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.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lion’s Spoor (Euphorbia clavarioides)

Family Euphorbiaceae
 This member of the Euphorbiaceae family was given this name by Pierre Edmond Boissier in 1860. It is found in Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa, growing in a well drained soil with some water and lots of sun.
 The centre can grow to 18 centimetres in diameter, forming a 30 centimetre high and even up to 130 centimetre wide cushion, which will get yellow flowers.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pineapple Lily (Eucomis autumnalis)

Family Hyacinthaceae
Handsome, striking, unique, peculiar, these are the kind of words that are used to describe this unusual plant. Eucomis autumnalis is a deciduous, summer growing bulb. The bulbs are large (8-10cm diameter), ovoid in shape, and give rise to a rosette of large, broad, soft-textured, fleshy, wavy-edged leaves, about 12-35 cm long x 60-75 cm wide. The inflorescence is a dense cylindrical raceme on a stout stalk, crowded with up to ±125 starry yellowish-green flowers with a tuft of leaf-like bracts at the tip. The inflorescence pushes the overall height of the plant up to ±50-60 cm. Flowers are produced in mid to late summer (December to February). After pollination, whilst the seeds are developing inside the swelling ovaries, the flowers turn green and the inflorescence remains decorative into autumn. The fruit is a trilocular capsule containing shiny black rounded seeds.


The name Eucomis is derived from the Greek eukomos meaning beautifully haired, from the Greek eu- meaning well and kome hair of the head, and refers to the tuft of leaf-like bracts that crown the inflorescence. This same feature also gave it its English and Afrikaans common names. The specific name autumnalis refers to its flowering and fruiting time. It has acquired a number of synonyms over the years, where variants were defined as separate species but these are now regarded as part of the same species, or where the same plant has been given different names by different botanists.

 Eucomis autumnalis is divided into three subspecies, most clearly distinguishable by the structure of the peduncle (stalk of the inflorescence) which is either club-shaped or cylindrical: Eucomis autumnalis subsp. autumnalis, (cylindrical) syn. Fritillaria autumnalis, Eucomis undulata, which occurs on mountain slopes, in open grassland and forest margins in the Eastern Cape, Northern Province, Zimbabwe and Malawi; Eucomis autumnalis subsp. clavata, (club-shaped or clavate) syn. Eucomis robusta, E. clavata, which grows in open grassland and marshes in KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho, eastern Free State, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Northern Province North West Province and Botswana; and Eucomis autumnalis subsp. amaryllidifolia, (linear leaves, club-shaped peduncle) syn. Eucomis amaryllidifolia, which grows between rocks on mountain slopes of the western Free State and Eastern Cape.


Eucomis is a member of the Hyacinthaceae (hyacinth family), formerly part of the Liliaceae (lily family), a family of perennial bulbous herbs consisting of ±46 genera and ±900 species found in Africa, Eurasia and North America but most richly represented in southern Africa and in the Mediterranean region to south west Asia. Related species known to South African gardeners include Lachenalia mathewsii, Veltheimia bracteata and Scilla natalensis while species more familiar to northern hemisphere gardeners include the hyacinth, Hyacinthus orientalis and the bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta. The genus Eucomis consists of approximately eleven species that occur in southern Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi. There are approximately ten in southern Africa, that occur in all eight provinces of South Africa, and in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, where they are found widespread in grassland, forest, swamps and river banks but are absent from the drier areas.
 Although the bulb is toxic, Eucomis autumnalis is used medicinally in South Africa. Decoctions of the bulb in water or milk are usually administered as enemas for the treatment of low backache, to assist in post-operative recovery, and to aid in healing fractures. Decoctions are also used for a variety of ailments, including urinary diseases, stomach ache, fevers, colic, flatulence, hangovers and syphilis, and to facilitate childbirth. The subspecies clavata is also used for coughs and respiratory ailments, biliousness, lumbago, blood disorders, venereal diseases and to prevent premature childbirth. Several homoisoflavones are found in Eucomis autumnalis, and flavonoids are known for their anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic action. It also contains some steroidal triterpenoids and they are known to be beneficial in wound therapy.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Snake Aloe (Aloe broomii)

Family Asphodelaceae
Aloe broomii has a unique feature that no other aloe has - the flowers and buds cannot be seen when the flower is fully open because they are completely hidden by longer bracts. All that we can see of the flowers are the stamens and stigmas sticking out beyond the bracts.


