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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Butterfly Bush (Rotheca Hirsuta)

Family Lamiaceae 
Rotheca hirsuta occurs mainly in grassland. It is one of the first spring flowers to appear after winter in the summer rainfall regions.
Rotheca hirsuta is a perennial herb with many, erect, unbranched, angular, annual stems arising from an underground rootstock. The stems are mostly up to 0.3 m high, rarely up to 0.5 m. The sessile leaves of R. hirsuta are arranged in whorls of three, sometimes four, rarely opposite. The shape of the blade varies from narrowly oblong, narrowly obovate, narrowly elliptic, elliptic to broadly elliptic, with an acute apex and entire margin. The leaf blades are totally glabrous and smooth to densely hairy and often somewhat succulent. The surfaces of the leaf blade are often described in the literature as glandular-punctate. A study of the leaf surfaces with the scanning electron microscope revealed that there are actually numerous peltate hairs covering the leaf surface.


The white, inverted Y-shaped pattern on the lower corolla lip and the long exserted, curved stamens and style of Rotheca hirsuta are adaptations to insect pollination. With sturdy, often very old, fire-resistant rootstocks, this species is well adapted to survive unfavourable conditions.

 Uses and cultural aspects

The Sotho people administered a decoction of the root as an enema in kidney disease ( Phillips 1917; Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962; Jacot Guillarmod 1971; Lucas & Pike 1971 ). An infusion made from the roots and leaves is used as a remedy for worms by the Zulu (Hulme 1954; Walker 1996). According to Hutchings et al. (1996) roots are used in medicines known as imbiza yomzimba omubi which are taken for scrofula swellings and root and leaf infusions are taken as anthelmintics by the Zulus.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

White Stinkwood (Celtis Africana)

Family Celtidaceae
There is no doubt that this is an excellent tree to use in a landscape, and it is a rewarding garden tree. It gives shade in summer, and is fast and easy to grow under a wide range of conditions.


This beautiful deciduous tree grows up to 25 m tall in a forest habitat, but in a garden it can be treated as a medium-sized tree, expected to reach a height of up to 12 m. In the wild, where it is growing in an exposed, rocky position it may be nothing more than a shrub,but well-grown specimens will have a single, straight bole branching to form a dense, semi-circular canopy. The trunk of Celtis africana is easy to distinguish by its smooth, pale grey to white bark. It may be loosely peeling in old trees and sometimes has horizontal ridges.
 In spring Celtis africana is very lovely, with its light green, tender, new leaves that contrast beautifully with the pale bark. The leaves are simple, alternate, triangular in shape with three distinct veins from the base, and the margin is toothed for the upper two-thirds. The new leaves are bright, fresh green and hairy, and they turn darker green and become smoother as they mature. Celtis africana leaves are browsed by cattle and goats, and are food for the larvae of the long-nosed butterfly.
 The flowers appear in spring (August to October). They are small, greenish, star-like and inconspicuous. Separate male and female flowers are produced on the same tree.A cluster of male flowers is borne at the base of the new leaf, and the female or bisexual flowers are in the axils of the leaves. The flowers are pollinated by bees. Masses of small, rounded, berry-like fruits on 13 mm long stalks follow the flowers, from October to February. When they turn yellow-brown to black they are ripe. Many birds like rameron pigeons, willow warblers, black-eyed bulbuls, mousebirds and crested barbets feed on the fruits and disperse the seeds.
 Uses and cultural aspects

The wood of Celtis africana is white to yellowish in colour and of medium hardness. It is tough and strong, and polishes well, but is difficult to work. It is a good general timber suitable for making planks, shelving, yokes, tent-bows and furniture. The African people have always used it to make a variety of household articles. It is also thought to have magical properties. The wood is mixed with crocodile fat as a charm against lightning, and many people believe that it has the power over evil and that pegs of wood driven into the ground will keep witches away.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Flame Lily (Gloriosa superb)

Family Liliaceae 

This is the same species as the red/orange ones found in many areas but there is a great variation in colours and flower size.

The plants are poisonous and contain colchicines and related compounds. Colchicine has anticancer properties but is too toxic for human use.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Karee (Searsia lancea)

Family Anacardiaceae
The karee is a small to medium sized evergreen tree that usually grows to a height of 7 m and a width of 7 m but can be larger depending on environmental factors.

