S. undulata

Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “bi-monthly Plant of Interest”. We’ll be focusing on a member of the Caryophyllaceae (Carnation) family.

Silene undulata (Gunpowder Plant or Dream Root in English, Wildetebak in Afrikaans and Molokoloko in Sesotho) is a frost and heat resistant perennial that grows up to 1000mm tall on moist, steep hill-slopes at altitudes ranging from 1550–2880 m A.S.L. This plant occurs from the Western Cape right through to Zimbabwe.

S. undulatamay be differentiated from a similar species; S. bellidoides primarily through its ecological range and habitat – S. bellidoides prefers open grassveld, and is substantially smaller at only 600mm. The species name undulata is derived from undulate, in botanical terms this refers to the undulating or “waving” nature of the leaves. The common name Gunpowder Plant is a reference to the dark colour of the seed-baring capsules held by this species. This particular specimen was observed for the first time on the new Caracal Contour Cycle trail on the day of the MTB Series race through the CNR

The leaves of this species occur in a basal rosette (120X30mm) and smaller leaves also occur on the stem (80X20mm). The ovary upon which the flower is perched is tubular, obloid, green-ribbed, measures 20-30mm and is slightly hairy.  The flowers vary in size with the largest almost double the diameter of the smallest which measure 20mm across. The flower is a cream-white and is deeply lobed, resembling a heart. The flower margins are slightly undulating and the flower produces an agreeable sent from early evening. The flower is open early mornings just before dawn (and in the shadow of south-facing mountains) and again around dusk. Flowering occurs from December – mid-April. Uses:
Traditional uses
This seldom-observed flowering species is regarded by sangoma’s as a sacred plant with the ability to induce vivid prophetic dreams as well as in the facilitation of communication with ancestral spirits. The plant can be ingested as a tonic, solid or the foam from brewing can also be ingested. Larger doses can cause nausea and vomiting. It is believed that if foam doesn’t occur after preparations that the timing of the ceremony for which it was prepared is either ill-advised, or that the ancestors don’t approve of the ceremony.
S.undulata is pollinated at night by insects such as Hawk-moths.
Conservation Status
The SANBI conservation status for S. undulata 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


Damien1-100x100Article and photography by Damien Coulson

Head ranger: Clarens Village Nature Reserve


Author: Damien Coulson