The first Curator of the Trinity College Botanic Garden was James Townsend
Mackay and he held the position for a period of 60 years until his death in 1862. A
contemporary of his in his later years was William Henry Harvey who, as Professor
of Botany and one of the first to publish a flora of South Africa, named in his honour
a member of the Acanthus family, Mackaya bella. A line drawing of its flower is used
as the present day emblem of the Trinity College Botanic Garden.
Mackaya bella has a natural distribution in the provinces of eastern South Africa and
Eswatini where it grows as a shrub or small tree. One of its common names
indicates its habitat, the forest bell bush. As a cool conservatory plant, this evergreen
has glossy, dark-green foliage that is attractive when the plant is not in flower. In late
spring or early summer the flowers appear in racemes at the end of the stems. The
flowers are pale lilac with purple veins and trumpet or bell shaped with flared,
segmented edges. It is undemanding and requires usual watering and feeding and
can be kept in shape with light pruning.
For those who might be familiar with the name but not as a plant you know, it could
be the £160 million cocaine shipment intercepted off the Cork coast in 2014 on an 18
metre yacht named the Mackayabella!
Text by Brendan Sayers