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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chinese Hats (Karomia speciosa)

Family Lamiaceae 
 This shrub to small tree with its two-tone dark and light green leaves produces the most interesting profusion of paper-like flowers with a pink and purple colour combination. A truly great addition to a summer garden in cooler temperate areas, it is deciduous and loses its leaves during winter. If, however, your garden is situated in a more sub-tropical area the plant may prove to be evergreen.

This is a deciduous shrub or small tree ranging in height from 1- 6 m. It is a medium fast grower and is relatively long lived. The main stem is either single- or multi-stemmed, with finely striated branches of pale brown. (Striated: having narrow lines or grooves running more or less parallel). The bark, which is pale grayish-brown, is smooth.

The leaves, which occur opposite each other on the stem, are variable in shape ranging from oval and egg-shaped to oblong, meaning it is long and narrowly shaped. The margins of the leaves are roughly toothed and the colour is decidedly two-toned with an olive- or dark green above to a paler green below. The leaves are characterized by a soft texture with fine hairs occurring on both surfaces.

The flowers are produced in profusion near the ends of the branches, where they form small clusters from November to April. The flowers, which make this such an attractive shrub a must to have in a summer garden, are made up of two colours. The base of the flower, called the calyx, is a pink to mauve colour and often has a paper-like texture, while the main part of the flower is a deep blue to violet colour. It often happens that the main part of the flower falls off leaving the pink base behind, affording the plant a splash of colour long after the flowers have officially disappeared.

 The fruit, produced between March and July, are carried in the persistent flower base (calyx). They are very small and rather inconspicuous, consisting of 4 lobes and a hairy surface.
 Distribution and habitat

Karomia speciosa occurs naturally in the following South African provinces: northernmost KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanaga and Limpopo. It also occurs in the neighboring African state of Swaziland and north into Tropical Africa.

It is found naturally in bush or wooded areas on hot, dry, rocky slopes as well as in riverine thickets.

 Derivation of name and historical aspects

The family to which Karomia speciosa belongs, Lamiaceae, is also known as the Sage or Mint family. It is a very large family consisting of herbs and shrubs of which many are well known for their aromatic properties. Some of the plants in the family are known for their essential oils and as popular ornamentals in gardens.

The genus Karomia is represented by only one species of which two forms occur, Karomia speciosa forma speciosa, which is being discussed in this article and Karomia speciosa forma flava, which is known to have yellow flowers.

The species name speciosa is Latin for splendid or showy and was undoubtedly chosen because of the showy flowers that make this a beautiful garden subject.

The nectar rich flowers attract insects such as butterflies and carpenter bees, which in turn are responsible for pollinating the plants. Nectar eating birds are also known to visit the flowers of this plant occasionally.

Uses and cultural aspects

Apart from being used as a garden subject no other uses for this plant are known.