Description

Aloe broomii is a short-stemmed, robust aloe reaching a height of 1.5 m, including the inflorescence. It is usually solitary, but occasionally the heads divide to form groups of up to 3 rosettes. The leaves are green, with reddish brown teeth along the margins, and are arranged in a dense rosette.

The inflorescence is a densely flowered, un-branched (simple) raceme 1.0 - 1.5 m long. The flowers are pale greenish yellow and 20 - 25 mm long. The buds are completely hidden behind large bracts that are densely arranged like tiles on a roof. The flowers open in an approx. 100 mm wide band from the bottom of the inflorescence upwards, but all that can be seen of them are the stamens and stigmas that stick out beyond the bracts. It flowers during spring, and the seed ripens during summer.

There are two varieties of Aloe broomii var. broomii and var. tarkaensis. They are distinguished by the size of their floral bracts: var. tarkaensis has shorter bracts so that more of the flowers and buds are exposed; it also has broader leaves, and flowers in late summer.

 Conservation status

Aloe broomii is not a threatened species, it is still common throughout its distribution range.

Distribution and habitat

This species has a wide distribution. It is found on rocky slopes in hilly parts of the central interior of southern Africa at altitudes of 1 000-2 000 m, from the top of the southern escarpment near Beaufort West in the Northern Cape, to near Tarkastad in the Eastern Cape to the Free State in the north, and in Lesotho. Rainfall in this region is mainly during summer, ranging from 300 to 500 mm per annum.
 Derivation of name and historical aspects

Aloe broomii was collected by Dr R. Broom in 1905 at Pampoenpoort, which is between Carnarvon and Victoria West, so this wonderful species was named after the man who was the first to collect it. It earned the common name snake aloe because of its long, slender, snake-like inflorescence.

Ecology

Aloes produce a lot of nectar that attracts bees, sunbirds and ants. Their light, winged seeds are dispersed by the wind. The seeds are often parasitized by very small maize and rice weevils ( Sitophilus spp.) that leave small round holes in the seeds.

Use and cultural aspects

In the Steynburg District farmers use the brownish fluid that comes from the boiled leaves of Aloe broomii to kill ticks, and as a disinfectant, an ear remedy for sheep, and a dip for cattle. A dessertspoonful of juice from the boiled leaves given to a horse makes the blood temporarily so bitter that any ticks on the animal fall off.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

African Horned Cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus)

Family Cucurbitaceae
This African climber is cultivated in various parts of the world for its showy, edible fruits.
 Description

Cucumis metuliferus is an annual climbing or rarely trailing herb; vegetative parts rough with spreading hairs. Stems are up to 3 m long, radiating from a woody rootstock. The leaves are broadly ovate-cordate in outline, up to 90 x 100 mm, unlobed or usually palmately 3–5-lobed, veins below very roughly hairy, margins minutely toothed; leaf stalks (petioles) up to 100 mm long. Both male and female flowers appear on the same plant (monoecious). Male flowers are solitary or up to 4 in sessile or short-stalked groups, greenish to light yellow, the corolla is 5–10 mm long. Female flowers are solitary on 20–60 mm long stalks; the ovary is up to 20 mm long, pale green with numerous minute, dark green fleshy spines, the corolla is yellow, 8–15 mm long. The fruit is ellipsoid-cylindrical, obscurely trigonous (triangular in shape), 60–150 mm long, 30–60 mm across when ripe, the scattered spines are rather stout, fleshy, ± 10 x 2–5 mm, broad-based, deep green-grey, ripening yellow to orange-red with obscure longitudinal stripes of small pale markings and rather softly fleshy. Seeds are ellipsoid, flattened, 6–9 mm long, numerous, embedded in a light green or emerald-green, jelly-like flesh.

