Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “bi-monthly Plant of Interest”. We’ll be looking at a less-oft observed specimen of the Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed) family.
Schizoglossum atropurpureum subsp. atropurpureum (Red-Milkwort in English, Melkwortel in Afrikaans and sehoete-moru in Sesotho) –what a mouthful, is a moderately sized erect geophytic herb of 600 – 1300 mm. It occurs in grasslands where there is a low fire incidence, but more often closer to streams where scrub and boulders are found. This herbaceous plant has been recorded at altitudes of 2040 m A.S.L. from the E. Cape through to Mpum.
This specimen was photographed along the Mallen Walk, but be quick if you want to take a happy-snap of the little bugger – the flowers are only in bloom for around a month and a half – 2 months. The stems of the genus spring-up annually from a small carrot-like tuber, which if pierced may exude a milky latex.
The flowers of S. atropurpuream subsp. atropurpureum, are borne aloft a single (occasionally 2) unbranched stems. The leaves are cross-opposite with slightly undulating margins and measure 30-50 x 8-20 mm. The inflorescence stems may sometimes be branched with 8-15 flowers per stem. The lobes are a deep maroon but may even appear almost black. There are 5 tepals per flower which are reminiscent of Christmas bells but are slightly wider than they are long (6×4 mm). Looking closely one may notice an oblique apical notch, and taking a whiff of the flower may yield a caramel-like scent. Flowering Jan-Mar. Uses:
The root may be eaten raw and is reportedly sweet-tasting.
The roots may be bundled together and smoked to preserve them. They can then be used as a form of charm to protect against lightening.
This species has been recorded as of Least Concern by SANBI.
Article, photography and research by Damien Coulson
with input from Wim Wybenga