Tim EntwisleNatal flame lights up Melbourne summer

Alberta magna is a lonely species. It’s rare in its natural habitat and it’s been left isolated taxonomically after the rest of the species, all from Madagascar, were moved the mouthful of a genus, Razafimandimbisonia. The common name Natal Flame Bush pretty much sums up Alberta magna. It comes from ZwaZulu-Natal and the Easter Cape region of South Africa, it has flame coloured flowers (too intense for my camera to cope with) and it’s a bush or perhaps small tree. The alternative name Mountain Alberta is not so informative.

Alberta magna3

Alberta magna


I thought the species name ‘magna’ may be reference to the fire-red flowers (above) or similarly coloured fruits (below) but apparently it honours a 12th or 13th century German philosopher, author of the 7-volume De Vegetabilus.

While Red-Listed, the species is considered at relatively low risk. Fire and habitat disturbance are the main threats to its survival. The wood breaks easily – giving it the local name of Breekhout in South Africa – but the bark is considered useful in medicine and this may put further pressure on some populations.

Alberta magna2

Alberta magna flowers


My photos are from Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne where it is in full flower now. Natal Flame Bush is not uncommon in cultivation but Melbourne is not an obvious place for it to thrive. It doesn’t like dry heat or cold, two things Melbourne does rather well.

Alberta magna1

Alberta magna flowers and foliage


I gather it’s also difficult to propagate and to nurse through the early years, and slow growing. This firmly established specimen is obviously doing very well in the botanic gardens so perhaps it you get through the difficult first few decades you’ll be fine…

Alberta magna in Melbourne RBG

Alberta magna in Melbourne RBG


I leave you with these words from a guide to the plants of Kruger National Park, where somewhat incongruously it doesn’t grow naturally.

“Few South African indigenous plants are as visually stunning as the Alberta magna in full bloom”.

And remember, South Africa is home to 1 in 10 of the world’s flowering plants, including the King Protea (Protea cynaroides), Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) and thousands more brightly coloured flowering bulbs and shrubs, including some other showy members of the family Rubiaceae such as Gardenia.


Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?

Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

5 thoughts on “Natal flame lights up Melbourne summer

  1. Fabulous to hear you pronounce that genus name. Why do the botanists do this to us?
    I think Alberta magna is a fabulous shrub. It seems to enjoy Sydney’s more humid summers, although some leaves did burn in that 43 degree C day in January. It is slow growing but the foliage is as handsome as the leaves – a lovely, lustrous deep green. And those pillar-box red flowers sure go zing with my hot pink pentas nearby.

  2. Many years ago in the display gardens at Swanes Nursery, Galston, was a healthy speciman of Alberta magna. I recall that it was a slow grower which meant it was rarely grown by the nursery even though many people remarked on its flowers, good looking foliage and compact shape. Recently we found another shrub growing in a private garden in Castle Cove; its tall growth habit and those fruits confused our identification skills for several days . Maybe the Sydney Botanical Gardens/ Friends Plant Sales could assist with stock ?

  3. Sounds like the perfect plant for subtropical Australia and might be worth one of the botanic gardens ‘up north’ doing a little growing and/or promotion. And thanks for the kind words about my rather botched attempt at that rotten generic name Catherine… Ah, taxonomists, where would be without them?

Leave a Reply (no need to register)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.