Scientific name: Bowkeria verticillata
Common name: Natal shell flower bush
Plant type: Evergreen shrub
Environment: Full sun to part shade in sandy soil
Bloom: White flower with a large pouch and lemon-y scent
Uses: An attractive specimen plant or part of a mixed screen
South Africa Garden
27C & 42A
Bowkeria verticillata (Eckl. & Zeyh.) Druce, or the Natal shell flower bush, is a relatively rare shrub in cultivation. A member of the Stilbaceae family, Bowkeria is a small genus comprised of only three species. All three species of this genus are found in the eastern regions of South Africa.
The name of the genus, Bowkeria reflects this native range as it was named for devoted amateur botanists in the region, Mary Elizabeth Barber (née Bowker) and her brother Henry Bowker. Barber was an accomplished naturalist studying the eastern Cape during the 19th century. She began this study in earnest after the publication of The Genera of South African Plants, Arranged According to the Natural System by William Henry Harvey, the eventual Keeper of the Trinity College Herbarium in Dublin. Soon after the book’s publication, Barber and Harvey began corresponding and years later, to honor her contributions to the understanding of the flora of the eastern Cape, he named the genus for her and her family.
While not common in cultivation B. verticillata is a decorative addition to the garden landscape. It can be a multi- or single stem shrub, sometimes growing into a small tree. The evergreen leaves provide a dense backdrop for the species’ most notable feature: it’s flowers. The flowers of the Natal shell flower bush are a pure white and have a distinct lemon-y scent. The flowers contain a large pouch filled with oil bearing hairs.
These hairs and oil serve an ecological purpose. B. verticillata is pollinated by native bees, Rediviva rufocinta, who use the oil for larval food. The bees enter the floral pouch and move around within it, transferring the oil to their legs, which allows them to carry the oil back to their nests to feed their larvae.
Luckily for the bees, though B. verticillata is not often found in gardens, its wild populations are not under threat and is listed as a plant of least conservation concern by the Red List of South African Plants. In the wild it can be found on forest edges and in evergreen scrub, at elevations from 900-2135 m.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and profile by Sarah Callan. Photos by Joanne Taylor.