For the identification of insects and other fauna and flora of South Africa: please click on the following links:
Insects and related species: Antlions - Ants - Bees - Beetles - Bugs - Butterflies, Moths and Caterpillars - Centipedes and Millipedes - Cockroaches - Crickets - Dragonflies and Damselflies - Grasshoppers and Katydids - Mantis - Stick Insects - Ticks and Mites - Wasps - Woodlice
Plants, Trees, Flowers: (Note: Unless plants fall into a specific species such as Cacti, they have been classified by their flower colour to make them easier to find) Bonsai - Cacti, Succulents, Aloes, Euplorbia - Ferns and Cycads - Flowers - Fungi, Lichen and Moss - Grass - Trees
Animals, Birds, Reptiles etc.: Animals, Birds, Fish and Crabs - Frogs - Lizards - Scorpions - Snails and Slugs - Snakes - Spiders - Tortoise, Turtles and Terrapins - Whipscorpions
Other photography: Aeroplanes - Cars and Bikes - Travel - Sunrise - Water drops/falls - Sudwala and Sterkfontein Caves etc.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cape Carrion Flower (Stapelia)

 Family Apocynaceae
The genus Stapelia consists of around 40 species of low growing, spineless, stem succulent plants, predominantly from South Africa. The flowers of certain species, most notably Stapelia gigantea, can reach 41 cm (16 inches) in diameter when fully open. Most Stapelia flowers are visibly hairy and generate the odour of rotten flesh, a notable exception is the sweetly scented Stapelia flavopurpurea. Such odours serve to attract various specialist pollinators including, in the case of carrion scented blooms, blow flies of the dipteran family Calliphoridae. They frequently lay eggs around the coronae of Stapelia flowers, convinced by the plants' deception.

The hairy, oddly textured and coloured appearance of many Stapelia flowers has been claimed to resemble that of rotting meat, this, coupled with their odour, has earned the most commonly grown members of the Stapelia genus the common name of "carrion flowers".

A handful of species are commonly cultivated as pot plants and are even used as rockery plants in countries where the climate permits. Stapelia are good container plants and can grow well under full sun and light to moderate watering. They should be planted in well-drained compost as the stems are prone to rotting if kept moist for long.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

African Flame Tree (Spathodea campanulata )

African Flame Tree - Spathodea campanulata - Family Bignoniaceae

Spathodea is a monotypic genus in the flowering plant family Bignoniaceae. The single species it contains, Spathodea campanulata, is commonly known as the Fountain Tree, African Tulip Tree, Flame-of-the-forest, Rudra Palash, Pichkari or Nandi Flame. It is a tree that grows between 7–25 m (23–82 ft) tall and is native to tropical dry forests of Africa.

This tree is planted extensively as an ornamental tree throughout the tropics and is much appreciated for its very showy reddish-orange or crimson (rarely yellow), campanulate flowers. It has become an invasive species in many tropical areas.
 The flower bud is ampule-shaped and contains water. These buds are often used by children who play with its ability to squirt the water. The sap sometimes stains yellow on fingers and clothes. The open flowers are cup-shaped and hold rain and dew, making them attractive to many species of birds.

In Neo-tropical gardens and parks, their nectar is popular with many hummingbirds, such as the Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis), the Black Jacobin (Florisuga fusca), or the Gilded Hummingbird (Hylocharis chrysura). The wood of the tree is soft and is used for nesting by many hole-building birds such as barbets.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chocolate Bells (Trichodesma physaloides)

Chocolate Bells (Trichodesma physaloides) belong to the Boraginaceae family and looking at the third picture you can see how they got their name. In my opinion, they look good enough to eat. :)

Drooping flowers with large, brownish purple calyces and white corollas characterise this plant which is conspicuous in early spring, especially where grassland has been burnt.
 Distribution and Habitat

Trichodesma physaloides is widespread in the eastern regions of Africa. The species inhabits grassland, woodland, open mixed bushveld, hill slopes, disturbed areas, roadsides, waste places; sandy loam, clay, loam or rocky soils and gravel.

