Melianthus major

Melianthus major

Melianthus major is a most unusual shrubby perennial from South Africa. It has tall, unbranched stems with long, arching, blue-gray leaves comprised of serrated-edged leaflets, that look as if they have been cut with old-fashioned pinking shears. The foliage has a strange and rather unpleasant smell when handled, giving rise to one of its common names: touch-me-not! Other common names include honey flower and honey bush. It grows best in well-drained soil in full sun. It can grow to a height of 2-3 m in a single season and fills quite a wide space. I cut mine to the ground in late winter - left unpruned, they will produce mahogany-coloured tubular flowers in spikes in spring or early summer, but I prefer to sacrifice these for a more compact plant.

Dwarf form of Melianthus major in the garden of Pamela Wallace in Sydney

I have seen a dwarf form of the plant (pictured at left), which would be easier to fit in smaller spaces! In areas that experience light frosts in winter, Melianthus major will die back to the ground naturally in winter like a herbaceous perennial; however, in very cold regions it may not survive through winter . Propagation is by seed or by basal or softwood cuttings in late spring. It sometimes gets attacked by white fly. After a number of years it may become very woody, and at this time it may be best to replace it with a fresh plant.