What is a Cape Plumbago?

J.M. Densing

A cape plumbago, scientific name Plumbago auriculata, is a versatile, shrub-like, perennial plant with clusters of small blue flowers. Another common name is cape leadwort. The plant is native to South Africa, and is cultivated for use as an indoor plant or in gardens in many areas of the world. It has several uses in the garden, and is extremely easy to care for.

A cape plumbago is a perennial plant that is native to South Africa.
A cape plumbago is a perennial plant that is native to South Africa.

The cape plumbago will grow quite tall and spread out a great deal under some conditions. Its height can range from 3 to 10 feet (0.9 to 3 m), and it often spreads out at least as wide as it is tall. It usually has a shrub-like appearance, although it can be trained to grow on trellises as a climber and kept trimmed back as a groundcover if desired. The stems are long and slender, and the leaves are an oval shape. The color of the evergreen leaves is a slightly yellowish shade of green and approximately 2 inches (5 cm) long.

Cape plumbago attracts butterflies.
Cape plumbago attracts butterflies.

The flowers of the cape plumbago grow in clusters of multiple blossoms that usually measure about 6 inches (15 cm) across on the ends of the stems. The flowers have a tubular formation from the stem, spreading out into five flattened petals at the end, measuring about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide. They come in a range of shades of blue, from almost white to a royal blue shade. The most sought-after color seem to be a sky blue shade, and the plant is sometimes called "sky flower."

The native area of the cape plumbago plant is South Africa, where it grows freely in the wild. In cultivation, it can be kept as indoors or used outdoors in a garden. It prefers a warm, subtropical climate, like that found in Florida and parts of Texas and California, where it will behave as an evergreen perennial. In areas with cooler climates and harsher winters, the cape plumbago can still be grown as an outdoor plant by bringing seedlings or small plants indoors over the winter, then replanting them in the spring, or growing them in containers for easy portability.

In the garden, the cape plumbago is a versatile plant that can be used in numerous ways, and it can be kept trimmed to any desired length without preventing it from flowering. It can be allowed to grow tall and used in hedges or as a background plant; it can also be used in flower beds, in borders, or in containers. It flowers best in full sun, but will still do well in partial shade, and it needs minimal watering once established. Spent flowers can be pruned to encourage new blossoms and to help keep the desired size and shape of the plant. The flowers are attractive to butterflies and bloom from spring until frost.

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