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.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Balsam Pear (Momordica balsamina)

Family Cucurbitaceae
This climber with bright green leaves bears striking orange to red spindle shaped ripe fruit.

Glabrous to slightly hairy perennial herb with a tuberous rootstock, whole plant bad-smelling (rather like the common thorn apple or Datura stramonium ), more so when bruised. Stems mostly annual, prostrate or climbing, to 5 m long, cut twigs exude clear sap. Tendrils simple. Leaves waxy, lower surface paler than upper, deeply palmately 5-7-lobed, to 12 cm long, margin toothed, stalked.

Flowers solitary, male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious). Male flowers prominently bracteate (subtended by a leaflet), bract ± ovate, to 18 mm long, pallid, green-veined, calyx green to purplish-black, corolla white to yellow, apricot or orange, green-veined, with grey, brownish or black spots near the bases of the three inner petals, 10-20 mm long, anthers orange. Female flowers inconspicuously bracteate, corolla rather smaller than males.

Fruit spindle shaped, dark green with 9 or 10 regular or irregular rows of cream or yellowish short blunt spines, ripening to bright orange or red, 25-60 mm long, opening automatically more or less irregularly into three valves that curl back (also opens when the tip is touched). Seeds ovate in outline, rather compressed, up to 11 mm long, light brown, surface sculptured; encased in a sticky scarlet red fleshy covering that is edible and sweet, tasting like watermelon.

The balsam pear flowers and fruits throughout the year, but mainly from October to May.


M. balsamina is fairly common and widespread in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and all the provinces of South Africa except the Western Cape. It is also indigenous to tropical Africa and Asia, Arabia, India and Australia. It has been cultivated in gardens in Europe since the 1800's.

The balsam pear grows in white, yellow, red and grey sandy soil, also loam, clay, alluvial, gravelly and calcareous soil. It thrives in full sun and semi-shade in grassland, savanna, woodland, forest margins, coastal dune forests and in river bank vegetation as well as disturbed areas.

In southern Africa it grows from about sea level to 1465 m altitude, in dry to wet areas with a rainfall of 200-1200 mm annually. It seems to be frost hardy.

 Derivation of the name

The genus name Momordica could perhaps refer to the sculptured seeds or the uneven appearance of the fruits, which look as if they had been bitten; the Latin mordeo means to bite. However, Jackson (1990) doubts this explanation. The specific epithet balsamina means 'like balsam/balm', from the Latin balsamum, and refers to one of the medicinal uses of this plant.

More about the Cucurbitaceae family can be found on the Lagenaria sphaerica page.

Momordica is an Old World genus of about 40 species, the majority of them in tropical Africa. They are recognized by the seeds that are always enveloped in bright red pulp and by the often prominent bracts subtending the male flowers.


The fruit is eaten by birds, ants, probably by some mammals (though not recorded) and also by humans.

 Uses and cultural aspects

The leaves and green fruit are cooked and eaten as spinach, sometimes with groundnuts, or simply mixed with porridge. The young leaves contain vitamin C. The raw ripe fruits are also eaten.

According to Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk (1962), the plant contains a bitter principle momordicin. They report that 'overseas a liniment, made by infusing the fruit (minus the seed) in olive or almond oil, is used as an application to chapped hands, burns and haemorrhoids and the mashed fruit is used as a poultice'. This practice probably explains the species name balsamina. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk also list many medicinal and other uses of M. balsamina in tropical Africa and elsewhere.

Hutchings et al. (1996) report that the Zulu use infusions of this plant for stomach and intestinal complaints. It is also used in a poultice for burns and is reputed to be used to treat diabetes. The Vhavenda take leaf infusions as anti-emetics. There are conflicting reports on the toxicity of the fruit, both green and ripe. The green fruit contains a resin, toxic alkaloids and a saponic glycoside that cause vomiting and diarrhoea; these substances are denatured in the cooking process. The fruit is suspected of poisoning dogs and pigs.

Roodt (1998) states that the medicinal action of the fruit results from the saponic glycosides present. She reports uses in the Okavango delta and elsewhere for abortion, boils, burns, chapped hands and feet, external sores, frostbite, haemorrhoids, headache, and as a purgative.

