Shrub medium; Shrub large
4 x 3 m
pale pink to white. Autumn to winter
sun; screen; wildlife bees butterflies birds insects; shrubbery; dry soils; sandy soils; slope bank
woodland forest; grassland; bushveld
subtropical east coast; highveld; bushveld savanna
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Without a doubt this is one of the best insect shrubs we have, exclaims landscaper, Jenny Dean. The leaves are most attractive, large with wavy, undulating margins that make it a lovely focal point even when not in flower. The Bitter-leaf grows into a large shrub but, when pruned, makes a lovely small tree and is an excellent choice as a stand- alone specimen or as part of a bush-clump or wildlife hedge. The Vernonia family is very mixed, ranging from wildflowers from the grassland biomes, like Vernonia natalensis and V. capensis, to creepers and large shrubs or trees. They were named after the botanist, William Vernon. The natural habitat of this shrub is deciduous woodland and openings in riverine forests, within the warmer southeast of the country where it enjoys moderate to good rainfalls. It's frost tolerance has not yet been noted, but the natural distribution range does not suggest a high tolerance. The Lowveld Vernonia can be a rather untidy looking tree and mixes well in a wild hedge or shrubbery. In the garden, it will grow to about 4 m with a 3 m spread and is multi-stemmed. This can result in a rather wide-spreading shrub/tree, but these can be pruned to neaten it up. This characteristic is, however, a great asset in a boundary hedge or thicket. The leaves are large, quite furry in texture with very distinct wavy edges. In summer rainfall regions it is often deciduous during the dry winter but this period is very short. One of the greatest values is as a food plant during autumn and early winter. Opening a soft mauve/ pink, they soon fade to a white after a few days. It will flower while still young and is one of the most reliable flowering shrubs for the garden. It is a fast grower, up to 1 m per year, thickening out as it ages. The flowers are nectar rich making it one of the best trees in which to find butterflies, insects and birds. Often during this season, I have found a wide variety of birds feasting on nectar and insects: sunbirds, bulbuls, brown-hooded Kingfisher, Black- headed Oriole, white-eyes, doves, and starlings, Paradise Fly-catcher, Wagtails and Weavers, fighting it out for their share of the spoils. This shrub will attract bees to the garden, and I have also found butterflies drinking the sap from the trunk. This really does offer a 5-star buffet for wildlife species!