This week we take some time to admire the indigenous Wild Gardenia (Gardenia thunbergia). With its large white flowers, divine scent and interesting fruit, this forest-dweller is a must-have for that shady spot in the garden.
A quick look at Wild Gardenia:
Latin name | Gardenia thunbergia
Common names | Wild Gardenia, Forest Gardenia, White Gardenia, Witkatjiepiering, Buffelsbal, Kannetjieboom
Family | Rubiaceae
Gardenia thunbergia is a slow-growing, long-lived, evergreen shrub that can reach to 7 m in height. Its glossy green leaves, magnificently fragrant white flowers and decorative woody fruit makes it an excellent garden subject. It works beautifully as a focal plant in a lawn and can also be planted as an informal hedge or shrubbery. If watered regularly and pruned to scale, it makes for a perfect container plant for the patio. It is even suitable for bonsai!
The Wild Gardenia is naturally distributed in evergreen forests and woodland from the Eastern Cape northwards into tropical Africa. Interestingly, Gardenia thunbergia was the first of our native Gardenias to be discovered and collected by early European botanists, and was introduced to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London in the late 1700s.
The star-shaped flowers make their appearance in summer, from October to March, and fill the garden with a delightful fragrance, especially in the evening. Contrary to many of the other Gardenia species, Wild Gardenia flowers keep their colour and do not fade to yellow as they age on the bush.
The characteristic egg-shaped fruit is hard and woody, and, if not harvested or eaten by large grazers, will remain on the shrub for years. The seed coats are tough enough to be chewed and pass through the gut of an elephant.
Gardenia thunbergia fruit.
Growing Wild Gardenia
Gardenia thunbergia grows well in sun or semi-shade positions in well-draining, slightly acidic, compost-rich soil. It does best with regular deep watering and appreciates a thick and regular application of mulch. Generally, it needs little pruning but can be pruned after flowering maintain the desired shape.
Wild Gardenia is half-hardy so it should be able to tolerate a little frost, however, young plants will require some protection during winter months.
It is easily propagated from seed, cuttings and truncheons. Sow seed in spring to early summer. Seeds should germinate in 4-6 weeks. Propagating from cuttings can be done at any time of the year (summer is best though). For best results, take actively growing twigs with healthy foliage, place in soil and keep well-watered.
Unless you have an elephant closeby, harvesting the seeds can be quite a laborious task as the fruit coat is very thick and tough to get through. It will be well worth the effort propagating these beautiful indigenous shrubs!