Thursday, May 19, 2011

Flora in South Africa

Since most aloes flower during winter (or early spring) travellers through (or inhabitants of) certain parts of our country will be "accompanied" by magnificent displays of these drought-resistant group of succulents (= typically have fleshy leaves with a high moisture content). Aloes are indigenous to Africa (& parts of the Middle East) whilst some species are only found in South Africa.
Did you know that the name is derived from the Hebrew word allal - meaning "bitter" - just taste the juice of a member of the aloe family (e.g. Aloe ferox) & you'll surely agree!

The Wild iris (also called African iris) is another native of Southern Africa but instead of growing in the wild, you'll find them growing in many gardens these days. This relatively large flower with its white petals, markings of yellow & brown, as well as pale mauve centre segments, unfortunately only "lasts" a couple of days - therefore this isn't really a vase-flower.
Did you know that iris is the Greek word for "rainbow"?

Vygies (sometimes referred to as mesembryanthemums or daisies) are also colourful succulents - drought resistant plants found throughout South Africa, especially in desert (or semi-desert) regions. They are silky-textured flowers & the leaf surface appears to be covered with dew.
Did you know that the Afrikaans name vygie means "small fig"? This is derived from the fruiting capsule, which in fact resembles a small fig.

One of South Africa's great wonders "happens" after winter rainfalls, when the otherwise dry & dusty semi-arid areas "erupt" in a wonderland of colour during early spring. A "single" daisy flower really is a "group" of flowers - the centre being disc florets, which are surrounded by ray florets.
Did you know that daisies belong to the Compositae, which is the largest of the plant families & includes such plants as the sunflower, many ornamental flowers - as well as lettuce?

Amongst the daisies you'll "discover" the "real McCoy" = the endemic Namaqualand daisy. Also known as the African daisy, it bears flower heads of bright-orange petals with a narrow mauve ring around the orange centre near the base of the ray florets.
Did you know that Namaqualand daisies only open when the sunlight is bright (& that at night, they always close)?

The Cape daisy is distinguished by its white ray florets with a pale mauve "flush" below surrounding the central yellow disc florets, whilst another variety of this flower "sports" a very narrow band of deep purple around the central disc. The Cape daisy is also known as the rain daisy.

Amongst the 4 indigenous species of (fresh) water lilies found in South Africa, probably the best known is the Blue water lily. It has large, almost circular leaves, which float flat on the water's surface. These flowers also close at night and open during the day but without being "dependent" on bright sunlight (like e.g. the Namaqualand daisies).

In contrast to many lilies, the Madonna lily is a "true" lily & therefore correctly named as a lily. True lilies grow from bulbs & the flowers typically have 6 outer segments & 6 stamens (stalks) - which are the male reproductive parts bearing pollen-producing "structures". The Madonna lily - a trumpet-like flower - is sometimes also called the Berg lily in South Africa, where it's an indigenous plant mostly growing in mountainous areas, hence the Afrikaans "berg".

The Impala lily is a deciduous succulent shrub with star-shaped flowers. This plant flowers in winter & for most of the year, has no flowers or leaves. There are 5 species of the sweetly scented Impala lily, which also is known by a variety of names: Desert rose, Sabi star or Kudu lily (named after yet another southern African antelope??). This indigenous plant is mostly found in the frost free areas of e.g. the lowveld & eastern parts of southern Africa.

All species of the Arum lily are endemic to southern Africa, but they aren't "true" lilies. Arum lilies grow naturally in marshy areas & when growing profusely, this plant is even regarded as a weed. Arums are also known as "pig lilies", because pigs relish the juicy roots, or as "pig's ear" (= Vark-oor in Afrikaans) because of the resemblance. In fact the "flower" of this plant is really a "modified" leaf, whilst the actual flower is the finger-like spike it encloses.
Did you know that the common name for the Arum lily, calla, means "beautiful" in Greek?

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