It is usually a single-stemmed, low branching tree which has a dense, soft, round canopy. The karee has a course textured bark and on older specimens it is dark grey or brown in colour while on young branches and trees it is a reddish brown-colour. The leaves are trifoliate (a compound leaf with three leaflets), possessing narrowly lanceolate (lance shaped) leaflets. The leaves are dark green above and paler green below. They do not have any hairs on them and the margins of the leaves are entire. The leaves are leathery and are often sickle shaped.

The small, inconspicuous flowers are presented as much-branched sprays which are greenish-yellow in colour and are produced from June until September. The male and female flowers occur on separate trees. The fruit are small (up to 5mm in diameter), round, slightly flattened and covered with a thin fleshy layer which is glossy and yellowish to brown when ripe. The fruits are produced from September until January.

 Searsia was named after Paul B. Sears (1891-1990) who was head of the Yale School of Botany, and lancea refers to the lance shaped leaflets.

The karee occurs naturally in Acacia woodland and along drainage lines, rivers and streams. It is often found growing on lime rich substrates. The karee occurs from Zambia in the north to the Western Cape in the south. It is found throughout the Freestate and in parts of all the other provinces of South Africa except for KwaZulu-Natal.

The fruit is eaten by birds such as bulbuls, guineafowl and francolins. Game animals such as kudu, roan antelope and sable browse the leaves of the tree which can serve as an important food source for them in times of drought. The sweetly scented flowers attract bees and other insects to them. Searsia lancea is useful in providing natural soil stabilisation and increasing infiltration of rainwater into the soil thus reducing erosion and raising the ground water table.

 The leaves of the karee provide valuable fodder for livestock but can taint the flavour of milk if eaten in large quantities by dairy cattle as a result of the resin contained in them. The tree is also an important source of shade for livestock in certain regions. The bark, twigs and leaves provide tannin. In the past the hard wood was used for fence posts, tool handles and parts of wagons. Bowls, tobacco pipes and bows were also made from the wood. The fruits are edible and were once used as an important ingredient of mead or honey beer. The word karee is said to be the original Khoi word for mead.

Historical aspects

Most of the species grown in southern Africa, belonging to the genus Rhus, have been placed in Searsia. In southern Africa there are about 111 species of Searsia. Searsia lancea belongs to the family Anacardiaceae (the Mango family) which is the fourth largest tree family in southern Africa. This family is composed of at least 80 native tree species. Searsia is easy to recognise, as the leaves are all trifoliate and have a resinous smell when crushed. Common edible fruit and seeds that belong to this family include the mango, pistachio nut and cashew nut. The resinous substance is poisonous in many species such as poison ivy.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nightshade (Solanum Nigrum)

Family Solanaceae
Solanum nigrum (European Black Nightshade or locally just "black nightshade", Duscle, Garden Nightshade, Hound's Berry, Petty Morel, Wonder Berry, Small-fruited black nightshade or popolo) is a species in the Solanum genus, native to Eurasia and introduced in the Americas, Australasia and South Africa. Parts of this plant can be highly toxic to livestock and humans, and it's considered a weed. Nonetheless, ripe berries and cooked leaves of edible strains are used as food in some locales; and plant parts are used as a traditional medicine. There is a tendency in literature to incorrectly refer to many of the other "black nightshade" species as "Solanum nigrum".


The toxicity of Solanum nigrum varies widely depending on the variety, and poisonous plant experts advise to avoid eating the berries unless they are a known edible strain. Toxin levels may also be affected by the plants growing conditions.

All parts of the plant can be poisonous, containing toxic glycoalkaloids at 0.524% (dry weight), including solamargine, solasonine and solanine. The toxins are most concentrated in the unripe green berries, but also occur in ripe berries. Solanine levels in S.nigrum can be extremely toxic and potentially fatal. Poisoning symptoms are typically delayed for 6 to 12 hours after ingestion. Initial symptoms of toxicity include fever, sweating, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, confusion, and drowsiness. Death from ingesting plant parts results from cardiac arrhythmias and respiratory failure. Children have died after eating unripe berries, and consumption has caused livestock fatalities. Livestock have also been poisoned from nitrate toxicity by grazing the leaves of S. nigrum.

