Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “Weekly Plant of Interest”. We’ll be looking at a rather useful and aesthetically pleasing wild-flower recently spotted along isolated segments of the Spruit trail & Mallen Walk.
Gladiolus dalenii (African Gladiolus in English; Papegaai-gladiolus and khahla-e-kholo in Sesotho), is an indigenous species that rises to between 1m and 1.5 m tall. The Genus name Gladiolus (of which 14 species occur in the DMR) can be translated as “small sword” and refers to the appearance of its leaves. This easily-identifiable plant is found growing in grasslands and sometimes among scrub at altitudes of up to 2500 m A.S.L., and occurs from the Eastern Cape to Central Africa and even Western Arabia.
The leaves of G. dalenii are arranged in a loose fan formation, erect, approx. 20 mm wide, up to 320 mm long and grey-green in colour. The inflorescence may have support up to 7 flowers born on red-brown to green bracts. The flowers appear hooded and the colour is variable (although a red-fleshy orange colour is common). The flowers are considered “large” at 60 mm long by 30-40 mm wide, flowering from late Dec to early Feb. Uses:
The flowers are often visited by sunbirds (and insects)who are attracted to the flowers’ copious nectar. The sunbirds in turn provide an important pollination service to the plant.
The corms of this plant are harvested and eaten by the Sesotho. The dug-up corms (known by locals as itembu or “fruits of the Earth”) are protein rich and provide a valuable source of energy to those who eat of them. The flowers are also said to be edible (Raw or cooked. The anthers are removed and the flowers are added to salads or used as a boiled vegetable) and yield relatively large quantities of nectar. A recent study however has shown the corms and leaves to be mildly cytotoxic in certain instances.
Used in traditional medicines, placed in the medicine horn of traditional healers and also used as a lucky charm. It is rumoured to treat diarrhoea, chest ailments “caused by sorcery” and even sterility in women.
Cultivars of this plant are grown in gardens throughout S.A. and in many overseas countries. It a popular garden plant and is easily cut and transplanted. Some people have noted that the seeds are easily dispersed and may require careful tending to avoid garden contamination.
Other human use
The corms have been used as spinning tops by the Sesotho in children’s games.
According to SANBI, G. dalenii is classified as of Least Concern.