Polygala myrtifolia (September bush)
Plant image

Polygala myrtifolia is a common, widespread pioneer shrub with pretty mauve flowers on and off throughout the year with a peak in spring, hence the names Augustusbossie and September bush.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Polygala myrtifolia

Common names:
September bush (E)
Augustusbossie, Blouertjie, Langelede (A)

Plant family:
Polygalaceae

Plant categories:
Shrubs; Non-herbaceous Perennials


Name derivation & history:
Polygala is an old Greek name from the words polys meaning much and gala meaning milk, the name given to this genus for some of its members which have the reputation for promoting the secretion of milk.

The species name myrtifolia means myrtle-like leaves.

An interesting use for this polygala was recorded by Pappe , a German doctor and botanist who emigrated to the Cape in 1832. Pappe says that the Cape Malays scraped off the fresh grey bark, which they mixed with water and stirred until it frothed and then used this for washing their dead before burial. This custom dated back long before Pappe recorded it in 1860, but it is now long in disuse. Because of this use, the plant was known in the Cape as langelier or langelede, probably a corruption of the Afrikaans lange lede meaning long joints.

Pictures

Features

Leaf habit:
Evergreen

Height:
0.6 to 1.8 (up to 4) metres

Plant shape:
Polygala myrtifolia varies in form as it changes to adapt to the different areas it grows in, from the harshness of the coast to the drier inland climates. An evergreen shrub, the most common forms reach about 0.6 to 1.8 metres in height with a few upright-growing stems and slender branches densely covered with leaves that resemble myrtle.

It can also grow into a small tree reaching almost 4 metres high.

Leaf description:
The oval-shaped leaves are usually 25 to 50 mm long and up to 13 mm wide. The leaves are light green, dark green or slightly grey. Some forms of P. myrtifolia have thin, needle-like leaves.

Flower description:
The buds are green, flat, marked with dark veins and oval to half-moon-shaped. The lower buds open first. The flowers are carried in small clusters at the ends of short branches and look a bit like legume (pea or bean) flowers, but are actually quite different. Close inspection will reveal that although they have two wings and a keel, they lack the banner (also called standard) petal.

All polygalas also have a showy, and very distinctive brush-like tuft on the keel. The showy petals, beautifully marked with darker veins, are usually in shades of mauve or purple, but can also be scarlet pink, or white.

Polygala myrtifolia has blooms throughout the year with a peak in spring (August to October) when the plants flower profusely.

Flower colour:
Variable: mauve, purple, scarlet pink or white

Flowering months:
August to October

Fruit description:
The fruit is a small, winged capsule.

Habitat

Natural distribution:
Polygala myrtifolia occurs naturally from the Bokkeveld Mountains near Clanwilliam in the Western Cape to Kwazulu-Natal.

Habitat:
Along its wide distribution area the habitat changes from winter to summer rainfall. It is commonly found growing on dunes, rocky slopes, in forests, along streams, in scrub and open grassland.

Water requirements:
Waterwise (little water required)

Frost tolerance:
Semi-hardy (tolerates mild frost for short periods)

Light conditions:
Sun; semi-shade

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant
Salt spray resistant
Has non-aggressive roots
Low maintenance

Edibility & Toxicity

We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is edible
We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is toxic, however we urge caution as this information may be incorrect.

Ecology

Interaction with physical surroundings:
Carpenter bees and White-bellied Sunbirds are frequent visitors
Attracts birds
Attracts insects

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
In KwaZulu-Natal Polygala myrtifolia is one of the many plants known for its antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Tests run by the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg have found that aqueous extracts of P. myrtifolia showed activity against Candida albicans (which causes oral candidiasis).

Cultivation:
Polygala myrtifolia is an attractive shrub able to adapt to most gardens and gardeners. A tough shrub suitable for coastal gardens, fynbos gardens, low maintenance and water-wise gardens. In the new garden it is excellent as a fast growing windbreak, hedge and colourful shrub able to grow in most soil types from full sun to semi-shade. Its growth is a bit more lax, producing fewer flowers in the shade, but it grows happily in the difficult pockets that change from full sun to semi-shade with the seasons.

Polygala myrtifolia responds well to light pruning, which encourages a more bushy habit, but it is not necessary to prune if its full height and shape will not cause a problem in the garden design. Older plants can start to look untidy and woody. Seedlings often germinate close to the parents.

Polygala myrtifolia can easily be propagated from seed and tip cuttings preferably taken in spring and autumn. In Western Cape the best time to plant is during the winter to allow the plants time to establish themselves before the dry, warm summer. With a thick mulch, P. myrtifolia would need very little watering once established.

Similar species:
Polygala fruticosa and Polygala virgata.

Notes:
The milkwort family (Polygalaceae) occurs nearly world-wide with 17 genera and 950 species. Of the 400-450 African species, 32 occur in the Cape region. The genus Poygala consists of about 600 species with 232 species in Africa and Madagascar of which approximately 88 species occur in southern Africa. Other local species grown in gardens include Polygala fruticosa and Polygala virgata.

References:
South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa.

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