The African landscape extends beyond its vast desert lands. The continent’s tropical rainforests, savannas, subtropical regions, highlands, steppes, Mediterranean and coastal areas produces thousands of plant species. Many of these plants have been exported to beautify gardens around the world.
With over 1,000 species, impatiens is a common garden plant that produces an abundance of delicate blossoms throughout most of its growing season. Belonging to the Balsaminaceae family, impatiens originated in the Usambara Mountain area of East Africa, as stated by Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor of the University of Vermont.
Selected for the exotic appearance of its large leaves, elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta) is used as an ornamental garden plant. It belongs to the Araceae family and its common names include cocoyam, taro and dasheen. The entire plant is a staple food in West Africa and is believed to have been imported prior to or during the American slavery period as a food crop.
Crocus varieties are native to North Africa and grow throughout the Mediterranean and Asia. Crocus sativa produces saffron, an exotic spice first introduced into Europe by the Moors, as stated by Wallace P. Howell, WSU Benton-Franklin County Master Gardener. Belonging to the Iridaceae family, some crocus flowers bloom in the spring, while others bloom in the fall or late winter. The flowers vary in color including white, lilac and yellow.
Pelargoiums—native to southern Africa—grow best in well-drained, sandy soil. They thrive in full sun, are heat-tolerant and are often identified as geraniums, although they are a more delicate plant. They both belong to the same family—Geraniaceae. The many varieties of pelargoniums grow long, intricate flowering stalks that produce delicate purple, pink, orange, red or white blossoms.
Gladiolus species are native to southern Africa and South Africa’s Cape area, where over 100 native species of gladiolus grows, as stated by Dace Selinger of the University of Arizona. Gladioli belong to the Iridaceae family and are a common African flowering plant cultivated in many home gardens around the world. The flowers blossom in many solid and bi-colors including purple, white, pink and green, and some varieties closely resemble iris blossoms. They are a popular cut flower—grown to cut for decorative floral arrangements—and this regular cutting or pruning promotes the growth of another round of flowers. Gladioli grow well in full sun and well-drained soil.