 Distribution

Cucumis metuliferus grows naturally in tropical Africa south of the Sahara down to Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland. In South Africa it is found in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. It has also been recorded from Yemen and is occasionally cultivated in South Africa and elsewhere.

This species usually grows in shallow or deep, well-drained sand, mostly in alluvial soil on river banks, in river beds or flood plains; it is also recorded from clay or loam soil and rocky slopes. It climbs on trees, shrubs or grass in various vegetation types such as forest edges (often riverine), semi-evergreen forest, deciduous woodland (often with Acacia), savanna or grassland. The jelly melon also grows in disturbed areas and abandoned land.

Derivation of the name

The genus name Cucumis is the Latin name for the cucumber which was already cultivated in Ancient Egypt. Cucumis is a genus of ± 32 species, indigenous mainly to Africa, also Asia, Australia and some islands in the Pacific. It includes two major commercial vegetable crops: C. sativus (cucumbers, from Asia) and C. melo (melons, from Africa and Australasia), and two minor ones: the West Indian gherkin (C. anguria) and the kiwano (C. metuliferus). These last two species became cultivated crops outside their native Africa.

The species name metuliferus refers to the sharp spines on the fruit, from the Latin words, metula, meaning a small pyramid, and ferus, meaning bearing.

The Cucurbitaceae family consists of about 120 genera and 735 species that are cosmopolitan in mostly tropical and subtropical countries. Many species are cultivated and of economic importance as food plants such as pumpkin, watermelon and also cucumber and melon as listed above. Members of this family are annual or perennial herbs or shrubs (only one species is a tree). The leaves are alternate and variable and tendrils are almost always present. The flowers are mostly unisexual and white or yellow; they occur on the same plant (monoecious) or on separate plants (dioecious). The fruit is often an indehiscent berry (soft-shelled) or gourd (hard-shelled) with one to many, often flattened seeds. There are about 18 genera and 75 species of this family in southern Africa. The family name refers to the pumpkins, Cucurbita species, all originally from the Americas.
 Ecology

Cucumis metuliferus grows at an altitude of 210 m to as high as 1800 m above sea level. Based on the information on specimen labels in the National Herbarium (PRE), the flowering time is from about January to May while the fruiting time is from about February to July. Birds eat the juicy ripe fruits. Hollowed-out shells are often found on the ground; rodents, primates and small antelopes (e.g. steenbok) nibble on the fruit. Jelly melons lack the layer of firm flesh found in cultivated cucumbers, thus containing proportionately more moisture; therefore providing a useful source of water for humans and animals in arid areas.

Uses and cultural aspects

Culinary uses: the fruit needs to be carefully handled because of the sharp spines on the skin. As is the case in C. africanus (March 2005 in this series), the fruits of C. metuliferus occur in very bitter forms, grading to non-bitter forms. The bitter forms are unpalatable and probably poisonous, but there is no way of distinguishing between them except by tasting. The taste of the non-bitter forms has been described as flavourless or rather bland pineapple-banana-like or even ± sour. Some observers noted that the fruit can be eaten like an ordinary cucumber, while Parsley (1981) suggests that the refreshing jelly is best scooped out of the shell with a spoon or used in fruit salad. A jelly can be made from the fruit by boiling it until soft, straining it and boiling the fruit pulp again with a cup of sugar for each cup of water. The fruit can also be cut into cubes and pickled in vinegar.

