Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “Weekly Plant of Interest”. We’ll be looking at a not-so-familiar wild flower that is currently in full bloom…and has something to do with all the Meadow White butterflies Pontia helice helice we’ve been seeing lately.
Scabiosa columbaria (the Wild Scabious in English; Bitterbos in Afrikaans and tlhako-ea-pitsi in Sesotho), is a perennial that obtains an average height of 750 mm. It is usually found growing in grasslands and on basalt rock at altitudes of up to 3200 m A.S.L. This interesting wild flower is widespread all the way from the Western Cape through to Europe and Asia where it is believed to have originated from.
The leaves are arranged in a rosette formation arising from the base and are 40 – 180 long X 40 mm wide. The margins may be entire or deeply lobed. The flower heads are white – off-white/cream, 10 – 25 mm in diameter on a solid yet branched stem of 120 – 300 mm long. The flowers are actually white-pink, when viewed more closely and hermaphroditic. The calyx is easily recognisable with 5 purple-red lobes. S. columbaria flowers from end Oct – early Feb. After flowering, the seeds develop in interesting rounded bristle-heads, which gradually fall apart as the seeds ripen and are ready to be redistributed by the wind.
While photographing the small white flowers of S. columbaria, the author observed several small invertebrates, from beetles to wasps to bees to butterflies perching on the inflorescence. In fact several thousand of the Meadow White butterfly were observed in one location obtaining nectar exclusively from this flower despite many other flower spp. being present in relative abundance in the CNR. It appears that the Meadow White butterfly may have been selecting flowers preferentially based on the colour white. Uses include:
A preferred snack of our favourite trail-roaming domestic animals; the cow, the sheep and the goat.
The plant is dried and used in traditional medicines.
Makes for an attractive garden ornamental.
It appears that the existence of the Meadow White butterfly and S.columbaria are inextricably linked. The Meadow White appears to provide an important pollination service to the flower and in return receives nectar which provides it with the energy needed for flight and reproduction. Without S. columbaria it seems that the annual migration of the Meadow White may not be possible.
According to SANBI, S. columbaria is classified as of Least Concern.