The species of Trichodesma occur predominantly in summer rainfall regions. They are subjected to winter drought, frost and fires. With sturdy, often very old, fire-resistant rootstocks and mass seed production by fire-stimulated flowering, these species are well-adapted to survive unfavourable conditions. Most examples of fire-stimulated flowering plants do flower in the absence of fire, but not as profusely as when subjected to fire.

This plant is not in general cultivation as it does not flower well unless subjected to fire (intense heat). As it is extremely attractive, it presents a challenge to the keen gardener to create an environment to suit it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

DevilsThorn (Tribulus terrestris)

We have a few species of plants here known as the Devils Thorn but this is by far the worst.

Devils thorn (Tribulus terrestris) family Zygophyllaceae

Also know as: Puncture Vine, Caltrop, Calthrops, Bullhead, Devil's Thorn, Cathead, Goathead, Mexican Sandbur, Texas Sandbur

 This species bears spiny fruit (burrs) which are about 2cm (1”) in length. The dried fruit is pernicious to the horse, for when the thorn enters the hoof, it completely rots the frog and cripples the horse.
 It is poisonous to livestock. The toxin, a triterpenoid, causes liver damage resulting in photosensitivity (distinctively; unpigmented parts of the skin react to UV light resulting in inflammation leading to swelling etc of particularly the head). This is known to farmers as 'geeldikkop' (yellow-thick-head). Toxicity usually results when livestock (particularly sheep) graze young, wilted plants.

 For homicidal purposes, the poisonous juice of Acokanthera venenata is smeared on a suitable prickly fruit such as that of Tribulus terrestris and strewn on a path which is likely to be used by the victim.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tsamma Melon (Citrullus lanatus)

Tsamma Melon or wild watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) Family: Cucurbitaceae

Watermelons have been cultivated in the Nile valley at least since the start of the second millennium BC.


Citrullus lanatus is a prostrate or climbing annual with several herbaceous, rather firm and stout stems up to 3 m long; the young parts are densely woolly with yellowish to brownish hairs while the older parts become hairless. The leaves are herbaceous but rigid, becoming rough on both sides; 60–200 mm long and 40–150 mm broad, ± ovate in outline, sometimes unlobed and ± entire, but usually deeply 3-lobed with the segments again lobed or doubly lobed; the central lobe is much the largest. The leaf stalks are somewhat hairy and up to 150 mm long. The tendrils are rather robust and usually divided in the upper part.

Male and female flowers occur on the same plant (monoecious) with the flower stalk up to 40 mm long and hairy. The receptacle is up to 4 mm long, broadly campanulate and hairy, the lobes are ± as long as the tube. The corolla is usually ± green or green-veined outside and white to pale or bright yellow inside and up to 30 mm in diameter.

The fruit in the wild form is subglobose, indehiscent and up to 200 mm in diameter; the fruit stalk is up to 50 mm long. The fruits in the cultivated forms are globose to ellipsoid or oblong and up to 600 mm long and 300 mm in diameter. The rind in the ripe fruit is hairless and smooth, hard but not woody. In the wild forms the rind is pale or grey-green, usually mottled with irregular longitudinal bands of dark green or grey-green. In cultivated forms the rind is often concolorous yellowish to pale or dark green, or mottled with darker green, or marbled with a darker shade. The flesh in the wild form and some cultivated forms (citron watermelon) is firm and rather hard, white, green-white or yellowish. In cultivated forms the flesh is somewhat spongy in texture but very juicy and soft, pink to bright red-pink. The seeds are numerous, ± ovate in outline, sometimes bordered; in wild forms they are usually black or dark brown; in cultivated forms they are also white or mottled, mostly 6–12 mm long.

Citrullus lanatus can be recognized by its large fruit which is unique in the Cucurbitaceae of southern Africa and also by the dense yellowish to brownish hairs on the younger plant parts.

Conservation status
Citrullus lanatus is not threatened and its status is described as ‘Least Concern' by Raimondo et al . 2009. This means that the species is not at risk of extinction or under threat.

Distribution and habitat
The genus Citrullus is restricted to Africa and parts of Asia and consists of four species, all diploid (2n=22).