 According to Roodt (1998), in the Okavango the fruit is rather bitter and is seldom consumed by humans except in times of food scarcity, when it is eaten raw or cooked. The Khoisan roast the fruit and then strain the flesh. The leaves are cooked as a spinach or mixed with maize meal. This species is listed by Arnold et al. (1985) as a Khoisan food plant with potential for future economic exploitation.


Medicinal and spiritual uses and toxicity: the jelly melon contains saponin, a substance which is often toxic, but which contains many medicinal properties. Saponin is a kind of oily glycoside that foams freely when shaken with water. Roodt (1998) reports that in the Okavango area, the Shona tribe use a decoction of the root for relief of pain after childbirth. It is also alleged that the boiled root is a very good gonorrhoea cure. Only the bitter forms of the fruit are toxic. According to Roodt, the toxicity can usually be neutralized by cooking the fruits. Elderly persons in the Okavango believe that one can prevent ghosts or evil spirits from entering one's house by pounding the roots, mixing them with fat and smearing them onto the body.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Paintbrush Lily (Haemanthus coccineus)

Family Amaryllidaceae
One of the surprises of late summer, with flowerheads like bright shaving brushes popping up from underground bulbs, is Haemanthus coccineus which has a large number of variations and is one of 11 species of Haemanthus.


Description

They generally occur after flowering but may rarely occur simultaneously with the flower. The leaves generally appear from about April to October, although some may be found as early as February. Leaves die down from about October and the bulb lies dormant during summer.
 The flowerheads emerge between February and April, usually before the leaves appear. The peduncle is occasionally unmarked, but is most often more-or-less streaked or spotted. The flowerhead comprises 6-9 stiff, red spathe valves surrounding the 25-100 coral to scarlet flowers. The valves are mostly fleshy and may stand erect or sometimes be somewhat lax.


The flowers are soon followed by translucent, fleshy berries containing 1-3 dark wine-coloured seeds. The berries may be white to pale or deep pink in colour.

 Distribution

Occurring in widely varying habitats, mainly coastal scrub and rocky slopes, throughout the winter rainfall region of South Africa, from southern Namibia southwards to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards to Grahamstown. Population sizes may vary from a few plants in a group to dense stands in which there may be hundreds of individuals. They are found in karooid veld types as well as fynbos and renosterveld with rainfall ranging between 100-1 100 mm per year and altitudes from sea level to 1 200 m. They favour fairly protected sites such as rock crevices and shaded kloofs or the shelter of shrubs and bushes.

Derivation of name and historical aspects

The generic name Haemanthus is derived from the Greek word haima for blood, and anthos for flower, and alludes to the colour of the perianth in certain species. Coccineus is the Latin word for red or scarlet.

Some of the common names such as April Fool or March lily refer to the flowering time, whereas others such as paintbrush lily and velskoenblaar refer to the appearance of the inflorescence or the leaves. The common name bloedblom is said to have been derived because of the opinion that it stops bleeding.

It was probably the first flower to be collected from Table Mountain and probably also the first illustration of a SA flower to appear in a European publication. The illustration was by the Flemish botanist de L'Obel in 1605.

 Ecology

Like many other amaryllids, Haemanthus coccineus has adapted to the dry period of the year by resting underground in the form of a large bulb. (In the western Cape the dry season is summer.) All above-ground parts dry out during this time to help prevent moisture loss through transpiration. Just before the rainy season is due to start, the flowerhead appears. Sunbirds, noctuid moths and bees are the probable pollinators. Although the berries are fleshy, they are not eaten by animals. Once the seed has matured, the flowerhead topples over and the seed germinates immediately. Seeds have a very short viability period. By flowering and seeding in autumn, which coincides with the first rains, the seedling has a full rainy season to develop sufficiently to withstand its first dry period underground. Leaves usually appear well after the flowers. Because both the inflorescence and the leaves lose relatively large amounts of moisture, this adaptation prevents large quantities of moisture being lost at any one time, reducing stress on the plants.

