Jamesbrittenia grandiflora (Galpin) Hilliard

(= Sutera grandiflora)
Common name:
Wild phlox

Jamesbrittenia grandiflora

The wild phlox is a fast-growing perennial with aromatic leaves and big clusters of light purple flowers. This long-flowering plant is a good garden subject and ideal for rockeries and borders, although the stems may look a bit untidy after flowering. It attracts butterflies to the garden.

There are well over 100 species of Jamesbrittenia that are found mostly in South Africa, with a few found in tropical Africa. The plants of this genus are hardy and may be grown almost anywhere in South Africa.

Close -up of flowers Jamesbrittenia grandiflora is a woody perennial with long, waving stems that grow to a height of about 1.2 m. The leaves, which are soft-textured, wrinkled, grey-green and aromatic, densely cover the stems and are larger and denser near the base of the plant. The flowers, which appear in late spring or early summer, grow in broad clusters near the tips of the branches. They are light purple in colour. They resemble the garden phlox in shape and inflorescence type. Each flower measures a little over 2.5 mm in diameter and has five petals which spread outwards from a thin hairy tube. Plants are long flowering, making this a good garden subject.

The genus Jamesbrittenia was named after James Britten, a British botanist (1846-1924). The species name 'grandiflora' is the Latin word made up of two words -'grandis' meaning large, and 'flora' meaning the flower. This refers to the large flowers that this plant bears.

The wild phlox grows naturally in the eastern areas of northern South Africa and Swaziland where it may be found in grasslands, bush clumps and forest margins.

Wild phlox in the garden

Growing Jamesbrittenia grandiflora

The wild phlox may be grown almost anywhere in southern Africa. It grows in ordinary, light, well-drained garden soil that contains compost. It should be planted in a sunny position. It enjoys plenty of moisture during summer and fairly dry conditions in winter, but may be watered regularly throughout the year. It grows easily from seeds, which may be sown in autumn and will germinate in about two weeks. After germination, the seedlings should be kept well watered until they are about 900 mm, at this height they are fully developed. The seedlings will flower the following spring or summer. This plant can also be propagated by root division and stem or tip cuttings.

Wild phlox can be planted closely together, about 30 cm apart in large groups of fives or sevens to create a mass planting. After flowering, the whole plant can be cut back almost to the ground level in early spring so as to give rise to new shoots at the beginning of the growing season. This will help keep the plant tidy.


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  • ELIOVSON, S. 1984. Wild flowers of southern Africa. Macmillan.
  • GILBERTS, Z. 1983. Gardening in South Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  • JOFFE, P. 1993. The gardeners guide to South African plants. Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town.
  • LEISTNER, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • POOLEY, E. 1993. The complete field guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • RETIEF, E. & HERMAN, P.P.J. 1997. Plants of the northern provinces of South Africa: keys and diagnostic characters. Strelitzia 6. National Botancal Institute, Pretoria.
  • VAN DER SPUY, U. 1971. Wild flowers of southern Africa for the garden. Hugh Keartland Publishers, Johannesburg.

Mhlonishwa D. Dlamini
Witwatersrand National Botanical Gardens
July 2002

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