Although numerous texts state that the cooked ripe fruit of black nightshade is safe to eat, detoxification cannot be attributed to normal cooking temperatures because the decomposition temperature of solanine is much higher at about 243 C. There are ethnobotanical accounts of S.nigrum leaves and shoots being boiled as a vegetable with the cooking water being discarded and replaced several times to remove toxins.

Some of the uses ascribed to Solanum nigrum in literature may actually apply to other black nightshade species within the same species complex, and proper species identification is essential for food and medicinal uses (See Taxonomy section).

Ripe berries of the "Red Makoi" variety of Solanum nigrum are edible.
Culinary usage
S.nigrum has been widely used as a food since early times, and the fruit was recorded as a famine food in 15th Century China. Despite toxicity issues with some forms (see Toxicity section), the ripe berries and boiled leaves of edible strains are eaten. The thoroughly boiled leaves - although strong and slightly bitter flavoured - are used like spinach as horta, in fataya pies and quiches. The ripe black berries are described as sweet and salty, with hints of liquorice and melon.

In India, the berries are casually grown and eaten; but not cultivated for commercial use. The berries are referred to as "fragrant tomato." Although not very popular across much of its growing region, the fruit and dish are common in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Southern Andhra Pradesh and Southern Karnataka.

In Ethiopia, the ripe berries are picked and eaten by children in normal times, while during famines all affected people would eat berries. In addition the leaves are collected by women and children, who cook the leaves in salty water and consumed like any other vegetable. Farmers in the Konso Special Woreda report that because S. nigrum matures before the maize is ready for harvesting, it is used as a food source until their crops are ready. The Welayta people in the nearby Wolayita Zone do not weed out S. nigrum that appear in their gardens since they likewise cook and eat the leaves.

In Ghana, the unripe green berries are called "kwaansusuaa" or "abedru", and are used in preparing various soups and stews, including the popular palm nut soup commonly eaten with banku or fufu.

In South Africa, the very ripe and hand-selected fruit (nastergal in Afrikaans and umsobo in Zulu) is cooked into a beautiful but quite runny purple jam.

In Greece and Turkey the leaves are called "istifno", and in Crete known as "stifno". They are one of the ingredients included in the salad of boiled greens known as horta.

In Indonesia, the young fruits and leaves of cultivated forms are used and are known as "ranti" (Javanese) or "leunca" (Sundanese). The fruit and leaves are eaten raw as part of a traditional salad lalapan, or the fruit is cooked (fried) with oncom.

It was imported into Australia from Mauritius in the 1850's as a vegetable during the gold rush, but S. nigrum is now prohibited for trade as a food by the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code.
 Medicinal usage
The plant has a long history of medicinal usage, dating back to ancient Greece. "...In the fourteenth century, we hear of the plant under the name of Petty Morel being used for canker and with Horehound and wine taken for dropsy." It was a traditional European medicine used as a strong sudorific, analgesic and sedative with powerful narcotic properties, but was considered a "somewhat dangerous remedy". Internal use has fallen out of favor in Western herbalism due to its variable chemistry and toxicity, but it is used topically as a treatment for herpes zoster.

 S.nigrum is an important ingredient in traditional Indian medicines. Infusions are used in dysentery, stomach complaints and fever. The juice of the plant is used on ulcers and other skin diseases. The fruits are used as a tonic, laxative, appetite stimulant; and also for treating asthma and "excessive thirst". Traditionally the plant was used to cure tuberculosis. It is known as Peddakasha pandla koora in the Telangana region. This plant's leaves are used to treat mouth ulcers that happen during winter periods of Tamil Nadu, India. It is known as Manathakkali keerai in Tamil nadu. In North India, the boiled extracts of leaves and berries are also used to alleviate liver-related ailments, including jaundice. In Assam, the juice from its roots is used against asthma and whooping cough.

S. nigrum is a widely used plant in oriental medicine where it is considered to be antitumorigenic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, diuretic, and antipyretic.

Chinese experiments confirm that the plant inhibits growth of cervical carcinoma.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Velvet Bush Willow (Combretum molle)

Family Combretaceae
This is a decorative tree, well suited for a summer rainfall garden.

Velvet bush willow is a small to medium-sized evergreen deciduous trees that grows up to 13 m high, with rounded crown. It has grey bark when still young and this becomes grey-brown or almost black when older.