Uses

Fresh leaves were applied as a dressing to septic ulcers and sores and also to the pustules of anthrax. A diuretic was made from the sliced bulb boiled in vinegar and mixed with honey. Asthma was also treated with this mixture. The bulb contains coccinine which is an alkaloid with a known convulsive action.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Baobab (Adansona digitata)

Family Bombacaceae
Regarded as the largest succulent plant in the world, the baobab tree is steeped in a wealth of mystique, legend and superstition wherever it occurs in Africa. It is a tree that can provide, food, water, shelter and relief from sickness.


Description

Often referred to as 'grotesque' by some authors, the main stem of larger baobab trees may reach enormous proportions of up to 28 m in girth. Although baobab trees seldom exceed a height of 25 m. The massive, usually squat cylindrical trunk gives rise to thick tapering branches resembling a root-system, which is why it has often been referred to as the upside-down tree. There is a tale which tells of how God planted them upside-down. Many traditional Africans believe that the baobab actually grows upside-down.
 The stem is covered with a bark layer, which may be 50-100 mm thick. The bark is greyish brown and normally smooth but can often be variously folded and seamed from years of growth. The leaves are hand-sized and divided into 5-7 finger-like leaflets. Being deciduous, the leaves are dropped during the winter months and appear again in late spring or early summer.


The large, pendulous flowers (up to 200 mm in diameter) are white and sweetly scented. They emerge in the late afternoon from large round buds on long drooping stalks from October to December. The flowers fall within 24 hours, turning brown and smelling quite unpleasant. Pollination by fruit bats takes place at night.
 The fruit is a large, egg-shaped capsule (often >120 mm), covered with a yellowish brown hairs. The fruit consists of a hard, woody outer shell with a dry, powdery substance inside that covers the hard, black, kidney-shaped seeds. The off-white, powdery substance is apparently rich in ascorbic acid. It is this white powdery substance which is soaked in water to provide a refreshing drink somewhat reminiscent of lemonade. This drink is also used to treat fevers and other complaints.


This tree is slow growing, mainly due to the low rainfall it receives.
 Distribution

The baobab tree is found in areas of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and other tropical African countries where suitable habitat occurs. It is restricted to hot, dry woodland on stoney, well drained soils, in frost-free areas that receive low rainfall. In South Africa it is found only in the warm parts of the Limpopo Province.

It may however be cultivated in areas of higher rainfall provided they are frost free and don't experience cold winters.

Derivation of name and historical aspects

The name Adansonia was given to this tree to commemorate the French surgeon Michel Adanson (1727-1806); the species name digitata meaning hand-like, is in reference to the shape of the leaves.

The baobab used to belong to the family, Bombacaceae, but this is now generally regarded as a subfamily of Malvaceae. Bombacaceae is tropical with about 21 genera and 150 species. It is host to some very interesting species. The balsa tree, Ochroma pyramidale from South America, is well known for its exceptionally light wood of 160kg/m2. The durian, Durio zibenthinus, is a popular and apparently delicious fruit from the east, which although being so tasty, has such a terrible odour that it is banned from hotels. The silk floss tree (Chorisia speciosa or Ceiba insignis) is a very widely planted ornamental tree in South Africa and is a sight to behold when it is in full bloom with its large, usually pink flowers.

The family has a number of different baobab-type trees, also of the genus Adansonia. With one species in Australia and four species native to Madagascar, the most spectacular, A. grandidieri, reaches a staggering 40 m in height, only bearing branches at the very top of the tall, thick trunk. The family is also well known for the kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra, which is native to the equatorial rain forests of South America, Africa and India. The kapok tree has been widely cultivated in the tropics, for the prized kapok fibre produced by the seed pods, which was used to stuff pillows among other uses.

