Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
Our Cape leadplant (Plumbago auriculata ‘Royal Cape’) is a vigorous, climbing shrub thriving in the protection of the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, where it covers most of one of the walls.
It blooms for long periods through much of the year but is at a floral peak over the next few weeks. Hundreds of clusters of flowers in a stunning shade of clear, light blue, set against the light-green, glossy foliage are a lovely sight, offering us an echo of spring, despite the rainy fall weather outside.
The wild species is native to South Africa and has paler flowers than our cultivar. Both the common name, leadwort, and the genus name, Plumbago—Plumbum is the Latin for lead—indicate that it had a connection to lead. One theory is that it was used as a cure for lead sickness. Another suggests that a side effect of using the plant to treat eye conditions was that it caused the skin to turn the color of lead.