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Products > Barleria obtusa
Barleria obtusa - Bush Violet
Image of Barleria obtusa
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Shrub
Family: Acanthaceae (Acanthus¹)
Origin: South Africa (Africa)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Blue
Bloomtime: Winter/Spring
Synonyms: [B. uitenagensis]
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 4-5 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Summer Dry: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 20-25° F
Barleria obtusa (Bush Violet) - An evergreen shrub that grows to 3 feet tall by 5+ feet wide with stems, that can root where they hit the ground, holding opposite pairs of soft dull dark sage green 1 to 3-inch-long rounded leaves that have soft hairs along the margins. Clusters of inch and a quarter wide violet blue flowers appear in mass at the branch tips in the fall and winter if not knocked back by frost.

Plant in full sun or partial shade, water infrequently - once established is quite drought tolerant in coastal gardens. Cold hardy to 20-25° F but foliage sometimes a little yellowed in winter and early spring. In deep shade plants often grow taller and clamber up if supported by other plants or structures. Can reseed a bit in the garden but not to the extent of being pesky and the stems can root when the hit the ground so the plant can get pretty wide, particularly in irrigated gardens. A great soft rounded low shrub for the garden that puts on a spectacular show of flowers in fall that are attractive to bees, butterflies and nectar feeding birds.

Barleria obtusa occurs naturally from the Soutpansberg in the Northern Province, Mpumalanga, and KwaZulu Natal and further to the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa where it can be found growing quite commonly on hills and along forest margins in subtropical regions. The genus was named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753 to honor Jacques Barrelier (1606-1673), a French physician, botanist, plant collector, author and Dominican monk who is often cited as the Rev. James Barrelier. The specific epithet given this plant in 1841 by the German botanist Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck is the Latin word meaning "blunt", "dull" or "obtuse", likely in reference to the rounded leaves. In tropical Africa the leaves are cooked as a vegetable and the plant is used for medicinal purposes.

We have never determined when this plant was first brought into cultivation in California though Peter Reidel, writing in hisPlants for Extra-tropical Regions (published by the California Arboretum Foundation, 1957) noted some confusion in the trade regarding Barleria caerulea (now B strigosa), a plant listed as coming variously from India or China and with the epithet spelled both as "caerulea" or ""coerulea". As Barleria caerulea it was first listed by Dr. Francesco Franceschi (AKA Emanuele Orazio Fenzi) in his 1910 California Acclimatization Nursery catalog but Reidel noted that the plant sold as Barleria caerulea (the epithet meaning "blue") "is the name given the species universally in use in southern California though the general belief was that this plant was received from South Africa." We have grown and sold this attractive plant at the nursery since 1987 and have a nice planting of it that erupts into color along the street in front of the nursery entrance. 

This information about Barleria obtusa displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.