 A number of significantly large, historical baobab trees can be seen in the Limpopo Province:


• The Sagole Baobab is recorded as being the biggest tree in South Africa with a stem diameter of 10.47 m, a height of 22 m and a crown spread of 38.2 m. It grows east of Tshipise.

• The Glencoe Baobab near Hoedspruit is probably the second largest and bears several trunks. It has a stem diameter of 15.9 m, a height of 17 m and a crown spread of 37.05 m. This tree has dates carved on the stem from 1893 and 1896.

• The Platland Baobab that grows near Duiwelskloof, today houses a pub. It has a stem diameter of 10.64 m, a height of 19 m, and a crown spread of 30.2 m.

• The Buffesldrift Baobab which is in the Makopane District, has a distinct trunk with a diameter of 7.71 m, a height of 22 m and a crown spread of 30.2 m.

Ecology

Bats primarily pollinate the large white flowers with their ruffled petals at night, although many different insects and other creatures such as birds will visit the sweetly scented flowers. The flowers, being white, are more visible at night and being sweetly scented also help to attract a wide variety of potential pollinators. The seed capsule does not split open, instead it hangs on the tree until it gets blown off by wind or gets collected by monkeys, baboons or people who all enjoy the soft powdery substance that covers the seeds. The seeds are not generally eaten by animals and are discarded, thus effecting dispersal.

 Uses and cultural aspects

Large baobab trees with hollow stems have been used by people for centuries for various purposes including houses, prisons, pubs, storage barns, and even as bus stops! A big tree in the old Transvaal region is recorded as once being used as a dairy.

Another tree near Leydsdorp was used as a bar (known as the Murchison Club) and utilized by prospectors and miners during the gold rush of the late 19th century. One such tree in the Caprivi Strip was converted into a toilet, complete with a flushing system.

Rainwater often collects in the clefts of the large branches, and travelers and local people often use this valuable source of water. It has been recorded that in some cases the centre of the tree is purposely hollowed out to serve as a reservoir for water during the rainy season. One such reservoir was recorded as holding 4 546 litres of water. A hole is drilled in the trunk and a plug inserted so that water can be easily retrieved by removing the plug. The roots of the baobab can also be tapped for water.

African honey bees (Apis mellifera) often utilize hollows in the baobab to make their hives. One can often see a 'ladder' of pegs hammered into the trunk which is used by seasonal honey harvesters to gain access to the hives.

The leaves are said to be rich in vitamin C, sugars, potassium tartrate, and calcium. They are cooked fresh as a vegetable or dried and crushed for later use by local people. The sprout of a young tree can be eaten like asparagus. The root of very young trees is also reputed to be edible. The seeds are also edible and can also be roasted for use as a coffee substitute. Caterpillars, which feed on the leaves, are collected and eaten by African people as an important source of protein. Wild animals eat the fallen leaves and fresh leaves are said to be good fodder for domestic animals. The fallen flowers are relished by wild animals and cattle alike. When the wood is chewed, it provides vital moisture to relieve thirst, humans as well as certain animals eat it in times of drought.

There are many legends and superstitions surrounding the baobab tree. For example, it is believed that an elephant frightened the maternal ancestor of the baobab. In some parts the baobab is worshipped as a symbol of fertility. It is a belief among certain people that spirits inhabit the flowers of the baobab and that any person who picks a flower will be eaten by a lion. It is also believed that water in which the seeds have been soaked will offer protection against attack by crocodile, while sucking or eating the seeds may attract crocodiles. It is also believed that a man who drinks an infusion of the bark will become strong. In some areas a baby boy should be bathed in such a bark infusion, as this will make him strong; however, he should not be bathed for too long or he may become obese. It is also important that this water does not touch his head for this could cause it to swell. When inhabitants move from one area to another they often take seeds of the baobab with them, which they plant at their new homestead.

