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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hen-and-chickens (Chlorophytum comosum)

Family Anthericaceae
Description
Perennial evergreen herbs up to 1 m tall and 1 m in diameter from a decumbent (spreading horizontally at first but then growing upwards) rhizome up to 150 mm long, often covered in old leaf bases. Roots fleshy and tapering at both sides (fusiform), succulent, up to 10 mm in diameter. The linear leaves grow in a dense basal rosette, are bright green, smooth (glabrous) with a prominent mid-vein, and channelled, about 300 mm long and 20 mm broad, end in a soft point, and the margins are entire and sheathing at the base. The inflorescence is lax, longer than the leaves, spreading, arises from the centre of the rosette and is up to 1 m long. The peduncle (stalk of the inflorescence) is 2–4 mm in diameter and has linear-lanceolate bracts tapering to a point.

Flowering period: During the summer months.

Chlorophytum comosum is one of 38 Chlorophytum species in South Africa (Archer 2003) and is easily distinguished by its spreading inflorescence bearing vegetative plantlets rooting when the inflorescence touches the ground.

 Distribution and habitat

Chlorophytum comosum is widely distributed from Swellendam in the Western Cape to the Soutpansberg in the Limpopo Province (Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces). It is found from sea level to elevations of more than 1 000 m. It occurs in the undergrowth of forested river valleys, mountainous regions and thickets, on steep embankments, flat terrain and cliffs.

 It grows on a variety of soils (volcanic or sedimentary) derived from sandstone, shale, dolorite or granite. The soils are usually slightly acidic. The climate varies from hot to cool during winter, and when frost occurs it is mild. Rainfall ranges between 500 and 2000 mm per annum and occurs mainly during spring and summer, however in the Western Cape it occurs also during winter.
 Uses and cultural aspects

The plants have been used medicinally by the Nguni (Hutchings et al. 1996), especially for pregnant mothers and as a charm to protect the mother and child. The plant is placed in the room where the mother and child stay. The roots are dipped into a water bowl and mothers drink this daily as it is believed to protect the infant. The young baby is also administered an infusion, acting as a purgative.

Plants are very popular in cultivation due to their drought-tolerance and their relatively disease- and pest-free nature. In South Africa they are grown as pot plants, in hanging baskets or as ground cover under trees. The hanging plantlets on the extended inflorescences are very decorative. The species is also very effective on steep embankments to combat soil erosion.