Disa versicolor

Disa versicolor Plants found in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve

Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “bi-monthly Plant of Interest”. This time we’ve decided to focus on a specimen from the Orchidaceae (Orchid) family.

Disa versicolor (Apple-blossum Orchard in English), is a robust orchid of between 300 & 600 mm tall usually found in damp grassland at altitudes up to 2400 m A.S.L. It’s widespread throughout S.A. and also occurs in Mozambique and Angola.

It is interesting to note that unlike most plants which grow from seed alone, D. versicolor also spreads via an underground rootstock or sucker-system. The exact origin of the word Disa is unknown; however some have postulated that it stems from dis meaning “double” which refers to the 2 large “wings” on the flower style. Alternatively Disa may mean “rich” or “plush”, referring to the spectacular display of the original specimen recorded for the genus. The direction in which the spurs point is a useful means of spp. identification. Versicolor means “variably coloured” referring to the changing of colour of the florets through the flowering season. This specimen was photographed on the Scilla Walk.

Another interesting feature of D. versicolor is that the shoot on which most of the leaves occur is separate from the flower bearing stem. The leaves are elongate and basal measuring approx. 200 by 20mm and tend to fold over backwards, tapering to an acute point. Few leaves grow on the flowering stem, and these are usually thin and overlapping thereby providing a protective sheath for the flowering stem. The inflorescence is very dense, with the lower portion of the bracts often dry. The flowers are small pinkish-white and usually face downwards. The typical flower shape is derived from one sepal forming a hood at the top and the other two resembling  spreading wings below. The spurs (5 – 7 mm) are hooked upwards and downwards and may be faintly vanilla scented in the evenings. Flowering Jan-Feb. Uses:

Traditional uses

Used as a protective charm although the particular form of protection is unknown.

Ecology

This spp., like many others of the Disa Genus, is pollinated by bees (mostly of the Amegilla species – pictured below). The short nectar producing spurs have been likened to the mouthparts of the bees which pollinate this plant. For healthy ecosystems, including agro & natural ecosystems both diversity and abundance in the bee fauna is important, both for biodiversity and production purposes.

Amegilla species Clarens Village Nature Reserve

Conservation Status

This species has been recorded as of Least Concern by SANBI.

Damien1-100x100Article and photographs by Damien Coulson,

with input from Wim Wybenga

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