Mackaya bella

  • Forest Bell bush
  • Mackaya
  • River Bells
  • Bosklokkiebos (A)
  • Blouklokkiesbos (A)
  • Uzwathi (Z)


  • A delightful, sparkling, upright and somewhat rounded shrub with slender branches and brilliantly lustrous, deep green and wavy, neat oval leaves. From spring to autumn, sprays of large yet dainty, white to pale lilac, two-lipped, bell-like flowers adorn the plant in profusion. The flowers are etched with fine, vein-like, pale violet lines. The Forest Bell-bush is famed for the striking, simplistic beauty of its flowers, and its ability to thrive in deeply shaded areas where other plants may fail.

SA Tree

  • 681.1


  • Acanthaceae (The Acanthus family)
  • A family of dicotyledonous flowering plants, and one of 24 families belonging to the Lamiales order, containing nearly 250 genera and somewhat 2500 species of trees, shrubs, tropical herbs, twining vines and a few epiphytes.
  • They are distributed mainly in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, but members have been found in nearly every habitat, such as scrublands, various forest types, including mangrove, wet fields, swamps and marine areas.
  • Most plants belonging to this family have simple, oppositely arranged, decussate leaves with smooth, lobed or spiny margins, and have no stipules.
  • The flowers are often bilaterally symmetrical, always bisexual, and are enclosed by large and colourful leaflike bracts.
  • The fruits are typically exploding capsules, and the seeds are often carried on hooks on the placenta.
  • Many species are of ecological, ornamental or medicinal importance.


  • These shrubs occur naturally in the wetter eastern parts of the country, predominantly along stream or river banks, also in coastal and mist-belt forests, where it forms part of the understory growth.
  • Mackaya prefers growing in close proximity to other trees or water and is found nowhere else in the world except for Southern Africa.
  • It prefers warm, temperate areas, from the Transvaal and Swaziland, to the Eastern Cape, Natal, Transkei, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Northern province.
  • It does best in temperate to subtropical climates and languishes in drier parts of the country.


  • Smooth, pale greyish-brown, with long, slender, somewhat lax branches.
  • The main stem is almost always multi-stemmed.


  • Semi-deciduous to evergreen, depending on environment.
  • Rather large (130-140 x 30-25 mm), simple and oppositely arranged, broadly elliptic leaves.
  • Above, the leaves are a dark, glossy green, while below they are a paler, dull green, with a prominently raised midrib and lateral veins.
  • In the axils of the veins, small pockets of reddish-purple hairtuft-domatia can be seen.
  • The margins are irregularly crenated to coarsely and widely toothed, and taper to drip-like tip.
  • The bases are tapered, and the slender petiole measures between 100-150 mm.


  • Delicate, attractive, white or pale-lilac, foxglove-like, flared, funnel shaped flowers, veined with fine mauve or purple lines.
  • The more shade they receive the deeper the colour of the lines.
  • The flowers are bisexual, up to 60 mm wide, with widely spreading petals and a tube of up to 40 mm long.
  • They are carried on lax racemes (120-150 mm), growing from the ends of branches, and are all carried on the same side of the peduncle. (August – November).


  • A smallish (25-35 mm), slim, dark-brown, club-shaped capsule.

  • It usually splits into 2 valves which then curve backwards to release the seeds. (October-December).


  • 1-4 m


  • 1-4 m


  • The wood from Mackaya was once utilised as a means to kindle fires by friction.
  • The flowers last long in a vase with added water.


  • Suckering can become problematic and if not removed vigilantly, the plant can spread too much and might become invasive.
  • Yellowing of the foliage is an indication of too much sun, or too little or too much water


  • The flowers attract bees, butterflies and other insects.
  • It is the larval food plant for the beautiful Blue Pansy butterfly, and the caterpillars, as well as the other insects lured by the flowers, will entice certain insectivorous bird species.


  • Mackaya will thrive in dappled or very shady areas and is perfectly suited for an informal hedge or screen in a shady area.
  • It does not grow overly big and will work very well in small gardens or narrow, confined spaces.
  • They make wonderful container plants.
  • An excellent choice for planting underneath large trees or at the back of borders in warm and temperate gardens.
  • They also make good filler plants, and their spreading habit and fast growth rate make them ideal for covering large, open, shady areas or boundary walls.


  • It is sensitive to hard frosts, but if planted in a sheltered position, e.g., against a wall or behind a clump of tall trees, it should resist a moderate amount of frost.
  • If damage from frost does appear, it can be pruned back hard to encourag new growth.
  • It has a very low drought tolerance, preferring moist and humid conditions, and requires regular, deep drenching’s.

Growth Rate

  • Average to fast, just under 1m per year under ideal conditions.


  • Thrives in a shady or semi-shady, sheltered position.
  • It can be grown in full sun but will require a lot more water on a regular basis.
  • A few hours of strong, direct sun will encourage more prolific flowering but too much sunlight may cause damage to the foliage and cause the leaves to turn yellow.

Soil & Water

  • Mackaya performs best in a fibrous, well-drained but moist, heavily composted, loamy or granitic soil, with a neutral ph.
  • An added top layer of mulch will help with water retention and keeping weeds at bay.
  • It will accept sandy soils, but additional compost or a slow-release general fertiliser must be added to the soil at planting.
  • It needs needs regular watering in summer for the first year or two until well established, and thereafter it needs to be watered well during the hot summer months, but less frequently in winter.
  • Moderate to high water requirements.


  • Easily propagated by semi-hardwood cuttings taken in autumn or spring or from seeds sown in spring.
  • Cuttings may be treated with root stimulating hormone and should be planted in fine, clean river sand.
  • Rooting can be accelerated by keeping the cuttings on a warm mist bed.
  • Prune back heavily (about one-third) after flowering to encourage compact, lush, dense new growth and a non-woody plant.