Justicia petiolaris subsp. bowiei

(C.B.Clarke) Immelman

Common names:
blue justicia, kissing-leaves (Eng.); kiesieblaar (Afr.)

Justicia petiolaris subsp.bowiei

This attractive and little known perennial shrub with soft, velvety leaves and pretty pink-purple, two-lipped flowers almost all year long, deserves a place in every garden.

Foliage and flowersThis is a relatively fast-growing, perennial herb or soft shrublet, growing between 800 mm and 1 m high. Although each stem only bears a few flowers at a time, the total number is large and it gives a very attractive overall impression from December to April mainly, but in cultivation this can last almost throughout the year. Flowers are mostly pink-purple, but may also be more blue-mauve in colour and they are followed by small capsules bearing seeds. The leaves are soft, oval-shaped, hairy and differ greatly in size on the same shrub.

This plant is found in Eastern Cape in the George, Uitenhage and Albany areas. It occurs naturally as forest undergrowth under trees and other shrubs, and on forest margins where the plants form low, dense bushes.

Justicia petiolaris subsp. bowiei recovers well from frost by resprouting new shoots in spring. The plants are tolerant of a wide range of rainfall and climatic temperatures, and have even been observed growing in full sun, but they perform and look so much better if protected from wind and grown in semi-shaded conditions.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Justicia is named in honour of James Justice, a Scottish horticulturist; the species name petiolaris means stalked.
The Acanthaceae is abundant in the tropics and subtropics. It comprises about 250 genera and 2 500 species, of which 44 genera and 350 species occur in southern Africa. In South Africa the genus Justicia is widespread and poorly known.

The plants of this family Acanths vary greatly, some species are climbers, some marsh plants, and others grow inland or in woodland conditions. Some noteworthy members of this family are Hypoestes aristata, Barleria sp., Thunbergia alata and Ruttya ovata.

Growing Justicia petiolaris subsp. bowiei

Blue justicia requires a warm position in light shade and prefers well-drained soil. It will flourish if regularly watered, composted and trimmed. It flowers throughout early or midsummer to midwinter, providing much needed interest and colour in the garden at this time. Plants are excellent used as fillers, as backdrop planting and in low borders. They would also do well in a mixed container display.

Justicia petiolaris subsp. bowiei self-seeds freely, and roots easily from nodal cuttings.


  • Gledhill, E. 1969. Eastern Cape veld flowers. Department of Nature Conservation, Cape Town.
  • Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Moriarty, A. 1982. Outeniqua, Tsitsikamma, eastern Little Karoo. South African Wildflower Guide 2. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
  • Powrie, F. 1998. Grow South African plants. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.

Cherise Viljoen
December 2003

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This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.