Where have all the Flowers Gone?
I started to record a whole range of under documented species, here at Pamuzinda Safari Lodge, in Oct ’18. One of the areas I wanted to cover was Zimbabwe Wildflowers species that actually occur here at Pamuzinda/Chengeta. Since then I have been eagerly awaiting the floral bonanza that I was sure would come with the rains. The Bonanza hasn’t actually happened, yet, but there have been a number of Flowers come and go in the interim period. Some tiny and easily overlooked and some large and difficult to ignore.
Figure 1: Small and spindly up to approx 12ins high. Open scrub. Unknown – help please.
Figure 2: Flower the size of a dollar coin. Low to ground. Open vlei. Not 100% certain but possibly: Cranesbill – Monsonia burkeana, Used for herbal teas and traditional medicine.
Figure 3: Vine or creeper. Growing under trees near lakeside. Almost certainly one of many Cucurbita or Squash family species found here. This actual species unknown – Please help.
Figure 4: Very small and wispy. Growing in open scrub grassland. One of the mint family this plant can be found flowering on recently burnt grassland areas. It does have some use in traditional medicine and is supposedly used to treat conditions as diverse as enemas to hair restorer. Cats Whiskers – Becium obovatum
Here today and gone tomorrow
What has amazed me in some cases is the short duration of flowering of many of Zimbabwe’s Wildflowers. Some have scarce lasted more than 24 hours and one, in fact, lasted only for the morning. I saw a whole woodland area in flower on my way into the Lodge and determined to photograph them after lunch. When I returned, out of several hundred, there were only two or three plants with flowers still on them. I picked the best of these and set up the tripod and macro gear. However, as I zoomed in, I thought the camera was slipping on the tripod head as I kept losing the focus. Eventually I realized the camera was steady but the flower was dipping. As I watched, it slowly slipped further and fell to the floor.
That old adage of “strike while the iron is hot” is never so relevant as it is in Wildlife Photography. There are an incredible number of unexpected things that invariably go wrong each time you promise yourself that “you’ll come back and do it later”.
Figure 5: Very small and wispy. Growing in open scrub grassland. Comes from a well known family that includes potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and various nightshades. Grows in open scrub and waste land. Many members of the genus, the whole plants or their various parts, are poisonous to humans though still used in some traditional medicines. Bitter/ Poison/Snake or Sodom Apple – Solanum panduriforme
Figure 6: Small flower head on long stem. Up to 2ft in open grassland. Field scabious – Scabiosa “unknown species possibly drakensbergensis” – please help.
Figure 7: Small flower head on long stem. Up to 2ft in open grassland. Field scabious – Scabiosa “unknown species possibly drakensbergensis” – please help. Zimbabwe’s national flower. This plant is Zimbabwe’s National Flower and protected throughout the country. Despite all parts of the plants being poisonous it is used in many treatments of Traditional medicine. Flame/Glory Lily – Gloriosa superba
Figure 8: Small flower head on long stem. Up to 2ft in open grassland. Field scabious – Scabiosa “unknown species possibly drakensbergensis” – please help. Zimbabwe’s national flower. This plant is Zimbabwe’s National Flower and protected throughout the country. Despite all parts of the plants being poisonous it is used in many treatments of Traditional medicine. Flame/Glory Lily – Gloriosa superba. This one likes its feet wet – all the time. Despite the fact that this seems to be a very common water plant I still cannot find out what it is. Unknown species – Help please.
Wild Flower Field guides
Unfortunately “Zimbabwe Wild Flowers” Field Guides did not feature in my reference library. The only one I have I was able to obtain in South Africa whilst there on a visit two or three weeks ago. It has helped somewhat, since there is obviously a certain overlap of species between SA Wildflowers and Zimbabwe Wildflowers. It by no means, however, fills the bill. I am left with a whole raft of images that I have been unable to identify so far. Should anyone possess a decent Guide for which they have no further use I would be happy to buy it from them.
Can you help?
I have collated many of my Zimbabwe Wildflowers flowering plant images to date and attached some of them to this blog post. What would be of great help to me is that if any reader of this post can identify any of the “unknown ones” then it would be greatly appreciated. Of the images I have obtained(many more than depicted here) I have already managed to identify about two thirds of them. Some of them I have probably mis-identified so please don’t take my word for it. Please feel free to correct me if you can.I have shown them with English, Local or Latin names where I have them. Additionally, where possible, I have included a full plant habitat shot as well as a flower close-up, together with some general info.
We have added Flower/Insect Photography Walks here at Pamuzinda and/or Chengeta as an activity and hope you can join us.
