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A very unusual, small plant which
grows low on the ground and is a
relatively unknown genus of three species endemic to southern Africa. The
plants are unusual because the inflorescences occur in the crown of the plant,
at the bases of the leaves.
Description The three species of Platycarpha are
quite distinct but they are all perennial herbs with compressed stems and no
aerial branches. The above-ground parts of the plants die back after the
growing season and the size of re-emerging leaves and inflorescences are
dependent on the age of the rootstock and the availability of moisture. This
can result in extreme variability in the size of the plants, especially in P.
carliniodes. This species has a cartwheel-like growth and the diameter of
the plant can vary from around 100 mm to 400 mm.
P. glomerata has
an erect growth form, up to 0.6 m tall, whereas P. parvifolia is
creeping and often not higher than 60 mm. Leaves of all three species have a
smooth green upper surface and white, woolly, lower surface. In P.
glomerata, leaves have a glossy, deep green upper surface and are
thistle-like and deeply toothed with soft spines on the tips. Leaves of P.
carlinoides are also deeply toothed but those of P. parvifolia are
only slightly toothed and neither of them has spines.
Inflorescence sizes are also variable and the largest are
found in P. carlinoides (20-60 mm in diameter), followed by P.
glomerata (30-50 mm) and P. parvifolia (15-35 mm). Inflorescences
are composed of numerous flower heads with 3-5 light to dark purple 5-lobed
tubular florets. Ray florets are absent. Flower colour fades with age to almost
white. The pappus consists of 5-10 long narrow scales. Seeds are glabrous,
obscurely ribbed, cylindrical or somewhat compressed.
Flowering times are distinctly different in the three
species and reflect the rainfall patterns in the distribution areas. Platycarpha
glomerata flowers from November to March; P. carlinoides from March
to September and P. parvifolia from August to October.
Derivation of names Platycarpha is derived from the Greek platys, for broad, and carpa,
for fruit, referring to the broad fruit of P. glomerata. The species
name, parvifolia, is Latin, meaning with small leaves; referring to the distinctly
smaller leaves of this species; glomerata means clustered in rounded
heads, referring to the inflorescence; carlinoides is derived from Carlina,
an European genus, and oides to indicate the resemblance in growth
Conservation status Although there are often very few
specimens in herbaria and little is known about the genus, none of the three
species are threatened. Where they occur, one often finds large stands of
plants that can measure several square metres.
Distribution The species of Platycarpha are
geographically quite isolated.
carlinoides is the most widespread of the
three species and occurs in Namibia, Botswana and Northern Cape between
700 and 1700 m. It prefers seasonally moist depressions and dry river
glomerata occurs in the eastern part of
the country in inland areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape at
elevations below 500 m. It is prevalent in rural areas, in disturbed areas
and along dirt roads.
parvifolia occurs in the northeastern part
of the country at altitudes of 1200-1500 m in the North-West Province,
Mpumalanga and Free State. It is often found near dams and streams in
short grassveld or on vegetated floodplains.
Ecology Platycarpha glomerata and P. parvifolia probably do not have special
pollinators as a variety of insects such as butterflies, beetles, bees and
flies were observed visiting the flowers.
However, in P. carlinoides the pollinators most
frequently observed were large black ants with velvet-white abdomens. Seed
dispersal is most probably by insects (particularly ants), water and wind.
Economic and cultural value Platycarpha glomerata is believed to have some magical powers in
KwaZulu-Natal. A concoction of the whole plant (called intelezi ) is
sprinkled in the yard around a homestead to protect it against lightning
strikes during a thunder storm.
In the garden
Plants of this genus will probably not make attractive garden subjects but to
gardeners interested in curious plants, they may have some attraction. Very
little is known about the cultivation although cultivation from seed should be
fairly easy in the correct soil medium and moisture regime. In the wild, Platycarpha
glomerata grows on poor, stony soils in moist humid areas, often in
disturbed situations. P. carlinoides grows in sandy soil with fine silt,
often in depressions occasionally filled with water. P. parvifolia grows
in turf soil on floodplains in grassland.
Despite its name, a tropical tree and not a pine. It is not endemic to South Africa. Pandanus utilis is a palm-like evergreen tree, ranging in height up to 20 metres (66 ft). They are found in tropical areas and have an upright trunk that is smooth with many horizontal spreading branches with annular leaf scars. Old leaf scars spiral around the branches and trunk, like a screw.
As with other member of the genus Pandanus, P. utilis lacks secondary growth.The secondary growth of most trees is the production of wood to aid in support of the trunk. Without this supportive structure, the P. utilis grows many pale brown prop roots at the base of the trunk. These adventitious roots arise from the stem above the soil level and help support the plant. These roots not only anchor the tree but also keep it upright during times of heavy winds and rain in tropical regions. Prop roots can be 2.5 to 7.5 centimetres (0.98 to 3.0 in) in diameter.
P. utilis is dioecious, with the female and male reproducing structures occurring on different plants. Individual plants are either male producing microspores or female producing megaspores. This plant being unisexual allows it to cross-fertilize with other screwpines. The male plants produce fragrant colorful flowers in long spikes. These long spikes are with 8–12 stamens inserted pseudo-umbellately on slender columns 10 to 15 millimetres (0.39 to 0.59 in) long. The female plants produce fruits resembling pineapples or oversized pine cones changing from green to yellow/orange when ripe. The female structure has a 3–8 celled ovary crowned by a sessile stigma.
P. utilis grows well near the sea, being salt-tolerant. It is a strictly tropical tree that will not survive frost. It grows in full sun to partial shade. Seeds take two to three months to germinate.
The screw pine has been shown to have many uses. In coastal areas, it has been used for erosion control due to its numerous aerial roots. These roots help bind the sand dunes along the coast from eroding water and wind. The leaves of P. utilis are used in different cultures for thatching and the production of numerous materials. In areas like Madagascar, Réunion and Mauritius, the leaves are used to make ropes, baskets, mats, hats, place mats, nets, thatched roofs for homes and even paper. The waxy covering over the leaves makes them especially attractive for baskets and roofs with their natural water-resistant surface. The fruits form a starchy food and can be eaten after cooked.