The honey-bell bush is trendy with modern urban gardeners

Freylinia tropica 'White' Picture courtesy Random Harvest NurseryFreylinia tropica 'White' Picture courtesy Random Harvest NurseryThe charming Freylinia tropica or Blue Honey-bell bush heralds spring in South Africa in the most delightful way. Its abundance of dainty flowers in delicate shades of pale blue, mauve and white are sure to make you smile, and if you see them for sale you will find it hard to resist buying a couple for your garden. Read more below on how to plant, grow and use this little gem in your garden.

Its fast growth and good looks work well in any garden setting, large or small, and this shrub has been embraced by modern urban gardeners who are searching for plants which are not only pretty and versatile, but also those that are low maintenance, water-wise, and easy to grow. Another plus is that the plant is not poisonous, and the roots are not aggressive, making it ideal to plant close to pathways or foundations. Modern trends also advocate limiting the spraying of chemicals in the garden, and with more and more gardeners looking for plants which are virtually pest free, Freylinia tropica fits the bill perfectly.

In South Africa there are 9 species of Freylinia, 8 of which are found in the Cape Province, and Freylinia tropica which occurs in the summer rainfall regions. South African species are: Freylinia tropica, Freylinia crispa, Freylinia densiflora, Freylinia helmei, Freylinia lanceolata, Freylinia longiflora, Freylinia undulata, Freylinia visseri and Freylinia vlokii.

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia tropica

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia crispa

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia densiflora

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia helmei

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia lanceolata

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia longiflora

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia undulata

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia visseri

Click here too see Google images of Freylinia vlokii

Currently, Freylinia tropica is known from fewer than 10 wild subpopulations, and is Red Listed as Rare but not threatened. It grows naturally in the Waterberg Mountains in Limpopo Province, which, as the name implies, serve as a water reservoir for this arid bushveld region. Dating back to over 1,800 million years ago it is also one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, and based on rock painting evidence, is believed to be the original home of the San people, the oldest surviving cultures of indigenous hunter-gatherers in southern Africa,

In 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) designated the Waterberg area of South Africa as a recognised Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is a 6,500 square kilometre (650,000 hectares) paradise named after the water-rich nature that the low mountain ranges and escarpments produce in an otherwise arid region. Riparian zones are associated with various rivers that cut through the Waterberg, and these surface waters all drain into the Limpopo River which flows easterly to discharge into the Indian Ocean. Freylinia tropica favours these riparian zones and is often found growing on river banks and beside streams. The vegetation of this area is dominated by different veld types, characteristic of mountainous savannah areas, creating a rich biodiversity with more than 5,500 species of plants.

Freylinia tropica also occurs in the Chimanimani Mountains, a range on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The mountains rise out of the low Mozambican plain, and the eastward-facing slopes intercept moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean, creating much orographic precipitation. Freylinia tropica can be found growing at these high altitudes on exposed, misty mountain slopes and cliffs, and on the margins of evergreen forests. It is also frequently found as a pioneer plant on cleared land.

Common names for Freylinia tropica include: Waterberg Bell-bush, Blue Honey-bells, Blouheuningklokkies, Blue Freylinia, and Inyanga Hedge Plant.

In the wild this evergreen bush often forms a small tree, 3 to 4 meters high, but in the garden it is usually a fast growing shrub with an upright growth habit and delicate foliage on slender, loosely spreading branches. Garden subjects are usually kept around 1 to 2.5m in height with a spread of 75cm to 1m. The white flowering form is not as upright in its growth habit as the blue form. Although it’s main flowering time is in spring, the flowers also appear all through the warmer months. The fruit is a small, ovoid light brown capsule, and the fruits are dehiscent (splitting open when ripe).

Freylinia tropica 'Blue'Freylinia tropica 'Blue'In the Garden:

Freylinia tropica is ideal to plant in rock gardens, and blends in just as effortlessly into a bushveld garden as it does in a fynbos or English cottage styled garden.

For wildlife gardens this shrub is a ‘must-have’ as sunbirds and other nectar-feeders will visit the flowers, as will bees, moths, and butterflies like the Pansy and Brown Veined White, and a host of other beneficial pollinators.

One of its common names is the “Inyanga Hedge Plant” because honey-bell bushes respond well to clipping and can be trained into hedges or screens, and they are also popular ‘standard’ or 'lollipop' plants. Training also allows them to be used to good effect in narrow spaces, or to screen walls and fences. 

The honey-bell bush is also excellent to mass plant underneath trees in light shade, and in the mixed border it blends in effortlessly with other flowering shrubs.

If you are grouping Freylinia tropica informally in flower borders, plant 1.5m to 2m apart. For a more formal hedge space the plants about 75cm to 1m apart.

And because it is easy to grow in pots, even the smallest balcony garden can sport one or two honey-bell bushes.


This plant will grow in most garden conditions, but thrives in warm, misty regions. It is wind resistant, and a water-wise, drought resistant plant. Once established, it is cold hardy, and withstands frost, but young plants should be protected against the cold in their first few winters.

In the garden, try mimicking its forest margin conditions in the wild by planting it where it will receive both sunshine and some light shade. It can be grow in full sun, but will then require regular watering during the summer growing season.

In winter rainfall areas it will require regular summer watering, and because this freylinia is a summer rainfall species and only requires occasional watering in winter, in these regions it will require soil with perfect drainage, or it could be planted into pots which can be moved away from excessive winter rainfall.

Although it is tolerant of poor soils, for the best results in the garden plant Freylinia tropica in good, fertile but well-drained soil, adding plenty of compost to malnourished soils. And, although they are drought hardy, regular watering during dry spells, mulching the roots, and feeding occasionally with a balanced organic fertiliser will keep it in top form.

If left unpruned the plant will become scraggly, but luckily it responds particularly well to clipping, after which it will quickly push forth lush new growth. A good trim after flowering in spring may be sufficient to keep it from becoming scraggly, but light trimming is recommended throughout summer.

Unless they are grown in a sophisticated growing structure with artificial heating and a mist bed, the quickest and easiest way of propagating Frelinia tropica is by using cuttings taken during the summer growing season. For a high percentage of rooting, cuttings should be treated with root stimulating hormones, and roots should appear within 10 to 22 days. Transplant the rooted cuttings into small pots or nursery bags to grow on, using fertile, well-drained soil, and before transplanting into the garden, hardened the small plants off by exposing them to more light and reducing the supply of water.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

If Freylinia tropica is grown correctly it is virtually pest and disease free.


Freylinia tropica in not poisonous.