Cape Leadwort (or Plumbago)
The Cape Leadwort, or Plumbago capensis, derived its name from its likeness to lead (the blue of the flowers not unlike that of pure lead), or “plumbum”. The Cape Leadwort was a half hardy climbing shrub with scaly leaves and diffuse panicles of phlox-like flowers of a soft-azure blue. It could be planted out freely during the summer in the garden, but grew to its full height and beauty within a greenhouse trained up a pillar or trellis. It could grow in just about any kind of compost or soil so long as it had good drainage. Cuttings could be struck at any time with the aid of a little heat, although Hibberd advised striking them in the late summer under a bell glass.
The Victorians knew some dozen species of plumbago, the best known being P. capensis (depicted to the left), P. Europaea, which was a native of southern Europe, and Lady’s Larpent’s (P. Larpentae) which was a native of China.
Hibberd warned that the plumbagos were bitter and acrid, and probably poisonous, but noted that the root of the European species was sometime chewed as a cure for the toothache, and a preparation of it mixed with olive oil was highly regarded as a cure for ulcers and itches.
Information and image taken from F. Edward Hulme and Shirley Hibberd, Familiar Garden Flowers (Cassell, Peter, Galpin and Co.: London: c. 1890), 5 vols.