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What is Melianthus?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2018
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Melianthus is a small genus of flowering shrubs native to South Africa. There are fewer than 10 known species in this genus, several of which are cultivated as ornamentals. Melianthus has been widely exported throughout the world for use in climates similar to those found in its native habitat. Nurseries sometimes carry seedlings and people can also grow this plant from cuttings and divisions. One thing to be cautious of is that this genus is adapted to spread and it can get out of control in the garden if people do not keep an eye on it.

Plants in this genus have large, arching leaves in shades of silvery gray to blue green. The foliage is evergreen, with the plant producing small red or orange flowers on long stalks. The flowers drip a highly appealing nectar and Melianthus is often very popular with bees, butterflies, and birds. People interested in attracting animals to the garden may want to consider establishing a plant from this genus in a central location.

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Known as “honey bush,” Melianthus is said to have a faintly sweet smell like honey or peanut butter, although not all gardeners notice an odor unless the plant is crushed or brushed. It can be grown as a standalone specimen or bedding plant and needs some room to grow, as it can become quite large. Pruning is recommended to keep the foliage under control and gardeners should keep a sharp eye for runners, especially around paths, where the plant's runners may potentially disrupt paving stones and gravel.

Members of this genus like well-drained soil of moderate quality and full sun to partial shade. The water requirements are moderate, with some species being very tolerant to drought and harsh conditions. Climates in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones eight through 11 are usually suitable for cultivating members of this genus. In the cooler end of this range, planting in full sun in a sheltered area of the garden is recommended. People can also grow the plant in greenhouses, although the runners can become a problem.

Companion plantings can include other plants with silvery or bluish foliage to offset the color, along with larger shrubs and trees as background planting. When using Melianthus in massed plantings with other plants, it will need to be aggressively trimmed to prevent it from overrunning the bed and choking out the other plants with runners and dense foliage.

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