The leaves are simple, opposite, densely covered by velvety hairs when immature and smoother when mature. Young leaves are attractive with light pink or orange colour. Its flowering time is Sept.–Nov. The flowers are in dense axillary spikes with greenish yellow colour, strongly scented and attractive to bees and other insects. The fruit is four-winged, about 20 mm in diameter, light green with reddish shade which turns red-brown when dry.

 Distribution and habitat

Velvet bush willow is widely distributed from sea level to about 1500 m, from KwaZulu-Natal towards the northern region of South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and tropical Africa. It is a tree often occurring in open woodlands and in bushveld, frequently associated with quartzite formations.


Velvety bush willow is a tree of the bush and savanna regions of Africa, often occurring on ant-hills, in semi-evergreen thickets and frequently associated with quartzite formations. It is a common tree in Gauteng, for it grows freely on the slopes of the Magaliesberg and on the Waterberg and Soutpansberg mountains.

 Uses and cultural aspects

Velvet bush willow tree is important in traditional medicine. Most African people use boiled root decoction to treat constipation, headaches, stomachs, fever, dysentery and swellings, and as an anthelmintic for hookworm. The leaves are chewed, soaked in water and the juice drunk for chest complaints; it can also be used as an inhalant in a hot steam bath.

It is termite-proof and can be used to make fence posts, implement handles and bowls for grinding peanuts and mealies. Red fabric dyes are made from the leaves, whereas dyes made from the roots are yellow-brown.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wild Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum)

Family Malvaceae
Gossypium herbaceum originated in southern Africa but was first domesticated in Arabia, from where cultivated forms spread westward to Africa and eastward to India. At present it is cultivated in Africa and Asia, and sometimes planted in the New World.

Cotton is the most important group of fibre plants in the world. The main fibres of cotton plants are the longer seed hairs (‘lint’), used for making yarn to be woven into textile fabrics, alone or in combination with other plant, animal or synthetic fibres. Cotton lint is also made into other products including sewing thread, cordage and fishing nets.

Cotton textile cuttings and rags serve in the paper industry for the production of the best writing, book and drawing paper. Short fibres (‘fuzz’ or ‘linters’) are processed into a range of products, including papers, twine, automobile upholstery, explosives, plastics and photographic film. Linter pulp is made into various types of paper, depending on its grade. Linters have also been used for the production of cellulose acetate and viscose. Cotton stalks are processed into paper and paperboard, for instance in China, and into cement-bonded particle board.

Oil obtained from cotton seed is industrially used in a range of products, including margarine, mayonnaise, salad and cooking oils, salad dressing and shortening. It is also made into soap, cosmetics, lubricants, sulphonated oils and protective coatings. Locally it serves for cooking and frying. Blends of cotton-oil biodiesel and diesel fuel can be used in conventional diesel engines without any major changes.

The seed cake remaining after oil extraction is an important protein concentrate for livestock. Low-grade cake is used as manure. The whole seed can be fed to ruminants, which are less sensitive to the toxic gossypol in the seed than non-ruminants, or is applied as manure. Hulls are a low-grade roughage for livestock or serve as bedding or fuel. Leftover bolls, leaves and thin twigs are grazed by ruminants. Dry stalks serve as household fuel.

In tropical Africa Gossypium herbaceum has largely been replaced by Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense as a source of cotton fibre, and its fibre is not much used nowadays. In Namibia the fibres of wild plants are used in cleaning pads, they are placed into quivers to separate arrows, and are used for placing medicines into the ears.

In Zimbabwe spinning and weaving of wild Gossypium herbaceum fibre was practised up to 1940, but the practice seems to have died out. In the Lake Chad area of Nigeria Gossypium herbaceum is planted to demarcate fields.

Gossypium herbaceum is widely used in traditional African medicine, especially root preparations. In Senegal a root maceration is given to new-born babies and sickly or rachitic children, to strengthen them. In Somalia a root decoction is drunk as an abortifacient. In Ethiopia the root is chewed in case of a snake bite.

In Namibia the powdered root bark is applied as a haemostatic. In Botswana root preparations are used for the treatment of heart palpitations. In Mozambique root decoctions are drunk as a tonic and to control vomiting, an infusion of the root against lack of appetite, an infusion of the roots of Gossypium herbaceum and Maclura africana (Bureau) Corner to purify mother milk, and an infusion of the roots of Gossypium herbaceum and a Cynodon species to prevent abortion.

