10 March 2011

Paint the mountain red

Flowering now on Table Mountain - at the top of Blackburn Ravine above Hout Bay near the wooden bench and look out platform - is the Velskoenblaar (Afrikaans for "Skin shoe [or moccasin] leaf") or Haemanthus sanguineus. About 25 cm tall, ten or more plants were growing on a rocky shelf at the bottom of the path leading up to the mast, - a splash of intense red in the browy-green fynbos.

The name Haemanthus is derived from the Greek haima and anthos meaing blood and flower. A close lookalike, Haemanthus coccineus, it is thought, was the first flower to be collected by early European visitors to the Cape and was taken back to Holland to be described and grown. The latter differs from the Velskoenblaar in having a speckled stalk.

John Manning and Peter Goldblatt describe them as follows in 'Cape Plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa', Strelitzia 9.
Haemanthus coccineus L. April Fool. Bulbous geophyte, 6-20 cm. Leaves dry at flowering, 2, spreading, fleshy, often ciliate, usually speckled. Flowers in a compact head, scarlet, bracts many, stiff and leathery. Feb.-Apr. Coastal scrub and rocky slopes, NW, SW, AP, KM, LB, SE (S Namibia to Port Elizabeth).

Haemanthus sanguineus Jacq. Velskoenblaar. Bulbous geophyte, 5--30 cm. Leaves dry at flowering, 2, prostrate, leathery, often outlined with red. Flowers crowded in a dense head, red or pink, bracts leathery. Jan.--Apr., especially after fire. Lower slopes, NW, SW, AP, KM, LB, SE (Nardouw Mts to Port Elizabeth).*
More about Haemanthus.

Other red flowers out at the moment are the Summer Snakeflower (Tritoniopsis triticea)
and its mimic, the Cluster Disa (Disa ferruginea).

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