West Coast National Park – Dream Root – 2


Silene undulata is a sticky, glandular, perennial herb up to 60 cm tall. The opposite spatula-shaped basal leaves are up to 15 cm long and the smaller lance-shaped leaves on the stem up to 8 cm long. The flowers at the tip of the stems are glandular and sticky. The spreading petals are white or pinkish. Anthers are on slender paired filaments. The narrow ovary is oblong-ovoid, 1-locular, on a hairy stalk up to 7·5 mm long; the styles, 1,5 cm long, are slender and papillate along one side. The capsule, up to 1.8 cm long, opens by recurved valves at the tip. Seeds are almost black and kidney-shaped with flattened sides.

The white, narrowly tubular flowers, with their nectar difficult to reach, develop their fragrance late in the day. All these characteristics are typical of flowers pollinated by night-flying insects with a long proboscis, such as hawk moths.


Silene undulata is native to the Eastern Cape, it is also found on damp slopes and flats in Southern and tropical Africa.

Some Interesting Information:

Plants have been used worldwide for thousands of years by diviners and shaman to induce states of lucid dreaming in order to receive divinatory messages. Such sacred plants are classified as oneirogens, from the Greek oneiros meaning dream, and gen meaning to create.

For amaXhosa people dreams are considered to be a means of direct communication between the living and the ancestors, and dreams are closely integrated into traditional healing practices. Good dreams are considered to be those directly connected with the ancestors while bad dreams as being sent by someone who wishes to harm the dreamer.

A number of plants, collectively called izilawu and singly as ubulawu, are used in various ways to facilitate communication with the ancestors (iminyanya – referred to as shades in early literature), most often but not exclusively, during religious rituals. Ritual purity is essential for communication with the ancestors and can be achieved by washing yourself with ubulawu plants. The foam-producing roots are crushed or grated, added to a billycan of cold water, and whisked rapidly using a forked stick that, according to custom is carved from a wild olive branch, until a head of frothy white foam is produced. Close attention is paid to the way the ubulawu foams. A lack of foam is interpreted as either incorrect timing for the ritual or the disapproval of the ancestors. This foam, called isilawu , is used as a face- and body-wash or ingested.

The word ubulawu derives from the verb ukulawula meaning (in everyday use) to give instructions, but in this sense ukulawula means to ‘tell of your dreams in which you have received instructions from the ancestors’. The word is believed to have come from the Khoekhoen word laula , meaning to apologize. The white color of isilawu is said to indicate that the medicine is clean and pure.

A number of anthropological studies have been undertaken towards a better understanding of the use of Silene undulata in the Eastern Cape.

Silene undulata is the most commonly used ubulawu plant in the Eastern Cape. The roots are harvested from wild populations and sold at informal street markets and iikemisti ( muthi shops). The trade of this species and many others has raised concern over their sustainable use and conservation status.

Dream Root, Silene undulata, West Coast National Park, Langebaan, Western Cape, South Africa
  • Location: West Coast National Park, Langebaan, Western Cape, South Africa
  • Date Taken: 2020-08-22
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: Canon Zoom Lens EF-S 18-200 mm 3-5.6 IS
  • Exposure Program: Manual
  • Image Quality: RAW
  • F-Stop: f/7.1
  • Exposure Time: 1/320 sec
  • ISO Speed: ISO-200
  • Focal Length: 190 mm
  • Metering Mode: Spot Metering
  • Handheld
  • Post Processing: Adobe Photoshop CS6
  • Photographer: Coreen Kuhn
  • Information: PlantZAfrica.com

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