At the end of our latest trip to Madagascar, we stayed in Antsirabe, south of the capital Antananarivo. The area is well known for its succulents and I decided to spend an afternoon in the mountains surrounding the town. For several kilometers the road leading out of town ran through the middle of a wide valley, and what I could see of the mountain slopes did not look promising at all. At a certain moment we decide to take a little side road that seemed to take us out of the valley. This was indeed the case, but even the hillsides appeared to be cultivated.
When the driver asked talked some local people if there were any bare rocks nearby, he got a positive reply, but in spite of their directions no rocks came into view. At a loss what to do now, I decided to just stop at an uncultivated spot and look around.
Picture #1 shows the first plant that I noticed there. Without flowers it could be about anything, but next to it was a group of flowering plants (#2) and immediately the penny dropped.
With a large tuber 10-15 cm long and to 7 cm thick, Euph. primulifolia is a true geophyte. It has a very short stem, hidden in the ground, with a radial rosette of 4-12 leaves. In the dry season the plants are leafless and hidden in the grass; in other words, they are only visible in the rainy season. This growth form allows the plants to survive the yearly grass burning.
The leaves are flat or undulate, 8-11 cm long and 3-4 cm wide.
Usually the plants flower before the leaves appear, but as the pictures show, this was not the case here. The cyatophylls* vary from white or greenish to pink and violet.
This variable species is widespread in the central highlands at about 1400-1500 m in a variety of substrates.
* cyatophylls are the bracts that surround the inflorescence proper in many members of the Euphorbiaceae.
Plant in cultivation. Scanned slide.
In her book “Namaqualand in flower” (1972), Sima Eliovson referred to this species as follows:
“Quite the most outstanding Pelargonium in Namaqualand, this has thick clusters of brilliant cerise-purple flowers that grow beside the brightest annuals and can be spotted from afar. They generally lie scattered in little clearings among orange daisies in the fields around Springbok amd Kamieskroon, where they are plentiful.”
Charles Craib in his beautiful and interesting book “Geophytic Pelargoniums” (2001), calls the species “one of South Africa’s most spectacular flowering plants.”
The plants are tuberous geophytes occurring in a narrow strip along South Africa’s west coast, from near the northern part of the Richtersveld to the Nardouw flats in the south.
Although the summers are very hot here, in winter it may be freezing cold.
The rainfall varies between 150 and 300 mm per year, mainly in winter.
When in flower, the plants are 20 to 30 cm tall. The flowers appear from August to October, usually with 20-40 (sometimes as many as 60) together in a large cluster on a single stalk. They show a wide range of colours, from red and pinkish purple to mauve, pale lilac and even nearly white.
These charming little plants have erect or sprawling stems , 4-10 (-15) cm long.
They are geophytes, with many small tubers (rarely over 0.5 cm in diameter).
The slightly fleshy leaves are grey-green or greyish brown and the star- to cup-shaped flowers are pale yellowish-green to brown with 2-3.5 mm long lobes.
While the flowers usually appear between June and August, depending on rainfall this may also happen at other times.
The distribution area ranges from South Namibia to the Little Karoo and the Eastern Cape, but the plants only occur in sheltered spots on rocky slopes and in crevices.
Comparing the first three pictures (taken in the wild) to the fourth (taken in cultivation), it may be hard to believe that they represent the same species.
The plants occur in quartz gravel on hillocks on the southwestern Knersvlakte.
They are geophytes, with a tuber up to 1.5 cm tall and 2 cm wide and 8-14 leaves, which are about 5 mm wide and die back at flowering.
The inflorescence is to 15 cm tall, with about 10 flowers, appearing in late spring / early summer (October-November).
About 70 species of Pelargonium belong to the section Hoarea: deciduous geophytes with turnip-shaped or elongated tubers. Several of these plants have similar leaves, so one needs flowers to positively identify them.
P. luteolum possesses a large tuberous rootstock and a number of smaller tubers and
leaves 4-7 cm long and 3-12 cm wide which are dry at flowering.
The inflorescence has 2-3 branches and is up to 20-30 cm tall.
Each of the branches bears to 16 flowers, which are about 1.5 cm in diameter and pale yellow, sometimes pink, with dark red-purple lines on the two upper petals. They usually appear from November-March, but sometimes as late as May.
The plants are widespread in various -usually rocky- habitats from southern Namaqualand to Steytlerville and Mossel Bay. This is mainly a winter rainfall area, with about 100-300 mm rain per year. They seem to be especially plentiful in the Worcester-Montagu area.
The three overlapping lower petals -hiding the style and stamens-are characteristic for this species. The literature tells us that they are arranged in such a way that the lateral ones partly overlap the central one. When you look closely at the last picture, you will see that the arrangement is sometimes the other way round: here the central one of the three lower petals lies on top of the two lateral ones.
The first picture was taken 27 June 2010, the next three 22 Jan. 2016 and the last one 21 Febr. 2009.
Almost two years ago I published a post on Othonna auriculifolia. Today’s subject could be considered the northern counterpart of that species. Both were described in the first half of the 19th century, when taxonomy was still a very European science. This probably explains why both specific epithets refer to well known European plants: taraxacoides means looking like a Taraxacum (dandelion) and auriculifolia means with leaves like Primula auricula (bear’s ears or cow slip).
O. taraxacoides is a stemless tuberous geophyte up to 10 cm tall. The leaves are leathery and wedge- to egg-shaped or more or less kidney-shaped. Usually they are 2-3 cm long and up to 2 cm wide, with small rounded teeth and often incised with 3-5 rounded lobes.
The flower heads are 0.8-1.5 cm in diameter and appear in July and August.
The plants occur on open pebbly places or quartz patches from the
Richtersveld to Kamieskroon.
Last week I saw flowers of this species in the wild for the first time ever. The pleasure was even greater because it was completely unexpected (according to the literature the flowers appear from September through November).
Pelargonium lobatum is a geophyte with a very large, woody tuber. The leaves lie more or less flat on the ground and are usually 3-lobed. They are extremely large: up to over 30 cm in diameter.
Up to 20 flowers are borne on a sturdy peduncle. They are usually dark purple to almost black with dull greenish yellow margins and base. At night they give off a clove or cinnamon scent.
The species occurs from Piketberg to Knysna on sandy flats and against hillsides.