Fifty years ago, the RHS suggested that Melianthus major was suitable only for sub-tropical bedding schemes in Cornwall. Twenty-five years ago, garden writer Graham Stuart Thomas advised that it could be grown only in the warmest counties. This year, you'll find it in garden centres all over the country.
Climate change is partly responsible for this plant's popularity, but just as significant is our increasing sense of adventure as gardeners, and the modern taste for an exotic look. Melianthus major grows rapidly and within one season can reach 2m (6t) tall. The lush growth, coupled with its large, glaucous leaves, has made it as fashionable as cannas, bananas and tree ferns among those looking to bring a touch of the jungle to their back gardens.
From late spring, bright-red flowers cluster like flocks of finches at the base of the leaves. In the wild, the flowers are pollinated by birds attracted by the nectar in each of the little flowers. So much nectar is produced that it overflows on to the stems and splashes the foliage. Be careful, though, because sweet as the nectar is, it will stain your clothes. There are always lots of seed pods, too; inflated cubes that dangle like Chinese lanterns.
If you don't want to mimic the rain forest, try growing Melianthus major with slender-leaved grasses such as Pennisetum. The large, glaucous leaves add texture and provide a good background to bright colours in the garden, use them with Allium, Dahlias and Cannas.
Melianthus major has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Sowing: Sow in spring, March to May.
Sow in spring, into pots or trays of moist seed compost and cover with a sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Place in a propagator or warm place, and keep at a temperature of around 13 to 18°C (55 to 64°F). After sowing, do not exclude light as this helps germination. Keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged; germination will usually take 21 to 30 days.
When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 7.5cm (3in) pots of good, soil-less compost. Grow on and re-pot into 13cm (5in) pots until the plants are of a good size before planting out.
Gradually acclimatise plants to cooler conditions for a few weeks before planting out after all risk of frost, in borders 90 to 100cm (24 to 40in) apart . Prefers to grow a light, well drained light dry soil in full sun.
If growing in sunny borders in mild areas, when the foliage dies back after frost each winter protect the exposed crown with a dry winter mulch of straw or bracken.
Plant outside in well drained soil in a sheltered position. Alternatively plant into large containers filled with a good quality potting compost for an attractive feature plant. Plants grown in containers are best moved into a cool frost free greenhouse or conservatory to protect them over winter. Plants will flower when established from May to August.
Flowers Borders and Beds, City/Courtyard Gardens or Exotic or Sub-tropical Gardens.
Melianthus major is the most familiar of the eight species of Melianthus, a genus of shrubs endemic to southern Africa and naturalised in India, Australia and New Zealand.
In its native South Africa, Melianthus major is found in both the winter and summer rainfall areas of the country where it favours wetter soils.
The genus name Melianthus is taken from the Greek words meli meaning 'honey' in reference to the copious amount of nectar that the plant produces. The species name major simply means 'larger' or 'greater'.
Along with the small genera Greyia and Bersama, Melianthus is included in the comparatively isolated family, Melianthaceae.
It has the common names of the Honey Bush and Honey Flower, again due to the copious amount of nectar that the plant produces. The flowers smell strangely of "peanut butter", "warm milk at bed time " or to others " freshly shelled peas ". The strong stems allow the endemic nectar-drinking birds, which cannot hover to perch easily and reach the flowers, pollinating them in the process.
In South Africa has earned the unfortunate Afrikaans nick-name of Kruidjie-roer-my-nie M meaning the ‘don’t-touch-me’ bush, a reference to her curious smell and poisonous nature. We should not hold this against the plant, for many of our most beautiful plants are delightfully deadly if eaten.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 40 seeds per gram Family Melanthiaceae Genus Melianthus Species major Common Name Honey Flower Other Language Names Kruidjie-roer-my-nie in South Africa Hardiness Shrub Foliage Grey-green, glaucous leaves up to 50cm (20in) long Height 2 to 3m (6 to 10ft) Spread 1 to 3m (3 to 10ft) Position Full Sun - provide shelter from cold winds. Time to Sow Sow in spring, March to May. Germination 21 to 30 days at 13 to 18°C (55 to 64°F).