1. The poisonous perennial C. colocynthis (L.) Schrad. (Colocynthis vulgaris Schrad.) or colocynth, occurs naturally from North Africa and the Mediterranean to Pakistan and Afghanistan; it is also cultivated for medicinal purposes and rodent control in those parts. (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk (1962) state that Colocynthis vulgaris 'occurs at the Cape'; this not correct).

2. The perennial Citrullus ecirrhosus has no tendrils and is restricted to Namibia and the Richtersveld of the Northern Cape.

3. The annual C. rehmii is endemic to Namibia.

4. C. lanatus [previously known as Citrullus vulgaris Eckl. & Zeyh. and Colocynthis citrullus (L.) Kuntze] is the most polymorphic species of the genus, with both wild and cultivated taxa. Following Laghetti & Hammer (2007), it comprises three subspecies:

5. New archaeological records raise the possibility that the present distribution of the var. caffer was much more extensive in the past. Many researchers consider this taxon the ancestor of the cultivated watermelon, while others regard the var. citroides as the ancestor. On the other hand, DNA studies show that C. ecirrhosus could be the ancestor of C. lanatus.

6. C. lanatus is an old cultigen which is now cultivated and in a semi-wild state in the warmer parts of the whole world, but the subsp. lanatus is truly native, most probably only in the more or less sandy drier areas of southern Africa, chiefly in the Kalahari region. In southern Africa it has been collected in Namibia, Botswana and all provinces of South Africa; it is uncommon in Mpumalanga (especially Kruger National Park), KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces.

7. Wild C.lanatus subsp. lanatus var. caffer occurs in two biochemically different forms, both with whitish flesh: one with the bitter elaterinid ( karkoer, bitterboela ) and the other without ( tsamma ).These two forms can only be distinguished by taste; there are degrees of bitterness. Apparently the fruit can also taste sour but still refreshing to eat. Farmers in southern Africa have noticed that the edible tsamma with ‘sweet' flesh but bitter rind, occurs mostly in the Kalahari area of Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Cape, but that the bitter karkoer or bitterboela usually occurs elsewhere, often as a weed in old lands, particularly in the North-West, Free State, Western Cape and southern parts of the Northern Cape. Apparently wild animals, cattle and sheep do eat the bitter fruit; however, there is a form with small fruit and a knobbly rind which is poisonous to sheep. (Letter from Dr W. KotzĂ© to Prof. A.E. van Wyk, University of Pretoria, 2008).

8. Both C. colocynthis and C. lanatus are mentioned in the Bible (Moldenke & Moldenke 1952).

9. Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Citrullus is the diminutive of Citrus and probably refers to the globose fruit. The specific epiphet lanatus refers to the dense woolly hairs on the young parts of the plant.

10. Ecology

This annual grows in grassland and bushland, mostly in sandy soils, often along water courses or near water. It has been collected at altitudes of 0–1785 m. In southern Africa the flowering time of C. lanatus is mostly from January to April and the fruiting time mostly from February to May. Dry or rainy years will influence flowering and fruiting.

11. Uses and cultural aspects of Citrullus lanatus

C. lanatus subsp. lanatus var. citroides : The fruit of this cultigen, known as the citron melon or in southern Africa as the makataan, is larger than the tsamma, also sweet and has a more or less concolorous rind and yellowish flesh. It is a traditional crop with several landraces in many parts of the world, e.g. Africa, the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, and introduced in the United States, Polynesia and Russia. The fruits are mostly used as fodder, but also for the production of citron peel or pectin. This plant also occurs as a weed in many countries.

12. In southern Africa it has been cultivated since pre-colonial times with other crops such as sorghum and maize. The tender young leaves and fruits are cooked as green vegetables, while the fruit flesh may be cooked as porridge with maize meal. It is also a valuable stock feed, especially in times of drought. The makataan is an old favourite for making jam or preserve. The flesh from just below the rind is cut into squares and used to make what is called makataankonfyt . The fruit of the makataan can also be pickled.

