell-shaped flowers. The flowers are marked with delicate purple or pink lines in the throat or on the petals. The forest bell bush flowers profusely in spring and summer, but has a long flowering period and may even flower until early December, depending on climate. The large, glossy, dark-green leaves are borne on long slender stems, and are also most attractive.  If grown under ideal conditions, this beautiful plant is long-lived with an upright growth habit, +-1.5 to 3m tall, with an almost equal spread of about +-2m, if left un-pruned.

In the Garden:

The forest bell bush is essential for all shady gardens and will thrive if planted amongst trees or near water, growing even in dense shade. This versatile plant can be trained to grow as a large shrub or small tree, and is an excellent choice for an informal hedge or screen. It also grows beautifully in large containers. Because the roots are non-invasive, it is perfect for even tiny gardens and can safely be planted near to swimming pools and foundations. The flowers will attract carpenter bees and are a favourite food source for the blue-pansy butterfly (Junonia oenone oenone)

Cultivation:

The forest bell bush grows best in the humid, sub-tropical and frost-free, summer rainfall regions of South Africa, but also does well in the winter rainfall regions if it is watered well in summer and is planted in well-drained soil. Although it is tender to frost, it can be grown in colder inland gardens which experience short spells of low temperatures down to 0°C; and will even tolerate lower temperatures if it is planted in a wind protected and very sheltered part of the garden; under the eaves of the house; or in pots which can be moved or covered during the coldest months. If it does get frosted, the damaged branches can be pruned hard in early summer to encourage new growth from the base; but unfortunately, the early spring flowers will be affected.

Although it will grow in dense shade, it may not flower that well, preferring a bright shady position in the garden which is sheltered from strong winds. In coastal gardens it will take more sun, but in too much sun the leaves will have a yellow look. This plant thrives in deep, heavily composted, well-drained soil. Water it regularly in the first year to get it established, and moderately thereafter during dry summer spells. In winter it is quite drought hardy and in colder regions, should be kept on the dry side until August. During the summer months an application of 3:1:5 every 6 weeks is beneficial. This plant responds well to pruning and can be kept nice and compact if it is pruned ever year after it has finished blooming. Light pruning during summer is also fine.

Propagation:

It is easily propagated from semi-hardwood cuttings taken in spring or autumn. Fresh seed sown in spring also germinates well.

Pests & Diseases:

If grown correctly the forest bell bush does not suffer from many pests or diseases, but in very sheltered gardens with insufficient air circulation, it is susceptible to spider mites and whiteflies.

Additional Info

  • Common Name: Forest Bell Bush, Bosklokkiesbos, Mufhanza
  • Latin Name: Mackaya bella