African Linden or African Hemp
In the Genus Sparmannia there about seven species which come from southern Africa and Madagascar. Up until lately they were in the family Tiliaceae (the Linden Lime tree family) but they have now been included in the Mavaceae (Hibiscus) family.
Sparmannia africana is a southern African large shrub to small tree. It flowers here from spring s and will continue for most of the summer. It is named “Sparmannia” after Dr Anders Sparman who sailed with Capt Cook on his second voyage and “africana” from where it is a native plant.
The leaves are heart to palmate shaped and appear smooth but in fact are quite soft to the touch as they are covered with fine hairs, as are the younger stems. According to some references these hairs can cause a short term dermatitis on people with sensitive skin, though I don’t know of anyone so affected.
The flowers appear as heads which stand above the leaves in a manner similar to geraniums. The petals are white and in the centre are many stamens, the outer ones, which seem to be sterile, are bright yellow and the inner ones, which stand taller, are a maroon shade. In the very centre is the stigma.
The wood is very light but the bark is quite tough and strong and can be removed in strips from whence the common name African Hemp may come.
This plant likes full sun or light shade and prefers regular water in dry periods with free draining soils. It can be pruned to keep it to the size you wish.
Interestingly when I looked it up on the internet there were many references to it as a popular house plant although I have never seen it offered in NZ as such. I did find reference to it as being planted in the lion’s cage at the Melbourne Zoo where it was taken out after a short time as the lions ate it. Also it seems to be quite a popular food of elephants in Africa so if you have an elephant maybe you should plant some!