The Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme involves volunteers from the public in the monitoring and conservation of South Africa’s plants of conservation concern. The programme is based at SANBI with funding from the Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) and the Mapula Trust.
If you spot any of these plants, please do record them on the iNaturalist App
Below are a series of extracts from our monthly e-newsletters where we have featured some of the species of conservation concern known to occur in the Outer West.
Drimia flagellaris (Hyacinthaceae) – Rare
A very rare and unusual plant found in Krantzkloof is the Green Medusa Lily – Drimia flagellaris, which was discovered in Krantzkloof around 2005 and now known to occur only in one other location.
This is a bulbous evergreen plant which grows in colonies. The roots penetrate cracks in the stone and anchor it firmly in place, while the cylindrical leaves, up to 1.5m in length, hang vertically down.
It has been found in both exposed and shaded habitats with south or south-eastern aspects. The bulbs are situated above the ground and they produce one to six flowering stems. The short-lived white flowers are self-compatible (able to fertilise by its pollen) and plants set fruits which contains masses of wrinkled, elongated black seeds. For such a cliff-dwelling specialist, the plant has proven very easy to cultivate, but must be planted in very well drained soil. Under favourable conditions it will propagate rapidly and provide a good show of flowers from early Spring into Summer.
Brachystelma pulchellum – Near Threatened
The beautiful Brachystelma from the Apocynaceae family is endemic to Krantzkloof Nature Reserve where it is protected. It is mostly found in grassland and rocky outcrops.
Discovered by Schlechter, Friedrich Richard Rudolf. It is recognisable by its creeping growth, pale brown tuber, stems are lying flat on the surface, spreading, purple tinged, flowers maroon, margins rolled under and usually transverse dull yellow banding around corona. Flowering occurs from October to February.
The species is threatened by housing developments particularly near cliff edges.
Turraea pulchella (Meliaceae) – Vulnerable
Turraea pulchella is a shrublet up to 200 mm tall; in the family Meliaceae.
It occurs in coastal grasslands, currently known from around Durban and near the Umtamvuna River in southern KwaZuIu-Natal. Remaining subpopulations are severely fragmented.
Urban expansion and woody encroachment of its grassland habitat pose a threat to this species.
Leaves are egg-shaped with the broadest part near the leaf tip shaped like an equal-sided triangle, deeply and bluntly toothed or shallowly lobed in upper half, base gradually wedge-shaped.
Flowers are 2-3, single, not in clusters, white, densely hairy inside, with a spicy fragrance. It flowers in September to March. Fruits are 5-valved capsules.
Senecio exuberans (Asteraceae) – Endangered
This is a species that can be easily overlooked because of its scraggly appearance! The Senecio exuberans is a perennial herb with thickened woody rootstock, up to 1.5 m tall when in flower.
It is found in mistbelt grasslands, in the outer west of Durban, and near Drummond.
Leaves are long and narrowly oblong with long, slender petioles; upper leaf surface smooth and shiny green, lower leaf surface is duller with raised veins; thickened leaf margins wavy with rounded serrations.
Flowers are yellow, borne on the tips of the tall branched flowering stems, consists of many tiny flowers (florets) arranged into dense heads. It is said to flower from December to January. It has silky hairs which remain attached to the seeds and enable the seeds to be dispersed by wind.
Reference: DYER, R.A. 1943. Plantae novae africanae (Senecio exuberans). The Journal of South African Botany. 9: 124-125
Schizoglossum peglerae (Apocynaceae) – Endangered
Apocynaceae is a family of flowering plants that includes trees, shrubs, herbs, stem succulents, and vines. Members of the family are found in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Central America.
This beautiful and endangered species is found close to home at Shongweni and Inchanga as well as on the Ozwatini Plateau (near Wartburg/New Hanover).
It has small tubers, egg-shaped, often 2 or 3 to a plant. The stem is single, upright, simple, or branched at the base, and with dense fine short soft hairs. Leaves are broad, egg-shaped; lower leaves are opposite, upper leaves whorled, slightly and minutely hairy along the rolled margins and on the midrib beneath, otherwise smooth, or nearly so.
Flowers rotate or they are slightly reflexed, egg- shaped, almost sharp, and smooth on both sides. It flowers from December to February.
This is one species that does not like fire and is also highly vulnerable to habitat destruction as it occurs in areas that are ideal for development.
It’s declining in KwaZulu-Natal due to urban expansion and habitat degradation as a result of overgrazing and too frequent fire.
Reference: Peter Wragg, 2008. Summary of data Schizoglossum peglerae for Red Data Assessment.
Blood-red Lily Gladiolus cruentus – Critically Endangered
Iridaceae is a family of flowering plants which are perennial herbs from rhizomes, bulbs or corms.
Gladiolus cruentus is commonly known as Blood-red sword lily. The plants are 500 – 700 mm long, usually arching (curving) horizontally from vertical cliffs. Restricted to seasonally wet rock faces in the sandstone belt from Gillitts and Kloof in the south to the Noodsberg and Kranskop in the north.
Stem inclined to drooping below the horizontal, usually arching upward in the upper part, unbranched, about 5 mm in diameter below the spike.
Leaves are slightly longer than the spike but drooping downward, and blades sword-shaped, midrib moderately thickened, margins not raised.
Flowers bright scarlet, unscented. It flowers in Mid-January to early March.
Seeds are narrowly longer than broad.
G. cruentus grows well in partly shaded and well drained areas. Drying up of waterfalls because of water consumption in the upstream and alien invasive encroachment affect this species.
Reference: GOLDBLATT, P. & MANNING, J. 1998. Gladiolus in Southern Africa. Fernwood Press, Cape Town
Gerrardanthus tomentosus (Cucurbitaceae) – Vulnerable
Gerrardanthus tomentosus is a little-known member of the Cucurbitaceae or Cucumber family. It is found among boulders and screes in steep, wooded, sandstone ravines in vicinity of Durban, Inanda and Umbumbulu.
The first material was discovered by John Medley Wood in a single stony ravine at Inanda in 1874. It is best known for the fruits of some species that are consumed fresh as salad or fruit or cooked as vegetables.
G. tomentosus is a robust unisexual creeper that can climb to a height of some 15 m, in winter losing the leaves along the length of its perennial shoots. Tendrils produced in leaf axils, slightly covered with fine hairs.
Branches are somewhat robust, furrowed, greyish, when young shortly and densely tomentose, when older smooth. The greyish furrowed branches are horizontally produced from prominent caudex which is often seated, camouflaged amongst rock screes at the soil surface.
Leaves are deep green, shortly and sparsely hairy above, and almost circular to kidney-shaped in outline.
Flowers are star-shaped, brown and borne at the nodes and it is said to flower from January to March. Fruits are bell-shaped.
Reference: ROB SCOTT-SHAW, CHARLES ROBERT. 1999. Rare and Threatened plants of KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring regions, KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service.
Mystacidium aliceae (Orchidaceae) – Vulnerable
Tiny stemless epiphyte, local and rare in coastal forests of the Eastern Cape and KwaZuIu-Natal.
It is up to 40 mm high in thick scrub, grows in shade, on twigs and small branches. The stems are 10 mm high; roots small, thin, soft, and grey-green.
Leaves light green, narrowly egg-shaped, widening somewhat towards the apices. Inflorescences several racemes and 5 – 10 flowered.
Flowers are pale green, 10 mm in diameter and flowers from November to March.
Sources: LINDER, H.P. & KURZWEIL, H. 1999. Orchids of Southern Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam; POOLEY, E. 2005. Field guide to wildflowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.