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What is Plumbago?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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Plumbago is a genus of flowering shrubs that belongs to the Plumbaginaceae family and is more commonly known as leadwort. Its name originated from the Latin word plumbum, which pertains to the element lead. The juice excreted by these plants can leave bluish stains on the skin. It is believed that these plants hold chemical properties that help treat lead poisoning.

Members of the Plumbago genus are predominantly perennial herbaceous plants that dwell in regions with warm tropical climates, such as South Africa. Some species have also been seen in gardens around Europe. These herbaceous plants have tubular flowers with exactly five petals that come in light blue, lavender, and shades of pink. The thick clusters of blooms are most vibrant during the summer. These shrubs have foliage with thin, oval-shaped leaves that bear grayish scale-like dots on their undersides.

The blossoms of these perennials continuously grow throughout the year, at least until the first frost. Their sepals produce a sticky sap that attracts and kills most crawling insects, such as ants and worms, but is harmless to humans and pollinators like butterflies and bees. The species of this genus have no particular scent. These shrubs can reach heights of around 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 m) when fully grown.

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Most Plumbago species can serve as ornamental garden shrubs. Some butterfly gardeners commonly plant the species zeylanica and indica to attract butterflies to their garden, as well as to supply food for their larvae. Withered or damaged flowers are quickly replaced by clusters of new ones, which means a year-round presence of colorful accents in the garden.

Auriculata, or cape leadwort, is the most common species in this genus. It can be seen growing wild on mountain sides and shady forests in South Africa. Variations of deep blue, off white, and lavender colored flowers sprout from this variety alone. As a houseplant, constant pruning is required to keep the shrub from growing to its maximum height of 6 feet (1.8 m). Minimal doses of water are enough to keep the shrub from drying out.

Aside from the ability to treat lead poisoning, sap produced by Plumbago plants is also often applied to warts and small wounds. The plants’ natural antibacterial properties provide an alternative source of topical treatments to hasten the healing process of skin lesions. Believers of old folk traditions also use these plants to ward off evil spirits and bad luck by placing small cuttings on their windows.

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