Gomphostigma virgatum [L.f.] Baill.

Family name: Buddlejaceae
Common names:
River star, Otterbush, Besembossie

Gomphostigma virgatum overhanging waterGomphostigma virgatum is a beautiful, evergreen, perennial shrub that can grow up to 2,6m high. It has slender, flexible, silvery gray branches. Leaves are oppositely arranged, simple and narrowly shaped. It makes a stunning show when covered in white scented flowers during summer (December and January).

The name Gomphostigma comes from the Greek gomphos, a club referring the club shaped-shaped stigma; and virgatum means willowy or twiggy.

The river star occurs along rivers and watercourses throughout South Africa, including Zimbabwe. It is one of those plants that will grow with their roots at the edge of a stream.

Gomphostigma virgatum is used traditionally to restore strength to a very tired person. Serviceable brooms are made from the longer twigs, which are cut before the flowers appear. It is also browsed down by stock.

Birds apparently use the juvenile branches for nest building because of their flexibility. This plant is a specific host for an endemic dodder (Cuscuta sp.) which is a curious plant parasite.

Growing Gomphostigma virgatum

Propagation of this plant is very easy from semi-hardwood cuttings taken during the growing season. It also propagates well by simple layering of juvenile branches. Once is established it can be pruned down to encourage bushiness. . It is a beautiful plant for a water garden. In the garden it should be planted in full sun provided there is adequate water supply. Cut back drastically after winter to encourage bushiness and more flowers for the following season.

At the Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden it is growing at the Water Garden and in the wetland area at the SASOL dam.


  • Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L., Steenkamp, Y. & Keith, M. (eds) 2006. A Checklist of South African plants. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 41. SABONET, Pretoria.
  • Pooley, E, 1998. A Field Guide to Wild Flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Publication Trust
  • Fabian, A, and G. Germishuizen, 1997. Wild Flowers of Northern South Africa. Fernwood Press
  • Smith, C.A, 1966. Common Names of South African Plants. Pretoria

Thompson T Mutshinyalo
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
December 2001

To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.