13. C. lanatus subsp. lanatus var . caffer : The tsamma has a crisp, juicy, almost tasteless white flesh. It consists of more than 90% water and contains Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, some trace elements and very few calories. When the pulp is to be drunk, a hole is cut in one end of the fruit and the middle portion eaten. The remaining pulp is then mashed inside with a stick to a watery mass. The seeds are put aside for further use. The hollowed fruit can be used as a container for cooking or storing berries, etc. The pulp and seeds are prepared in a number of different ways for eating. The fruit minus the rind, is cut into slices for drying in the sun, or for mixing with meat, which is then stewed in a hollowed-out fruit. Roasting the entire fruit under a bed of hot coals in the sand adds a lot more flavour to the flesh. The flesh of the bitter karkoer or bitterboela is not used by humans, but the seeds may still be eaten. In the 19 th century Cape Colony the pickled young fruit of the karkoer was consumed; the fresh fruit pulp was used as a drastic purgative, a cathartic in dropsy and other complaints.

14. The flat brown seeds have a much higher food value than the flesh and have a nice nutty taste. Significant amounts of vitamin C, minerals, fat, starch and riboflavin have been obtained from them. They can be dried, roasted and eaten as such or ground into flour to make bread. The flour is said to contain saponin and is also used as a detergent. The seed contains a high percentage of oil which is similar to pumpkin seed oil and can be used in cooking. The seed oil has an anthelmintic action which is better than that of pumpkin seed oil.

15. Up to 40 melons have been recorded on one wild plant; their average mass was 1,3 kg. For some Bushmen and animals in the Kalahari, the melons are/were their only source of water for months in the dry season; it is/was not possible to live permanently in the Kalahari without it. In the old days it was almost impossible to travel in the Kalahari desert except during a good tsamma year. The fruit supplied food and water for oxen and even travellers. A person can survive for six weeks on an exclusive diet of tsamma.

16. Mature fruits of the cultivated watermelon can be stored for not more than four weeks. Mature fruits of the wild C. lanatus subsp. lanatus can remain intact and fleshy for over a year after abscission from the parent plant and they can be stored underground for long periods. H.B. Lecha and U. Posluszny reported on the ‘Comparative fruit morphology and anatomy in Citrullus lanatus ' at the conference of the South African Association of Botanists in 2001. A layer of wax covers the rind of both forms. However, in the cultivated watermelon, stomata occur on the surface of the rind. In contrast, the stomata in the wild fruit are sunken in depressions on the rind; these sunken stomata facilitate the development of stomatal wax plugs after fruit abscission. It was also found that the bands of sclereids comprising the rind tissue are more extensive, broader and more lignified in the wild watermelon than in the cultivated one.

17. C. lanatus subsp. mucosospermus : The fruit of this West African taxon is somewhat bitter, but the plant is often cultivated on a large scale mainly as cattle food and for the seed. The fruit pulp is eaten either raw or in soup, depending on the degree of sweetness or bitterness. The seed is sold in markets and used as a masticatory, medicine, food or source of oil for cooking and as an illuminant (it is a good substitute for cottonseed oil).

18. C. lanatus subsp. vulgaris : Cultivation of the watermelon as a fruit crop, began in ancient Egypt and Asia Minor and spread from there. The cultivars of this popular summer fruit grown today, bear little resemblance to their ancestral African forms. The fruit pulp, fruit juice and seed of the watermelon have all been credited with diuretic properties. A preparation of the seed can lower blood pressure. The juice of the root is said to be able to stop bleeding. In China the seeds are used in soups and snacks, in Eastern Europe excess fruits are made into syrup. The flesh is also an ingredient of sunlotions and other cosmetics.

19. This member of the Cucumber and Pumpkin Family is propagated by seed and grows easily. The wild forms are not commercially available and are not discussed in South African horticultural books. The tsamma, karkoer and makataan are rather regarded as curiosities and can only be grown in large gardens in fairly dry areas with enough space for the long prostrate stems.

Additional photographs supplied through the kindness of Graham from One Stoned Crow. His insight into the fauna and flora of Namibia is delightful. Thank you Graham!!

Information from:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Smelters Bush (Flaveria bidentis)

Family Astereceae

In trying to get more information on this plant, I have come across conflicting reports.

 In some places I see as listed as a small plant growing up to 1m (3’) in height and a native to tropical America and an invasive species, an on another site listed on a Red List which normally means “endangered”.

