Pavetta gardeniifolia

A.Rich var. gardeniifolia
Family: Rubiaceae
Common names: Christmas bride's bush, Christmas bush, kersbruidsbos (Afr.)

Flowers of Pavetta gardeniifoliaMasses of attractive creamy-white nectar-rich flowers hang from branches of glossy dark green foliage and their sweet fragrance fills the air at Christmas time, while whitebellied and black sunbirds sip the nectar.

Usually a deciduous shrub (3 m high x 2 m wide), Pavetta gardeniifolia may occasionally develop into a small tree up to 4 m high. The light brown bark is either smooth or slightly fissured. Leaves are scattered with dark dots (bacterial nodules). The plants flower from November to January (summer).

Fruit and leaves  showing nodulesGreen pea-sized fruits ripen to shiny black from February to May (late summer to autumn).

Natural distribution
This species occurs on rock outcrops, granite koppies, and in open woodland in South Africa, Zimbabwe and tropical Africa.

Name derivation
Pavetta is derived from 'pawetta', the Sinhalese vernacular name for a small tree species found along the Malabar coast in India, and gardeniifolia (Latin) relates to the leaves which are said to resemble those of the genus Gardenia.

The flowers lure a variety of insects, which become food for insect-eating birds like the southern boubou. The nectar is also popular with birds. The fleshy fruits entice crested and blackcollared barbets, blackeyed bulbuls and mousebirds-and possibly many others too. People and monkeys also eat the fruits.

Pavetta gardeniifolia Growing Pavetta gardeniifolia
Propagate from seed sown in spring. This is an excellent plant for attracting birds to the garden. Suitable for gardens of all sizes. Use it in an informal mixed border, a small townhouse garden, or in a natural rock garden. Experiment with it in a large decorative container on a patio, where the lovely flowers can be appreciated at close hand.
Relatively slow-growing, neat and compact, it seems to prefer a light, well-drained soil enriched with plenty of leaf mould (and then some more) and/or lots of compost. Mulch well and replenish the layer regularly. Water well in summer. In winter, once established, it seems fully able to withstand a long dry spell.

Fairly frost-hardy and pest-free, this Pavetta likes a moderate amount of water, sun or even a little shade (in nature, it often grows in the shade of larger trees). It maintains its shape fairly well and needs little by way of pruning. It can tolerate temperatures ranging from about -2°C to 37°C.

There are 22 species of Pavetta in South Africa. Pavetta is a large genus found in warm areas of Africa, Asia and Australia. All have bacterial nodules on the leaves - they look like black dots. The bacteria in these nodules fix nitrogen from the air in the same way that bacteria in nodules on the roots of legumes fix it from the soil. Other species to be found in cultivation include P.lanceolata, P.cooperi and P. revoluta.

I dedicate this page to the memory of Amadeus Mogale, on behalf of whom I am writing this contribution, and who would have been 32 on 1 November 2002, when the Christmas bush flowers. He was one of South Africa's most promising young garden curators and horticulturists, and died prematurely in a car accident on 13 August 2002, leaving his wife Refiloe and son Thagalo. Rest well, Amadeus! You were our friend.


  • Coates-Palgrave, K. 1988. Trees of southern Africa, 2nd edition. Cape Town: Struik.
  • Germishuizen, G. & Fabian, A. 1982. Transvaal wild flowers. Johannesburg: Macmillan.
  • Joffe, P. 2001. Creative gardening with indigenous plants - a South African guide. Pretoria: Briza.
  • Pooley, E. 1993. The complete guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal: Natal Flora Publications Trust.
  • Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to the trees of southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik.

Pitta Joffe
Pretoria National Botanical Garden

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