The leaf sap is said to be an effective metal cleaner. In the past, the green fruit had been used as an ingredient of arrow poison. In the Okavango delta, the fruit can be used in cursing one's enemy; his/her stomach will burst in the same way that the ripe fruit bursts open spontaneously!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dune Aloe (AloeTranskii)

Family Liliaceae 
Found along the dunes of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal.
Flowers vary from yellow to light orange.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Tropical Spike-thorn (Gymnosporia maranguensis)

Family Celastraceae
It is not endemic to South Africa.
No information available on it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

(Zaluzianskya microsiphon)

Family Scrophulariaceae
No information available except it is found in the Eastern Cape.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Stagger's Bush (Senecio latifolius)

Family Asteraceae
A smallish shrub growing about 50cm in height.
It is not endemic to South Africa and should not be propagated.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

(Commicarpus boissieri)

Family Nyctaginaceae
No information available.
Alien species.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Giant Stapelia (Stapelia gigantean)

Family Apocynaceae
Known globally as African starfish flowers or locally as carrion flowers, members of the genus Stapelia are usually characterized by their foul-smelling flowers reminiscent of the odour of rotting meat. The hairs, coloration and surface mimic decaying animal matter and attract mostly flies, which act as pollinators. The strong carrion scent is sometimes recognizable at a great distance, especially on hot afternoons. Surprisingly, species such as S. erectiflora and S. flavopurpurea have sweetly scented flowers, but they are rare.

Stapelias are low, perennial succulents. The stems, their surface and branching make them immediately recognizable. The stems are almost always erect and are usually uniformly green to reddish, depending on the extent of exposure to the sun. Only rarely are they mottled with red or purple on green.
Stapelia gigantea is a very variable species with the largest flowers in the genus ranging from 100-400 mm in diameter. It is the most widely north-south distributed species and occurs in Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
It grows in many habitats and may form clumps of 1-2 m in diameter. Flower segments are relatively thin and end in a long tail (visible in the bud as a long slender beak) by which it is separated from other large-flowered species. In the vegetative state it can be distinguished from S. grandiflora by the distinct flanks on the stems.
Flower colour ranges from biscuit to flesh-pink; flowering occurs from January-May. The species is known as carrion flower, aasblom (Afr.) or bandaulu ( Venda ). The epithet gigantea refers to the large size of the flower.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Floss Flower (Ageratum houstonianum)

Family Asteraceae
The plant is native to Central America and adjacent parts of Mexico, but has become an invasive weed in other areas.
Ageratum houstonianum  is a cool-season annual plant often grown as bedding in gardens. The plant grows to 0.3–1 m high, with ovate to triangular leaves 2–7 cm long, and blue flowers (sometimes white, pink, or purple). The flower heads are borne in dense corymbs. The ray flowers are threadlike, leading to the common name.
Ageratum has evolved an ingenious method of protecting itself from insects; it produces a precocene compound which interferes with the normal function of the corpus allatum, the organ responsible for secreting juvenile hormone. This chemical triggers the next molting cycle to prematurely develop adult structures, and can render most insects sterile if ingested in large enough quantities.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Broad-leaved Coral Tree (Erythrina latissima)

Family Fabaceae 
This most unusual of the South African Erythrina species is an interesting tree with major bird attracting potential.


Erythrina latissima is an attractive, small to medium-sized tree, 5 to 8 m tall. The trunk and branches, which are woolly to begin with, have prominent thorns and thick, corky bark. Unlike the other South African species of Erythrina, the large leaves of E. latissima are soft and velvety to begin with, becoming grey-green and leathery as they mature.

The compact inflorescences are borne on stout peduncles in early spring before the new leaves appear. The flowers are scarlet with a grey, woolly calyx. The seed pod, up to 300 mm long, has constrictions between the bright red seeds. Each seed is marked with a black dot.

The tree is fairly slow growing, taking 20 to 30 years to form a reasonable canopy and will live for over a hundred years. Older trees however, do have a tendency to fall over. 
Conservation status

E. latissima is not considered to be threatened although its preferred habitat is under threat from commercial tree farming.

Distribution and habitat

This species occurs on the East Coast of southern Africa from the Eastern Cape to Zimbabwe in frost-free, wooded grasslands and scrub forest. It will withstand light frost but will grow faster in frost-free areas.

Derivation of name and historical aspects

The name Erythrina is derived from the Greek word erythros meaning red, while latissima is Latin meaning extensive or very broad, referring to the size of the leaflets.

The genus Erythrina occurs in the tropics and subtropics of the Old and New World. There are about 170 species in the genus, one of the most widely grown being E. crista-galli, a Brazilian species. In Asia , E. indica is planted to provide shade. Other attractive South African Erythrina species described on this website are: E. caffra, E. lysistemon, E. humeana, E. acanthocarpa and E. zeyheri.


When the coral trees are in flower, the red blossoms attract a large number of birds for the copious nectar that they produce. In full bloom, the trees attract sunbirds, weavers, starlings and bulbuls. When the tree or branch is dead, the soft heartwood is easily hollowed out to provide nests for barbets and woodpeckers.

Uses and cultural aspects

The orange-red seeds, commonly known as lucky beans, are threaded on to string to make decorative necklaces, which some believe will ward off evil spirits. The bark is burned and then pounded into a powder which is used to dress wounds. Truncheons of the larger erythrinas are used as fence poles which in time take root, creating a living fence.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis)

Family Bignoniaceae
This plant has also been cultivated in yellow.
 Cape honeysuckle is a fast growing, scrambling shrub which may grow up to 2-3m high and spread more than 2.5m. This shrub is widely distributed throughout Northern Province, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, KwaZulu-Natal, Cape coast and Mozambique.

