Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. This week we’ll be focusing on a member of the…take a deep breath because it’s another long unusual scientific name… Orobanchaceae(Broomrape)family – whew!
Known by its English common name, Yellow Witchweed (or Verfblommetjie) Alectra sessiliflora is actually an herbaceous hemiparasitic plant on grasses, occurring at altitudes of up to 2900m A.S.L., from the Western Cape through to equatorial Africa. Hemi-parasites are very interesting and rather unusual in that they can obtain nourishment from photosynthesis (as with all true plants), but can also leach nutrients from other plants. A more common example of this occurs in the plant Viscum capense – the Cape Mistletoe. This food production strategy could theoretically afford these plants an advantage of most other plants that rely solely on photosynthesis for the production of sugars, especially in areas of semi-permanent shade, in waterlogged soils or in low soil ph.
The Greek Alectra is derived from Alector or cockscomb (in reference to leaf morphology).Sessiliflora refers to flowers occurring without a stalk and arises directly from the stem. Not many know that the leaves turn black if the plant has been damaged or crushed. A. sessiliflora differs from A. basutica in several respects – it occurs at higher altitudes, prefers moist to dry grassland, is not limited to the Eastern Mountain Region (EMR), the inflorescence is terminal as opposed to a long spike in A. basutica.
sessiliflora obtains a high of 250mm (sometimes doubled depending on terrain). Leaves measure around 30mmX20mm, are spear-tipped and have toothed, fairly hairless margins. The stems are a characteristic purple/black and sparsely haired. The inflorescence is terminal and the bracts mimic leaves, complete with toothed margins. The flowers (around 15mm across) are yellow, barely protruding from their calyx and may grade to orange-yellow with darker veins, with hairless filaments. Flowering occurs from November – March.
The rootstock was once utilised as a yellow-orange dye in clothing. Hence the Afrikaans vernacular – Verfblommetjie. This plant has also been ingested as a treatment for bacterial and fungal ailments and has been scientifically proven to show antimicrobial chemical properties.
The SANBI conservation status for A. sessiliflora is listed as Least Concern.
Click here for more information on plants in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve
Click here for more information on the Clarens Village Nature Reserve
Head ranger: Clarens Village Nature Reserve