The bark on the lower part of the trunk often bears scars caused by local people who harvest and pound it to retrieve the strong fibre. The fibrous bark is used to make various useful items such as mats and ropes, fishing nets, fishing lines, sacks as well as clothing. Although the bark is often heavily stripped by people and elephants, these trees do not suffer as a normal tree would from ringbarking. Baobabs have the ability to simply continue growing and produce a new layer of bark. The wood of the baobab is soft, light yellow and spongy, and although it has been recorded as being used for making boxes, this does not seem to be a widely used practice.

Many references have made mention of the exceptional vitality of this tree, noting that even after the entire tree is cut down it simply resprouts from the root and continues to grow; the same is noted of trees which have been blown over in storms. Despite this remarkable vitality, when a tree dies it collapses into a heap of soggy, fibrous pulp. Stories exist of how such quickly decomposing trees spontaneously combust and get completely burnt up.

More than 260 years ago baobabs were apparently successfully grown in England and had reached heights of 5-6 m, but were all destroyed in the heavy frosts of 1740. Surprisingly few baobabs have found their way into cultivation, possibly due to their reputation of being exceptionally slow growing.

The baobab was declared a protected tree under the Forest Act in South Africa in 1941.

Determining the age of baobabs: Much speculation in literature over many years have made certain estimates of the age of certain large trees and their rate of growth. More recent work using carbon-dating techniques as well as the study of core samples showing growth rings, suggest that a tree with a diameter of 10 m may be as old as 2000 years.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Purple-pod Terminalia (Terminalia prunioides)

Family Combretaceae
 A small shrub or tree 3-7m in height.
 The fruit turn bright plum-red or purple-red in January to July making it very conspicuous.
 The wood is hard and tough and used in the building of huts or to make implement handles. It makes a good fuel.

Info: Trees of Southern Africa (Palgrave)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Summer-flowering Impala Lily (Adenium swazicum)

Family Apocynaceae
Found in open woodland, usually on sandy brackish flats in South Africa ( Mpumalanga and northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal ), Swaziland and Mozambique at altitudes of 300-400 m. It is a small shrub, up to 650 mm tall, with a large, buried, succulent stem. The stem produces several greenish white or dirty-grey branches. The simple leaves are long, tapering and smooth, 40-130 Í 7-30 mm, and borne in terminal clusters. They are often folded, broader at the apex than at the base and the midrib is prominent beneath. The flowers are pink to deep purple, darker in the throat and appear together with the leaves.
 Flowering occurs from January to April. A few specimens have been grown in the rockery at the Durban Botanical Garden for many years but have never been seen to set seed. Adenium multiflorum is distinguished from A. swazicum by the upper portion on the inside of the corolla that is hairy and not smooth, by the dark border on the petals and by the flowers that usually appear before the leaves (in A. swazicum the leaves and flowers appear simultaneously).
 In the garden
The attractive flowers of adeniums and their interesting stems make them desirable for the garden. Generally most adeniums are cultivated from seed. Adenium multiflorum and A. obesum are the most well-known and widely cultivated members of the genus. They are slow-growing but long-lived plants and thrive in sandy soils in hot areas. These extremely drought-resistant plants should be planted in well-drained soil and in full sun. They are definitely not suitable for cold, damp gardens as they are very sensitive to frost. In warm gardens that experience occasional frost they should be given a very warm, sheltered position.
 Adenium boehmianum, A. multiflorum, A. obesum and A. swazicum make good accent plants in a rock garden, especially when grouped together with other caudiciform succulent plants such as species of Pelargonium, Cissus and Cotyledon ; A. boehmianum is rarely cultivated. All species need full sun, lots of water (except during the dormant phase) and must have good drainage. Plants are leafless for most of the year. It is said to be difficult to transplant mature plants owing to the large tuberous rootstocks. Adenium swazicum is an ideal subject for container cultivation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bushveld Grape (Cissus rotundifolia)

Family Vitaceae
 A climber found in dry woodland and bush in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga regions.
 It has no flowers and the fruit is eaten by birds.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