Tecoma capensis is an ornamental garden plant commonly used for screening and decorative purposes. It can also be trimmed to form a hedge. It is often planted specifically to attract birds and butterflies. The powdered bark of this attractive garden plant is used as a traditional medicine to relieve pain and sleeplessness.
 Until recently it was known as Tecomaria capensis. Tecoma capensis is an evergreen plant in warm climate areas but loses its leaves in colder areas. It has pinnately compound leaves that have oval leaflets with blunt teeth.
 Flowering time for this shrub is very erratic and often it flowers all year round. Flowers vary from red, deep orange, yellow to salmon. Flowers are tubular and bird pollinated, attracting nectar-feeding birds, especially sunbirds.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wild Mustard - Pink (Raphanus raphanistrum)

Family Brassicaceae
This is a variable plant with flowers and leaves looking totally different.
For more information, please go to:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

White Paintbrush (Haemanthus albiflos)

Family Amaryllidaceae
It is a very variable plant. The oblong leaves vary in colour from pale to dark green or greyish-green and are usually smooth and sometimes shiny. They may occasionally be covered with short, soft hairs, or have yellowish spots on the upper surface. Unlike most other Haemanthus species, which prefer full sun, H. albiflos almost always occurs in shady habitat in forest and bushveld vegetation. The upper half of the bulb is usually exposed above ground and is bright green.

This plant is reported to be used in traditional medicine to treat chronic coughs and as a charm to ward off lightning.
Haemanthus albiflos grows up to about 250 mm high when in flower, and it has a wide, mainly coastal distribution stretching from the southern Cape through many parts of the Eastern Cape, right up to the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal.
H. albiflos has a long flowering period extending from early April to as late as July (autumn and winter) in the wild, but sporadic blooms may also appear at any time of the year under cultivation. The flower head (known as an umbel in botanical terms) is compact, usually about 30-50 mm wide, and consists of numerous erect, narrow white flowers, enclosed by several broad, greenish-white bracts. The erect stamens protrude conspicuously beyond the tips of the flowers and their anthers turn bright yellow or orange when ripe. Bees and butterflies visit the flowers and are probably the pollinators, but this has not been confirmed. The ripe fruit is a most attractive bright orange or red fleshy berry producing a distinctive musty odour.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Commicarpus plumbagineus

Family Nyctaginaceae
(This has no common name)
Commicarpus plumbagineus is widespread from southern Spain throughout Africa to South Africa and Madagascar, extending in the east to Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Scrambling herb with long branched stems, up to several metres, growing from a woody root-stock. Stems may be woody near the base. The leaves are ovate, slightly fleshy, more or less pubescent on both surfaces; inflorescences in irregular umbels of white trumpet-shaped flowers with long exserted stamens; fruits up to 1.3 cm with wart-like sticky glands scattered along the sides and concentrated around the apex.

Commicarpus plumbagineus occurs in forest and grassland, often along water courses on a variety of soils up to 1800 m altitude.

Genetic resources and breeding

Commicarpus plumbagineus is widespread and hence not threatened with genetic erosion.


In view of the many medicinal uses and the complete lack of chemical and pharmacological data, research into the properties of Commicarpus plumbagineus may prove worthwhile.


The roots and leaves of Commicarpus plumbagineus are expectorant and in large doses emetic, and are widely used to treat asthma. In West Africa the leaves are boiled and made into poultices for application to ulcers and Guinea worm sores. In Ghana the crushed roots are applied to treat yaws, whereas in Nigeria a poultice from the roots is used by Hausa people to treat leprosy. In Ethiopia a decoction of the leaves is taken to treat jaundice. A leaf decoction and the ash of burned stems are applied to wounds. In Ethiopia and Kenya ground leaves are applied to burns. In Kenya crushed leaves are rubbed on swollen glands. In Madagascar a decoction of the whole plant is used as laxative. In Ethiopia Commicarpus plumbagineus is used in veterinary medicine to treat skin diseases of cattle. In Kenya an infusion of the whole plant is used as an insecticide, e.g. against lice in humans and against other insects on camels. In DR Congo a decoction of the leaves is given as a laxative to cattle.

In northern Nigeria Commicarpus plumbagineus is sometimes grazed by livestock. In Kenya the plant is used as forage for all livestock, but is said to make the milk taste bitter.

In Namibia a root decoction of Commicarpus pentandrus (Burch.) Heimerl mixed with Thesium lineatum L.f. is taken orally to treat gonorrhoea. Also in Namibia, a hot water extract of leaves and roots of Commicarpus fallacissimus (Heimerl) Pohnert is taken orally or as an enema to treat pain moving from the back to the legs.