Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “Bi-weekly Plant of Interest”. We’ll be looking at a member of the Hibiscus or Mallow family (Malvaceae), from the widely distributed Hibisus genus.
Hibiscus aethiopicus (Common Dwarf Wild Hibiscus in English & lereletsane-le-leholo in Sesotho) is a small herbaceous species that grows to between 140 & 350mm depending on topography. This small Hibiscus grows in grasslands as well as along steep mountain slopes at recorded altitudes of up to 1800m A.S.L. H. aethiopicus grows from the Western Cape right through to Zimbabwe.
A little known fact about the derivative word Hibiscus, is that the original Greek ibiskos stems from the name given to the Marsh Mallow plant (now Althaea officinalis and yes, the root sap from the plant was used in ancient Egypt to make a rudimentary form of the popular medicinal confection and was also used to treat coughs an sore throats).
The stems of H. aethiopicus are covered in rough hairs. The leaves are 10-80mm long X 6-40mm wide with blunted apices and 3-5 veins from the base which may or may not have hairs. Leaf stalks measure 5-15mm. The flowers are not easily mistaken and measure approx. 50mm across. The colour is off-white – creamy /faded yellow (colouration is highly variable). The epicalyx (false calyx) bears 7-9 short bracts. Flowering takes place from Nov – Jan.
This species, although not necessarily a garden plant, is known to attract its fair share of butterflies and could therefore be worthwhile cultivating.
In light of the plethora of medicinal properties ascribed to many plants of the Hibiscus genus; new studies have confirmed that “H. aethiopicus may contain an endogenous inhibitor of venom-induced haemorrhage” (basically extracts obtained from the plant have been proven to bind and render null the neurotoxic and haemotoxic components of certain cobra venoms and thus prevent death in the unfortunate recipient of the bite). Hope they get that antivenin up and running soon!
Traditional medicines and remedies have been made from this plant. Although the exact uses could not be ascertained at the time of writing, rumour points to use as treatment for coughs, sore throats.
According to SANBI, H. aethiopicus is classified as of Least Concern.
Head ranger: Clarens Village Nature Reserve
Click here to see more plants found in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve