Shrub medium; Shrub large
4 - 5 m
white February to August; summer autumn winter
shade; light shade; shrubbery; screen; wildlife carpenter bees birds; container; narrow spaces; fast-growing easy-care
woodland forest; grassland; coastal eastern cape
subtropical east coast; thicket; highveld
Find informative indigenous gardening articles in our web magazine - www.theindigenousgardener.co.za
A beautiful medium to large shrub, the large pistol bush can take the shape of a shrub or small tree of between 2 and 4 m high with an equal spread and can easily be pruned from an early age into a single stemmed tree shape if required. When grown as a tree, the dark brown stem can get as thick as 26cm but is usually thinner than this. Occurring naturally in the forest understory, on forest margins and in rocky outcrops, in KZN, Eastern Cape and the Gauteng province, it is not too fussy about the amount of light it receives, as long as it receives enough water! As a forest dweller it loves moist, well-composted soils with plenty of leaf mould around the stem and, as a forest environment is a well -protected one, it does do better if protected from windy conditions. In fact, poor soils, lack of moisture and frequent strong winds will result in poor growth of the Duvernoia. Its greatest asset from the gardeners perspective though, is a shrub for shady areas of the garden where it will flower quite happily. The Pistol bush makes a good screen being evergreen, with large, dark leaves, and bunches of extremely pretty orchid-like flowers that stand up on spikes above the leaves. These are quite large and are massed on the tips of the branches, to great effect against the dark leafy background, flowering on and off from February through to August. The flowers have light purple stripes which are often indicators for the pollinating insects, the carpenter bee being the main pollinator of this shrub. Carpenter bee numbers are dwindling alarmingly, so the addition of shrubs in the garden offering food to this species is important. Polygala myrtifolia is another shrub loved by this bee species. Unlike many other flowering shrubs, each individual flower, with its sweet smell, lasts for at least a couple of weeks. Once flowering is over, small club shaped seed pods add new interest, and it is from the explosive cracking open of the seed capsules in spring that the common name of Pistol Bush has arisen. This is the process by which the plant spreads its seed. As with all large, dark leaved shrubs, they make wonderful backdrop plants for the garden structure against which other plants will show to great advantage. It is beautiful in its own right though and should be planted with this in mind. Planted in light to semi-shade, other shade loving species (Plectranthus, Clivia, Chlorophytum, Ferns and others) will show up well against the dark screen, giving a quite tropical look to the landscape.. D. adhatodoides has a reasonably fast growth rate, is frost tender and has a very neat growth habit making it suitable for use in a smaller garden. A versatile shrub, the large pistol bush is happy in sun as well as a variety of shade conditions from inside the forest canopy to partial shade. Propagation is via cuttings or seed, which must be collected as the fruit turns brown before the capsule splits open and scatters the seed. To access the seed from the still closed seed pod, place the collected pod in a bag until it splits open and ejects the seed. It is a shrub that can vary in size quite significantly: up on the Highveld and northern parts of the country, especially if grown in sun, it is more likely to be shrubby and up to about 3m high and 2m wide. In the warmer, wetter regions, it can reach as high as 5m x 4m, although more likely to be shrubby at 4m.