The stem juice is applied against otitis in the Seychelles. The juice of the heated unripe fruit is dropped into the ear against earache in Somalia, while in Ethiopia the powdered fruit is applied on the head for the treatment of fungal infections.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus)

Family Podocarpaceae
This fast-growing, majestic yellowwood with its elegant shape is certainly a tree for all seasons and all gardens. It is an excellent container plant and can also be decorated and used as an indoor Christmas tree.
 The new flush of bluish-grey leaves in spring contrast beautifully against the older, dark green, mature leaves. The plant belongs to the Gymnospermae division of seed-bearing plants, differing from Angiospermae by the fact that the ovules are not enclosed in carpels-they are naked. Podocarpaceae is one of only seven Gymnosperm families found in South Africa, and this tree is protected.

 Natural distribution
This tree occurs from the southern Cape, northwards to the Limpopo and also eastwards to Mozambique.

 Ecological value

Ripe fruits are eaten by bats, bushpigs, fruit-eating birds (Cape parrots, purple-crested, Knysna and Ross's louries, Rameron, African green and Delagorgue's pigeons). The large, dense crown is often a roosting and nesting site for various birds.
 Uses and economic value

The wood is used extensively for furniture, roof beams, floorboards, door and window frames and boat building. Some of the famous yellowwood antiques seen throughout South Africa were made from the wood of this specific tree. The straight stems of these trees were once used for the topmasts of ships. The bark is used for tanning leather. Podocarpus falcatus could make an ideal indigenous substitute for the exotic pine trees currently being used in plantations; trials done at a forest station at Magoebaskloof showed that the yield is similar, with the growth rate and quality of the wood comparing favourably to that of commercial pine. The ripe fruit is edible and very resinous. The sap is used as a remedy for chest complaints.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Grey Barleria (Barleria albostellata)

Family Acanthaceae
This medium to large shrub produces beautiful white tubular flowers from September to January. In addition, the velvety grey leaves create a wonderful colour contrast, making this a very attractive shrub.

Barleria albostellata is a shrub that, under ideal circumstances, will grow to 1.5 m. Under tropical and subtropical conditions it is evergreen, but in colder areas can become deciduous to semi-deciduous. It flowers from September to May, during which time attractive white flowers appear sporadically. Flowers emerge from a dense inflorescence, surrounded by four leafy bracts, which looks a little like a strange spider's nest. Flowers are snow white and the bracts are tinged purple. In contrast to the flowers, the leaves are grey-green and conspicuously velvety/hairy.

The small capsule present in most members of the family Acanthaceae, bursts open when ripe to distribute the seeds. The plant grows relatively fast and reaches maturity within three years.
 Distribution and habitat

Barleria albostellata grows in well-drained soils and in full sun to semi-shade in the tropical to subtropical woodland areas of South Africa, as well as being found in Zimbabwe.

Although it prefers wetter conditions, it is able to withstand dry conditions and in addition, is semi frost-resistant.

Barleria albostellata is pollinated by insects and attracts various species of butterflies. Carpenter bees have been seen to visit the flowers on a regular basis. The insects attract insectivorous birds; therefore if you are a gardener that likes attracting life into your garden, this plant is a good choice.

It produces seed that is carried in a fruiting body in the form of a small capsule, which explodes when the seed is ripe.
 Uses and cultural aspects

The horticultural value of the Barleria genus has been greatly underrated so far. It is now proving to be very promising, containing many species that would be wonderful additions to any garden.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yellow Mouse-whiskers (Cleome angustifolia)

Family Capparaceae
They grow to about 1.5m in height and are found in most bushveld areas.

Large numbers of plants may appear after the rains.
Info: Flowers of South Africa (Braam van Wyk)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Weeping Wattle (Peltophorum africanum)

Family Caesalpinioideae
Also called African Wattle.
 These are medium in height reaching up to about 10m.

The bark is chewed and used medicinally to relieve colic, an infusion is taken orally to relieve a variety of stomach disorders.

The soft heartwood is used for carving.

Info: Trees of Southern Africa (Palgrave)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bluewaterlily (Nymphaea nouchali)

Family Nymphaeceae 
The flowers are sweetly scented and it is found in fresh-water pools, pans and dams throughout Africa.

Tubers are boiled or roasted by the rural people as a vegetable, they are spongy and rather tasteless. The whole plant has medicinal uses.
Info: Flowers of South Africa (Braam van Wyk)