 Now my question is ……. Which of the two is it? Can anyone help with an answer? It is rather a pretty plant don’t you think?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Impala Lily (Adenium multiflorum)

Impala Lily (Adenium multiflorum) family Apocynaceae

Adeniums, which all have poisonous sap, produce flowers in striking reds, pinks and mauves; red-and-white bicoloured flowers are fairly common. They are interesting caudiciform plants and make ideal container subjects. Known to occur in more arid regions, adeniums are sensitive to frost and waterlogged soils. The plants are usually deciduous during winter or the dry season. South African species of Adenium do well in warmer gardens and their rather handsome flowers make them an attractive addition to a garden.
 Adenium is a small genus of succulent shrubs that produces swollen stems, often with peculiar forms. When the starry flowers appear in masses, the appearance of the plant is completely transformed. The genus exhibits a great deal of natural variation in the form of the stems, form and colour of the flowers, and overall size. Over the past 20 years, adeniums have been grown by several breeders world-wide, selecting superior variations and producing a large range of cultivars. Adenium is closely related to Pachypodium but is distinguished by the absence of stipules at the base of the leaves which develop into long rigid spines. The genus is not to be confused with Adenia (Passifloraceae, granadilla family) which also has caudiciform stems or rootstocks, but they are green and the stems are usually twining.
Adenium This is a genus of deciduous succulent shrublets, shrubs or small trees. The smooth, fleshy, swollen stems are sometimes entirely subterranean with only fleshy branches above ground. The plants have tubers or rootstocks and usually clear sap. The striking, showy flowers are carried in few-flowered clusters at the tips of branches and range from white, pink, red to purple and white edged crimson. Leaves are alternate or in simple spirals, often in terminal clusters, and are sessile or have short stalks. The corolla is funnel- or cup-shaped, with a cylindrical tube. The part of the fruit (mericarp) that contains the seeds is long and thin (follicular) and opens by a simple opening. Seeds are light brown, with a deciduous tuft of hairs at each end. Plants are slow-growing, but long-lived and are easily grown from seed or cuttings. The various species flower at different times of the year.
 Economic and cultural value
All species have very striking, decorative flowers and make good subjects for rock gardens or containers in warmer climates. They have been horticulturally developed by numerous growers world-wide and many cultivars are available.

The sap of Adenium boehmianum is very bitter and it is the only species used by the Heikom Bushmen of Namibia to poison their arrows for hunting game. The poison is extracted in winter after the plants have flowered. The tuber is dug up and the sap extracted through pressure or by heating the thicker branches and roots over a fire until the sap exudes. It is boiled to condense it to a light brown, thick syrup, cooled and applied to the arrow point just behind the tip. The latex is usually the sole ingredient in this arrow poison. The concentrated latex has been reported to be an item of trade. Large antelope usually die within 100 m from where they have been shot while springbok usually succumb within an hour. The latex of various Euphorbia species is sometimes added to make the poison even more potent. The common name ouzuwo is the Herero word for poison.
Adenium multiflorum is used as a fish, arrow and magical poison in Mozambique and South Africa. Poison is prepared from the bark and fleshy parts of the trunk, but always in combination with poisons from other plants. The stem and roots are reported to contain more than 30 cardiac glycosides. It is poisonous to cattle but they seldom eat the plants. The flowers make interesting compositions in flower arrangements in a vase but they are not good florist flowers as they do not travel well even though they belong to the same family as the long-lasting frangipani. This species is ideal for a hot sunny veranda.

Pounded fleshy leaves of Adenium oleifolium are used by the San to make an ointment for relief of snakebites and scorpion stings. A tea made from the root is used as a tonic and for treating fever. The sap is used as an arrow poison in southern Namibia.

Information supplied by:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Yellow Commelina (Commelina africana)

Yellow Commelina (Commelina africana) family Commelinaceae

 These tend to be a semi-erect trailing plant found in the warmer areas of SA.

 The leaves are stalkless and the flowers borne in boat-shaped spathes.

 Flowers open only during the sunlight hours and are about 5mm (1/2”) in diameter.

 It is used in traditional medicine (especially the roots) to treat various ailments including venereal disease, sterility as well as heart and bladder complaints.

 Young shoots and leaves are cooked as a green vegetable to which ground peanuts may be added as a condiment.

Information from: Wild flowers of South Africa by Braam van Wyk