Written by: Nomama Mei and Catherine Browne
Gardening for drought is now a necessary reality in South Africa, SANBI and the Botanical Society of South Africa give some examples of how you can garden in drought conditions, by sharing with us eight plants that need little to no water. This group of plants have adapted to survive in environments with very harsh drought conditions.
They survive in areas of South Africa with little or less water – places with an average rainfall of 100-200ml per annum. And most of these plants are characterised by fleshy leaves that store large quantities of water or have very thick leaf surfaces that minimise loss of water through the leaves. These plants can also be classified as xerophytes, meaning they can survive under very dry conditions. Gardening for drought often simply boils down to your choice of plants.
Common names: Hottentots fig, sour fig, gouna, perdevry
This plant grows in full sun and is resistant to wind. It can take half frost and remains evergreen throughout the year. It bears beautiful flowers in spring. This plant is edible and has a sour taste. It is used in steep and sloppy areas to minimise soil erosion. Leaf juice is a soothing lotion for burns, bruises, cuts, sunburn and blue bottle stings.
2. Aloe ferox
Common names: Bitter aloe, bergaalwyn
It’s a single stem plant densely covered in old dead leaves. It is evergreen, grows in full sun and is tender to frost. It flowers in late summer and its flowering season is extremely variable because of its wide distribution. This means it will flower at different times in different areas. They are used in rockeries and as feature plants.
Common names: Hook-thorn, haakdoring
It grows up to 12 metres tall with a dark to black bark. It produces creamy white spikes in spring. It is used mainly for shade and is grown in full sun. This is an evergreen plant that can take full frost and very little water.
Common names: Cat’s tail, snake flower, geelkatstert
A genus of rhizotomous perennials, with succulent leaves and yellow and white flowers on spikes of about 30cm long. This plant makes excellent cut flowers. Flowering time is spring, summer and in autumn. These plants will resist heavy frost and are also good for areas that are cold. A vigorous spreading plant, which seeds itself freely and can be grown from seeds and cuttings.
Common names: Rankvygie
A slow growing indigenous dwarf evergreen succulent spreading over 600mm and bearing blue-green leaves about 50mm long. The ruby flowers are exceptionally showy and grow up to over 50mm wide in spring. It grows in full sun, can tolerate frost and resists drought. It does well in rocky areas.
Common names: Pig’s ear, varkoor
This genus of cotyledons grows so tall that the plants can be classified as shrubs, and they have a variable leaf shape and size. They are usually grey-green with a shiny red margin. Flowers are bell-shaped in orange, pink or red, and are carried on branched spikes in summer. They are best grown in full sun.
Common names: Elephant’s food, spekboom
This is a popular succulent garden plant around the world and can be used to bonsai. It is often used for restoration purposes, and is an excellent carbon sequestration plant.
Common names: Bush tick berry
This is a spreading shrub that bears bright yellow daisy flowers in winter/spring followed by edible purple berries, which give this variety its common name. Monilifera means ‘bearing necklace’, which comes from the fact that the fruit is arranged in neat circles on the plant.
We need to be very conscious of water resource usage in South Africa, and the Botanical Society of South Africa encourages you to plant indigenous and water wise options and think before developing your garden. Gardening for drought is good for your garden, and good for the Planet. There are many water wise beautiful varieties out there and not only are these good choices for the environment, they make gardening easy as you need to water them less and it’s ok if you forget!
Please remember the national water restrictions and rules regarding water usage and particularly watering of your gardens. Google your area to find out what restrictions are in place and please adhere to them.