It is usually easy to identify a plant as a Malephora. Beyond that however, things are rather muddled up. So it is with some trepidation that I attach a species name to the pictures shown here.
M. mollis is described as a profusely branched shrub up to 50 cm tall, with leaves three-angled to round in cross-section and to 20 mm long and about 3 mm thick.
The distribution area is given as Laingsburg and both the flowering time and the habitat as unknown.
The photos were taken on stony flats northwest of Laingsburg, between early August and mid-October.
Sometimes, writing a post for this blog involves quite a bit of detective work, which may at times be a bit tedious, but often also gives interesting new insights.
For many years, I have known the subject of this post as Hypertelis salsoloides. When I started collecting info on it, I found out that neither the List of southern African succulent plants (1997), nor the Illustrated handbook of succulent plants (2002) mentioned it. This in spite of the fact that both publications take a rather liberal view on what is a succulent.
So was this plant, which I had known for over sixty years as a succulent, really a succulent?
Older literature such as Jacobsen’s A handbook of succulent plants (1960) and Das Sukkulenten Lexikon (1981) did not mention the name either, but they did cite Pharnaceum salsaloides, as a synonym of Hypertelis verrucosa.
On the other hand, the 2 volumes of “Plants of the Greater Cape Floristic Region”, published in 2012/2013, both mention Hypertelis salsoloides as a current name.
Shortly after they appeared (2014), a new genus (Kewa) was established in the Molluginaceae, the family Hypertelis belongs to. The type of the genus is Kewa salsoloides and it is stated that “The genus differs from Hypertelis sensu stricto in having succulent, alternate, terete leaves…..”
What a relief to find out that this dainty little plant was indeed a succulent all along :-).
The species is widespread and often abundant across the interior of southern Africa, from Namibia and Zimbabwe to the Little Karoo, on dry sandy and loamy lowland flats.The plants are often much-grazed and form dwarf, short-lived shrublets up to 30 cm tall with leaves up to 3 cm long and 0.5 cm wide.
The flowers are white to pink and about 1 cm in diameter; they appear mainly from September to March. The flower stalks bear relatively big warts, which sets the species apart from its siblings.
As the name carnosum (fleshy) suggests, this is one of the more succulent Pelargoniums.
Old plants can be quite impressive, with a height of up to about 1 m. But with lots of old leaves and flower stalks, big plants may also look rather untidy compared to young specimens with their nice smooth stems.
The stems are sparsely branched, with very variable, deeply incised and often somewhat fleshy leaves up to 20 cm long.
In Sept.-April the flowers appear in up to 50 compact clusters; they are 1-1.5 cm in diameter, white, pinkish or greenish yellow, with reddish markings on the upper petals.
The plants are found on dry flats and rocky slopes from Namibia to the Little Karoo and the Eastern Cape Province.
These plants are easily mistaken for a Lampranthus or a Ruschia. Their fruits however mostly have 10 compartments, whereas in Lampranthus the number is always 5 and in Ruschia usually 5, sometimes 6.
They form untidy mats or sprawling shrubs, sometimes with some erect branches to 70 cm tall.
The magenta flowers are 0.6-3 cm in diameter and appear mainly between autumn and early spring: April-September.
The plants occur widespread from Namaqualand to Humansdorp and Uniondale and are often locally abundant in flats and slopes with gravel, sand or loam. They are not browsed by stock or game, so when a great many of them are growing together, this indicates past disturbance and overgrazing of the veld. In the southern part of the distribution area, the plants will grow quickly on disturbed ground, e.g on road sides.
These peculiar and very distinctive plants form little clumps of soft and velvety-hairy* leaf-bodies which are about 4 cm tall and 3 cm in diameter.
During the long resting period, the bodies are completely enclosed in the dry sheath-like remains of the previous pairs of leaves.
Because the leaves are completely united, the flowers have to rupture the tops of the bodies in order to emerge. They are about 2 cm in diameter, white to mauve and appear from November to Januari.
The plants are locally abundant on quartz outcrops, but are known from only one location (west of Barrydale in the western Little Karoo), in a highly saline area. They grow together with G. album -see first picture- and sometimes hybridise.
In his book Flowering stones and Midday flowers, Gustav Schwantes dedicates nearly 3 pages to this species and he is clearly highly impressed by it, as witnessed by the following remarks:
“The plant exhibits the highest expression of leaf succulence in the whole plant kingdom.
There is nothing of greater interest among the Mesembryanthemaceae than this living creature which is so unusual in shape and structure”.
*the hairs are among the longest in the family.
One does not have to be a linguist to surmise that meloformis means shaped like a melon. Judging from the old synoniems pomiformis and pyriformis, the plants may also resemble an apple resp. a pear.
Usually the stems are single, more or less ball-shaped, to 10 cm tall and in diameter, with mostly 8 ribs and a depressed top.
The plants occur on gravelly flats in the Eastern Cape Province, mainly in and around Grahamstown, Uitenhage and the Coega area.
In ssp. valida (Euph. valida), the stem may become over 30 cm tall and 12.5 cm thick, with a rounded top and harder and more persistent peduncles.