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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chinese Lantern (Nymania capensis)

Family Meliaceae
Nymania capensis is pollinated by bees and bumble bees. The seeds are carried by the wind in the puffy capsules some distance away from the parent plant. In most cases they are blown under small karroid-like bushes where they will germinate once climatic conditions are suitable. Once sufficient rain has fallen, the plants begin life under the protection of a the nurse plant which is a small shrub or bush that gives protection to the young seedling whilst it is vulnerable to harsh, exposed climatic conditions. As in many desert plants, out of the thousands of seeds that germinate, only a very small fraction will make it to adulthood. The plants generally grow slowly. Under ideal conditions it may take three years for a plant to reach a length of 1.5 m. They may live for more than twenty five years in their natural habitat.

A rigid shrub, attaining heights of 6 m under ideal conditions. However, its normal height is not more than 3 m. The leaves are stiff and leathery in texture. The leaf shape is obolanceolate (almost spear-shaped), tufted, and is on a short shoot. The flowers are solitary and borne in the leaf axils. Flowers are dull red in colour; however, Nymania capensis from the Richtersveld often has bright red flowers. Seeds are produced in papery, inflated capsules, hence the name, Chinese lantern. The seeds are pea-shaped, and brown colour.
Nymania capensis occurs in southern Namibia , the Richtersveld, Namaqualand , Ceres Tanqua Karoo, Bushmanland, Worcester Robertson Karoo and the Little Karoo. It favours hot, dry, rocky habitats, but also occurs near dry, sandy rivers. Like so many other xerophytic plants (plants adapted to dry conditions) in South Africa , they are water misers. They grow predominately in the winter rainfall areas that receive little more than 120 mm annually. They are relatively frost tolerant, being able to survive temperatures of - 4°C. They can also survive in extreme heat, 44°C and above!

Derivation of name and historical aspects
This genus is named after the Swedish botanist Carl Fredrik Nyman (1820-1893). The specific epithet capensis indicates that the plant comes from the Cape.