Small Plants and Wild Flowers of the Southern Africa
South Africa is home to more than 22 000 indigenous seed plants from almost 230 different families. It is also the proud home of 10% of the world’s flowering species, making it a major contributor to the global ecological scene.
The diversity and abundance of South African plants is impressive, and is one of the reasons that South Africa is such a popular tourist destination. The flora acts as the natural habitat for the many different animal species that call South Africa home, and is a key contributing agent for the biodiversity and ecological health and wealth of this land. It is also the proud home of 10% of the world’s flowering species, making it a major contributor to the global ecological scene.
Impala Lily (Adenium multiflorum)
Adenium multiflorum is the best known of the South African adeniums. It flowers in winter when most of the surrounding vegetation is rather dull by comparison to the brilliant white, pink, crimson, red and bicoloured flowers that cover these plants when they are in full bloom. The impala lily is known in Africa and southern Africa as a source of fish poison and arrow poison. The poison is prepared from latex in the bark and fleshy parts of the trunk, but it is always used in combination with other poisons. Leaves and flowers are poisonous to goats and cattle, but the plants are sometimes heavily browsed and are not considered to be of much toxicological significance. Despite the toxicity, it is used in medicinal applications and in magic potions.
Their striking forms and beautiful flowers borne in masses over a long period make them excellent garden and container plants.
King Protea (Protea cynaroides)
Surely the best known protea, prized worldwide as a magnificent cut flower and in South Africa honoured as the national flower. Protea cynaroides can be propagated from seed or from cuttings. The stems have to be thick and strong to carry the heavy flower heads, this makes the taking of cuttings quite difficult, but good colour forms or cultivars have to be propagated from cuttings. The name “protea” was inspired by Greek mythology. Proteas are named after Proteus, son of Poseidon and shape-shifter, highlighting the variety of plants found within the large proteaceae family. The flowers in the centre of the flower head open over a fairly long period of time, which makes it such a stunning sight in the garden for weeks at a time as well as a long lasting cut flower. The flowers are pollinated by Scarab Beetles and Protea Beetles and many other insects, as well as by birds.
Wild Melon (Lagenaria sphaeric)
Wild melons are climbing herbs that are only truly obvious when they are in fruit. The 10 cm large green balls are dotted with paler patches and drape over other plants, especially in riverine vegetation. Lagenaria means ´large flask fruit´. The white velvety flowers attract insects like bees, flies and ants. The plant used traditionally to cure swollen glands and stomach ache. Despite the large size of the fruit animals such as kudu and nyala relish it and comical contortions of the face result from their efforts to bite and chew them.
Cosmo Flower (Cosmos aneustrosangui)
Every March and November respectively our countryside explodes with colour when pretty pink and white cosmos flowers bloom in early autumn and then again in late summer. Cosmos are freely flowering annual plants that are ridiculously easy to grow. If you’re looking for a flower that will stay in bloom for months and can be grown by simply scattering seeds, cosmos are a great choice. The flowers sit atop long slender stems and form a cloud of color that not only looks attractive throughout the summer but also attract bees, butterflies, and birds to your garden. Cosmos grow as easily in beds as they do in containers and they also make great cut flowers.
Aloe Vera (Aloe genus)
Aloe vera is also known as medicinal aloe, and it is commonly called are lily of the desert, burn plant, and elephant’s gall. It belongs to the family of succulent plants in the genus ‘Aloe’. The origin of this burn plant is believed to be in Sudan and has been used for more than 6,000 years. For decades, the soothing nature of aloe vera has been known and respected by the people who believe in naturopathy. It has 18 amino acids that work in association with other compounds of the human body to deliver numerous health benefits. It is best known for the healing of skin, wounds, and other skin issues. However, it also has other benefits like curing heart diseases, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis.
Crinum (vlei) lily (Crinum delagoense)
Crinum is a fascinating genus of the large and equally captivating Amaryllidaceae family. Larger in stature than most other species of Amaryllidaceae, most crinums are suitable as landscape plants in or near water features while most of the smaller species can be successfully cultivated even in a small garden. With due care against their one major pest, crinums are easily cultivated and provide a regular dramatic focus point with their large, bright inflorescences.
Crane Flower (Strelitzia reginae)
Birds of Paradise, also known as Crane flowers is one of the most beautiful Exotic Flowers. Birds of Paradise are native to South Africa.
The flowers of the Birds of Paradise resemble a brightly colored bird in flight and so the name Birds of Paradise. The unusually beautiful shape and brilliant colors of Birds of Paradise have made these flowers not just a designer’s favorite, but also a popular symbol of paradise.
It has been reported that the abakwaMthethwa clan in KwaZulu-Natal use the strained decoctions from the inflorence to treat inflamed glands and venereal diseases. The seeds are also used in the Cape to sour milk. Delphinidin-3-rutinoside (used for colour) has been isolated from the petals and proanthoncyanidin polymers (flavonoids, antioxidants) from the leaves. Strelitzia reginae is widely used in landscaping as an architectural plant and focal point.
Leopard Orchid (Ansellia gigantea)
This orchid is an epiphyte, which means that the whole plant, roots and all, grow above ground, attached to the branches of trees. The roots, which anchor the plant to the tree, are specially adapted to absorb water and nutrients very quickly. An unusual feature are the needle-like roots pointing upwards which form in a dense mass around the pseudobulbs and catch the rotting leaves and detritus upon which the plant feeds. Traditional Ansellia africana is used as a love charm, as an antidote for bad dreams and at homesteads to ward off lightning. It is also much in demand as a specimen plant in gardens.
Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria hyacinthoides)
The mother-in-law’s tongue is an evergreen, perennial herb, with its handsome robust, flat, dark green and fibrous leaves that attact game. Its scented flowers also attract insects and birds to your garden. The leaves of Sansevieria hyacinthoides are browsed by game such as rhinoceros and antelope. The rhizome is eaten by mole rats. The fibre from the leaves is utilised by weaver birds for building nests. Rhizomes and leaves of Sansevieria hyacinthoides are used medicinally. It is a popular medicine for the treatment of ear infection, earache and toothache. It is also used traditionally to treat multiple ailments such as haemorrhoids, ulcers, intestinal worms, stomach disorders and diarrhoea. In some cultures it is used as a protective charm. The fibre can also be used to make string.
Pocket guide: Wild flowers of South Africa
Field guide to wild flowers of South Africa