White Shrimp Plant (Justicia betonica)

Family Acanthaceae
 The common name comes from the flowers which resemble a shrimp.
 It is planted as an ornamental and to attract butterflies.
 A small shrub, it grows to a height of about 30-35cm.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Knobby Creeper (Combretum mossambicense)

Family Combretaceae
Masses of lovely fluffy pink-white flowers are displayed on bare branches in early spring. Fragrant and resembling small powder puffs, they lure a variety of pollinating insects.
 Description

The deciduous knobbly creeper has long trailing branches and usually easily scrambles into surrounding bush, where its flowers can be seen to advantage. However, it may also form either a shrub or small tree (3-4 m high, 3 m wide). Flowers appear from August to November (spring to summer), and are followed by five, or sometimes four, winged fruits that are tinged pink for a while before ripening to brown and papery in summer (October to January). The grey to brownish bark is smooth.

 Natural distribution
This species is found in low-lying bushveld and thicket in hot, dry areas, on hills (koppies) and often near rivers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and northwards into the dry, hot parts of tropical Africa.


Ecology
Most browsers enjoy feeding on this Combretum, and the larvae of the Striped Policeman and Guinea-fowl butterflies feed on the leaves. The flowers draw insects, in turn attracting insect-eating birds such as the Brownheaded Kingfisher.

 Uses and cultural aspects
Roots and leaves of C. mossambicense and Acalypha villicaulis are crushed and boiled in plenty of water. The extract is used to steam the face to reduce swelling caused by a tooth abscess, or for eye inflammation. Hot compresses are made from the dregs. The extract is also used for gargling or eye baths, or it is tossed onto red-hot coals and the steam is used to ease swollen body parts. The liquid can be rubbed into small scratches over swellings.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Transvaal Gardenia (Gardenia volkensii)

Family Rubiaceae
The bushveld gardenia is a small, relatively slow-growing tree, ideal as a focus plant in summer rainfall gardens or on patios.


Description

Small, multi-stemmed tree with a dense, rounded crown, 3–8 m high with arching branches, sometimes touching the ground. The bark is pale grey and smooth and the branchlets appear knobbly due to persistent leaf-like appendages at the base of the leaf stalk (stipules). The glossy, green leaves are usually in groups of three and crowded at the end of short branches. The leaves are spoon-shaped with a broadly rounded tip and a tapering base. They have small pockets of hair in some axils of veins (domatia) and a wavy margin. The flowers are solitary, large (up to 100 mm in diameter), and showy with a sweet scent. The trumpet-like flowers are white turning yellow with age, with a long tube that opens up into 6–9 lobes. The flowers open during the night and are probably moth-pollinated.

 The flowering season ranges from July to December (winter to summer) and the fruits ripen between December and April (summer to autumn), but may remain on the tree until August. The fruit is almost round, shallowly to strongly ribbed longitudinally, greyish green to white with white, slightly raised dots (lenticels). The fruit contains numerous seeds embedded in pulp.
 Distribution and habitat
Gardenia volkensii prefers open woodland, bushveld and thicket and occurs from tropical Africa through Namibia, Botswana, and the northeastern parts of South Africa into KwaZulu-Natal in the southeast.

 Derivation of name and historical aspects

The genus Gardenia comprises ± 60 species of which 6 occur in southern Africa.

Ecology

Fruit are eaten by monkeys, baboons, elephants and large antelope. Leaves are browsed by game, e.g. giraffe, kudu and impala.

 Uses and cultural aspects

Used medicinally as a cure for intestinal worms. Infusions of the fruit and roots are used to induce vomiting. The ash of burnt roots is rubbed into the chest to treat pneumonia, while headaches are treated by dripping an extract into the eyes or by placing a cold compress on the forehead. For earache an extract is dripped into the ear.

The wood is very hard and suitable for carving ornaments, and plants are also believed to protect against lightning or evil spirits.