Thursday, 21 February 2013

Natal Flame Bush lights up the Melbourne summer


Alberta magna is a lonely species. It's rare in its natural habitat and it's been left isolated taxonomically after the rest of the species, all from Madagascar, were moved the mouthful of a genus, Razafimandimbisonia.

The common name Natal Flame Bush pretty much sums up Alberta magna. It comes from ZwaZulu-Natal and the Easter Cape region of South Africa, it has flame coloured flowers (too intense for my camera to cope with) and it's a bush or perhaps small tree. The alternative name Mountain Alberta is not so informative.


I thought the species name 'magna' may be reference to the fire-red flowers (above) or similarly coloured fruits (below) but apparently it honours a 12th or 13th century German philosopher, author of the 7-volume De Vegetabilus.


While Red-Listed, the species is considered at relatively low risk. Fire and habitat disturbance are the main threats to its survival. The wood breaks easily - giving it the local name of Breekhout in South Africa - but the bark is considered useful in medicine and this may put further pressure on some populations.

My photos are from Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (get used to this locale) where it is in full flower now. Natal Flame Bush is not uncommon in cultivation but Melbourne is not an obvious place for it to thrive. It doesn't like dry heat or cold, two things Melbourne does rather well.

I gather it's also difficult to propagate and to nurse through the early years, and slow growing. This firmly established specimen is obviously doing very well in the botanic gardens so perhaps it you get through the difficult first few decades you'll be fine...

I leave you with these words from a guide to the plants of Kruger National Park, where somewhat incongruously it doesn't grow naturally. "Few South African indigenous plants are as visually stunning as the Alberta magna in full bloom".

And remember, South Africa is home to 1 in 10 of the world's flowering plants, including the King Protea (Protea cynaroides), Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) and thousands more brightly coloured flowering bulbs and shrubs, including some other showy members of the family Rubiaceae such as Gardenia.



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