Figure 9: This is a classic case of an escaped alien. Probably imported originally from Mexico as a garden plant but since escaped and become naturalized throughout. Seems to love waste ground and grows to about 10ft tall. It looks to be about to take over the suburbs of Harare. Mexican Sunflower – Tithonia rotundifolia
Figure 10: Not a plant you want in the garden. Acutely toxic. Flowers open late afternoon/evening. The plants here have either pure white flowers or the colour displayed. Open scrub or waste ground. The plant and its parts are acutely toxic but it still plays an important part in Traditional Medicine. It has been used as an analgesic during basic surgery and smoking its leaves is said to help relieve asthma. It is also extremely halucinogenic though the risks of overdose are uncommonly high. Jimson Weed/Thorn Apple – Datura stramonium
Figure 11: A very showy plant but the flowers open in the early morning and are gone by lunchtime. Open scrub. This is one of several wild Hibiscus spp which flower round here. This particular one flowered about 4 weeks before the rains. The plants grew to about 1 mtr max. The flower is very similar to the common Wild Hibiscus – Hibiscus engleri which is flowering at the moment(March/April) and seems to grow to about 3mtrs high, despite what the books say. Both have the habit of being in flower only up to about midday after which the flower closes. Wild hibiscus – I originally thought Hibiscus trionum possibly. The leaves, however, seem wrong and at the moment I’m opting for Hibiscus pusillus. Confirmation please.
Figure 12: A rapid invader of disturbed or burnt grassland. 2 to 3ft tall. This plant grows throughout the reserve scattered through the grasses. I had it down as African Foxglove – Ceratotheca triloba.. All the references I have for that plant, however, show a much paler flower with heavier streaking on the lips. Maybe this is a local variation as there doesn’t seem to be any other plant that it can be. Unlike European Foxgloves it is sparsely flowered and doesn’t seem to grow in clumps. At the same time, enjoying the same local name, is a plant from the Sesame family named Sesamum angolense that seems to tick more boxes. This is the one I am plumping for. African Foxglove – Sesamum angolense – confirmation please.
Figure 13: 13 and 14. Two similar plants through the lens. Completely different in reality. Both grow in grassy scrub and often side by side. 13 is only a quarter the size of 14. This is a parasitic plant and can invade a wide variety of agricultural crops, severely depleting the yield. Probably African/Asian in origin it has now spread to other continents where it is officially listed as a “noxious weed”. Witch Weed – Striga asiatica
Figure 14: This plant is the classic example of why we adopt local names for various species as opposed to relying solely on the Latin. See end of text for explanation. Its local name in most areas seems to be Pimpernel. It is an invader of grassland and an anathema to cattle. With a high content of Prussic acid it is acutely toxic and can asphyxiate an animal in a very short time. It is also the food plant(the plant on which the butterfly lays its eggs and the caterpillar feeds) of a beautiful Butterfly species – the Black Tipped Acraea – Acraea caldarena. The caterpillar ingests the poisons when feeding and retains them to be passed on to the adult butterfly stage thus rendering the insect toxic as well. Potential predators are aware of this and give the species a wide berth. Pimpernel – Tricliceras longipedunculatum (a name not lightly dropped into conversation.)
Figure 15: This pretty little flower springs up in places you would never expect it to be. These were on the arid sides of a vlei. Their name comes from their fruiting bodies which sport two upright pointing thorns that supposedly are reminiscent of a Devil’s head. One traditional use for the plant was to crush it in water and the resulting mucilagenous mess could be used as soap. Devil’s Thorn – Dicerocaryum eriocarpum
Figure 16: This diminutive but delightful little flower grows right on the river bank, often actually in the water. It attracts a variety of insects so I guess its nectar is pretty satisfying as well as providing welcome perching for passing Dragonflies. Can be used medicinally as a “pick me up” and the young branches apparently make very good brooms. River Star/Otterbush – Gomphostigma virgatum
Figure 17: This is the woodland floor flower that collapsed as I was photographing it. The understory was covered with the plants and they were all in flower by about 8 in the morning. At lunchtime when I returned they were virtually all gone except as related in the text above. I checked every day thereafter and never did catch them. They were delightful to see and such a pity if they are a one day wonder as not many will have the opportunity to see them. I have no idea what they are so help is definitely needed please.
Figure 18: Another little woodland plant that occurs throughout the reserve. The flower, in the wild, is quite small but I have seen a garden version of this where the flowers are much larger, probably as a result of selective breeding. The colourful throat is more noticeable in the cultivated form. It is the favoured foodplant of several Pansy Butterfly species. Chinese Violet – Asystasia gangetica
Figure 19: This one is somewhat hard to miss. It favours a number of different habitats and flowers just before, or early in, the rains.The flower heads are up to the size of a tennis ball and very distinctive. As it ages the stalks lengthen and the flower sphere finally falls off and rolls along the ground in the breeze. As it rolls it distributes its seeds along the way. It grows from a bulb which is highly toxic and even the pollen can cause headaches, irritate eyes and cause skin rashes. The leaves frequently appear after the flower has dispersed. An extract of the plant is used in places as a fish and arrow poison. The flower is so distinctive, and there are other members of the family, that it has been taken into cultivation and a number of varieties are available. There are a number of local names such as Fireball Lily, Blood Lily, Rain Lily and Tumbleweed – Scadoxus multiflorus
Replies to our Zimbabwe Wildflowers Identification – Please help – can be made either to the Lodge or direct to me as below. If you think you can identify any of those where requested, it would help greatly if you could provide both the Local and Latin Names. If I have mis-identified anywhere please do not hesitate to correct me(whisper it in my ear and I’ll correct it before anyone else realises that I’ve boobed!!)