Belesa or fish killer. Cultivation, care and origin

Today in Gardenprue we are going to talk about a very curious plant: the belesa. Not because of its properties, not because of its flowering, not even because of its ornamental value (although it has it), but because it gives rise to a Spanish word.


The belesa or matapeces is a plant belonging to the plumbagáceas family. The genus Plumbago includes very few plants. Currently, according to The plant list, there are only 17 accepted species of this genus and Plumbago europaea L. is the one that describes the genus.

It is a plant of Mediterranean origin and very widespread in Spain, although its extension indicates that it grows better in the Mediterranean area. In the wild we can find it in poor soils , barren, rocky, dry areas and sandy, saline places near the coast , in the gutters …

Distribution of the Belesa ( Plumbago europaea L.). Source:


It is a perennial plant in warm and temperate areas . In areas with harsh winters it dies, but the following spring with good temperatures it begins to sprout. It has a creeping shrubby habit , not exceeding more than 1 meter, but it is usually kept in sizes of 30-60 cm habitually.

Its flowering is spike , with numerous pink flowers. As we can see in the detail of the flower, the small inflorescences consist of 5 petals and a clearly tubular corolla as well as its peduncle. With the naked eye we can see the free stamens. The flower is small . Not more than 1.5 cm but having enough inflorescences, it has a certain attraction.

Detail of the flower of the belesa. Photo by: Tico


And here comes the literary part of the article. Many times we tell you that scientific names give us an idea of ​​the type of plant we are dealing with. Its smell, color, shape of its fruits, its uses, properties … This is the case, for example, of all those species that end with officinalis . We will know that it is a plant used for some medicinal property or for human consumption.

In this case we can deduce from the scientific name that it is a species with European origin. In view it is according to the previous map. We can also infer certain things from the genus Plumbago . In English this plant is called leadwort. The word does not have a literal translation but we can divide it into lead , lead and wort , must.

And this is when direct association comes in. In English lead is plumb . But it is not that it comes from English but from Latin Plumbum,  (lead) because it was believed to be a good treatment for lead poisoning. Leadwort could therefore be translated by lead concoction or for lead.

But in this case, it is the common man, Belesa, who is going to generate a word from our rich and recognized vocabulary and it is …


According to the RAE, the definition of captivating is: to capture or captivate the senses. Alluding to a state of bewilderment, self-absorption or confusion. You will have heard many times phrases like being enchanted by someone, by their beauty.

The root of the word is due to this plant. The belesa. En – belesa , which acquires the status of belesa.

And that’s when we turn to his vulgar second name: fish killer . It could be that this term confuses us but it only reaffirms its origin.

The belesa is a plant with narcotic properties , thanks to a chemical compound called plumbagin, (now you know that many plants of the genus Plumbago have this substance) a naphthoquinone that has effects on the central nervous system apart from other properties such as fungicide, cytotoxic and bactericidal¹.

Thanks to this molecule, the belesa has been used to stun and numb fish in pools and small ponds for fishing. As simple as that.

And this leads us to another term: envarbascar whose meaning is to fish with verbasco or other similar plants, a practice that the Romans already exercised with the original plant that gave rise to this term ( Verbascum thapsus ) or Mullein. This is totally prohibited in Spain. There are many plants with various compounds traditionally used as ‘fish killer’ plants to facilitate fishing¹.

Leaving aside the etymological and linguistic part of the term, let’s see the cultivation properties of the belesa and if it has real ornamental interest.



It is a Mediterranean plant so it does not tolerate cold well. Its Mediterranean character makes it well tolerate high summer temperatures. In cold areas it is very possible to cover it or take it to a greenhouse if we want its perennial character. Requires full sun. South orientations are the best. It is a climbing and / or creeping plant, so it can be used as a floor covering taking into account the orientation.


It tolerates drought but if it is watered with some assiduity in summer, we will achieve optimal growth. As we always say, abundant watering does not mean doing it daily. Let’s think that the Mediterranean area can have full months of drought in the summer period. For this reason it is recommended to water by letting the soil dry between waterings. Otherwise it is very easy to get to the dreaded root suffocation.

Photo from: Wikimedia commons. Its ornamental appeal is not exaggerated either, as we can see in this photo.


Taking into account the habitat and the type of irrigation we can infer the type of soil . Mediterranean areas tend to have calcareous soils, somewhat saline, therefore having a basic pH, although it tolerates neutral and slightly acidic soils as well. Within the textural part of the soil we will need a draining soil , somewhat sandy, that does not puddle in the least.

Composting is not necessary as it grows on bare, rocky and poor soils but generic compost can be used in the irrigation water shortly before and during flowering (spring to late summer). The subscriber frequency can be adjusted to the irrigation frequency. Approximately every 15 days. This in case we want greater growth


It tolerates pruning well. Being a climbing and covering plant, this plant branches a lot, and pruning favors precisely this. Pruning time is just after flowering . It does not require special indications. Limit yourself to pruning to shape it or lead it wherever you want depending on the configuration of the garden or area to be upholstered (fence, wall …).


It is a fairly rustic plant and little affected by viruses or fungi except in cases of excessive humidity . Like almost all garden plants, it can suffer from aphids attack so it will be necessary to watch this and add potassium soap or specific products in case of the presence of this uncomfortable pest.


It is made by seeds . It should be done in a greenhouse or seedbed in cold areas, when the winter frosts subside. It can be transplanted outside when there is certainty that there are no unexpected last minute frosts.


Although this plant is the type species of the genus, there are other species with greater ornamental value . The best known is Plumbago auriculata or also called Plumbago capensis . They’re synonyms. Its common name is Blue Jasmine .

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