Support the Local Flora and Grow Indigenous Shrubs in Your Garden!

There is a strong move these days to grow more indigenous plants in our gardens rather than the exotics from overseas countries. Indigenous plants have evolved over many centuries to the climate and conditions of East Africa so obviously will adapt better in our gardens than those from Europe, America and other distant places and are certainly more drought tolerant. Also many of the exotics are now showing a tendency to escape from our gardens and become invasive in the surrounding landscape which can cause other problems.

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Bauhinia tomentosa

So let us examine some of the indigenous shrubs available and discuss their merits. Acokanthera oppositifolia is the poison arrow tree but in fact is more of a shrub than a tree as it does not grow much taller than 4 to 5 metres. It has dark green glossy leaves and produces lots of small white sweetly scented flowers, followed by the small plum like fruit – all parts of the plant are poisonous – so perhaps should not be planted in a garden where there are small children – although they say the fruits can be eaten. Bauhinia tomentosa (left) also grows to about 4 metres and has large yellow bell shaped flowers. Both of these species are quite drought resistant.

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Carissa edulis

Another drought resistant scented flowering shrub is the spiky Carissa edulis (right) and as the specific epithet describes has edible fruits, much enjoyed by children (and adults). It is often to be seen in full flower in the Nairobi Game Park.

The beautiful indigenous Buddleja, Buddleja polystachya, has masses of yellow/orange flowers and is honey scented and attracts butterflies and bees.

The “Butterfly Bush”, Clerodendrum myricoides,  bears blue flowers that look like butterflies, hence the common name.

There are many different species of Crotalaria indigenous in Kenya to be found in both dry country and the moister highlands and they all have attractive bright yellow bird like flowers. If you want deep blue/purplish flowers then there is Dyschoriste thunbergiflora, which provides its best floral display when the climate is at its hottest and driest. A big advantage of most indigenous shrubs is their ability to withstand drought and in these times of climate change the more plants that we can have in the garden that do not need watering the better.

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Clerodendrum myricoides

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Crotalaria

The Kenya Laburnam, Calpunia aurea, so called because of the hanging panicles of beautiful yellow flowers. This is a small tree or shrub that grows along the Aberdare and Mt. Kenya forest edges and reaches 5 metres in height and is ideal for the small garden in a sunny position with its many fine small bright green leaves.

Another shrub with attractive flowers is Cadia purpurea, and as the name implies it has purple or pale maroon flowers which are bell shaped and hang down below the attractive foliage. There is a variant with pale yellow/green flowers. The natural habitat for this Cadia is the Samburu region north of Isiolo so it is drought resistant but from experience it grows well in Nairobi.

For a shady garden the beautiful white flowering Whitfieldia elongata, from the Nyanza District, would be an ideal choice. This shrub will grow to 3 metres and has upright spikes of white flowers.

The indigenous shrubby Thunbergias are all worth having with perhaps the best known being Thunbergia holstii frequently seen in the Tsavo National Park. It bears dark violet flowers with a yellow throat and is colourful for most of the year.

Ruttya fruticosa is a scrambling climbing shrub which comes with either red and black flowers or yellow and black flowers. It can be seen growing naturally on the Rift Valley Escarpment.

Although only eleven species are mentioned in this article there are many many more beautiful indigenous plants to be found across the country and several of them can be found in the better nurseries. This article should give you some ideas and hopefully whet your appetite and after planting they will give you many years of enjoyment.

Barry Cameron