Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to the very first “Plant of Interest” article for 2016!! This week we’ll be looking at a member of the Apocynaceae (Milkweed family).
Gomphocarpus fruticosus (L) subsp. fruticosus (Vlei-klapper/Melkbos in Afrikaans, Milkweed in English, Modimolo in Sesotho) is a multi-stemmed perennial herb of up to 2 metres which possesses a poisonous white milky latex in the leaves and roots. It is common throughout the provinces of South Africa from sea level to approx. 2400 m A.S.L.
The specimen pictured here was photographed on the Kloof Dam Trail on the right-hand side of the trail as you approach the Kloof. It is often associated with riparian areas, and areas that have been previously disturbed through anthropogenic or natural causes. It is indigenous but is mostly regarded as a weed in S.A. Naturally such a specimen would exhibit a degree of both frost and drought tolerance.
The leaves are slightly curved, narrow & opposite, measuring approx.50-120 X 20-35mm. Flowers are green-yellow (approx. 8mm across) and held aloft in pendulous clusters and followed closely by the large, bladder-like and yellow-green seed pods. The fruit pods are inflated, light-weight compared to volume, covered in sparse bristles and tapering to a point. Flowering occurs Nov – Apr (summer – autumn) and reproduction takes place primarily through seed but also through suckering. Uses:
The seeds are coupled to hairy “parachutes” which have been used as kindling.
Due to the poisonous milky-sap, the leaves of the plant have been finely ground and used as a snuff as a mild sedative against headaches and as a treatment for diseases such as tuberculosis. Decoctions of the leaves can be used as an emetic (nausea inducing substance) to improve health. The roots have been reportedly used as a treatment for general pain and stomach aches. Use of the leaves or roots is poisonous to humans and livestock when ingested in non-specified quantities as some of the active compounds include cardiac glycosides.
Frequented by the Monarch Butterfly which derives its un-palatability from the poisonous milky latex of G. fruticosus (L) subsp. fruticosus upon which it feeds.
Classified as a weed and defined under the SANBI as of Least Concern (LC).
Article and Research by Damien Coulsen
Head ranger: Clarens Village Nature Reserve