Because of the peculiar orientation of its leaves, this species is often called Vertical Leaf Senecio or propeller plant.
The plants have creeping to erect stems, to 80 cm tall and much-branched.
The vertically flattened leaves* are variable in shape, size and colour, to 10 cm long, 3 cm wide and 3-5 mm thick.
Inflorescences are to a meter tall.
The species is widespread in central and southern Madagascar, where it grows on denuded granite rocks, often together with members of the Euphorbia milii groep, such as E. horombensis and E. fianarantsoae and Pachypodium species (first picture shows P. horombense in foreground).
* This vertical compression of the leaves is usually regarded as an adaptation which reduces the amount of light that reaches the leaf surface, resulting in lower daily water loss than in leaves in other orientations.
Pictures 3 and 4 show plants in cultivation (scans of old slides)
At the end of our latest trip to Madagascar, we stayed in Antsirabe, south of the capital Antananarivo. The area is well known for its succulents and I decided to spend an afternoon in the mountains surrounding the town. For several kilometers the road leading out of town ran through the middle of a wide valley, and what I could see of the mountain slopes did not look promising at all. At a certain moment we decide to take a little side road that seemed to take us out of the valley. This was indeed the case, but even the hillsides appeared to be cultivated.
When the driver asked talked some local people if there were any bare rocks nearby, he got a positive reply, but in spite of their directions no rocks came into view. At a loss what to do now, I decided to just stop at an uncultivated spot and look around.
Picture #1 shows the first plant that I noticed there. Without flowers it could be about anything, but next to it was a group of flowering plants (#2) and immediately the penny dropped.
With a large tuber 10-15 cm long and to 7 cm thick, Euph. primulifolia is a true geophyte. It has a very short stem, hidden in the ground, with a radial rosette of 4-12 leaves. In the dry season the plants are leafless and hidden in the grass; in other words, they are only visible in the rainy season. This growth form allows the plants to survive the yearly grass burning.
The leaves are flat or undulate, 8-11 cm long and 3-4 cm wide.
Usually the plants flower before the leaves appear, but as the pictures show, this was not the case here. The cyatophylls* vary from white or greenish to pink and violet.
This variable species is widespread in the central highlands at about 1400-1500 m in a variety of substrates.
* cyatophylls are the bracts that surround the inflorescence proper in many members of the Euphorbiaceae.
Plant in cultivation. Scanned slide.
Because this species is often more or less climbing in surrounding shrubs, it is difficult to spot when not in flower. The name refers to the very narrow leaves, which are up to 13 cm long, but not more than 1 cm wide.
The plants become up to 1.5 m tall and produce brilliant red flowers with a tube just over 1 cm long.
One can find the plants in a wide strip roughly following the coast of southern Madagascar from Fort Dauphin to Tulear, where they mainly grow in xerophytic bush on limestone rocks.
The photos were taken at Madagascar’s southernmost tip (Cap Ste Marie) on 2 Nov. 2016.
Earlier this week I returned from my latest trip to Madagacar, and what a trip it was. Full of unexpected things, both positive and negative.
Over time, quite a few pictures from the visit should find their way to this blog; the ones below are just meant to wet your appetites.
Near St. Augustin
Fishing boats going out to sea at day break
Old plants of this species form clumps with up to 20 egg-shaped (=oviform) bodies, which are 1-2 cm tall and 1-3 cm in diameter.
Especially when flowering, the very dense stands in which they grow present an unbelievable show. The white to rose-pink flowers appear in August-September.
The plants occur on quartzitic flats and slopes in the southern Knersvlakte, where the rainfall is on average about 125 mm per year (mainly in winter).
In her book “Namaqualand in flower” (1972), Sima Eliovson referred to this species as follows:
“Quite the most outstanding Pelargonium in Namaqualand, this has thick clusters of brilliant cerise-purple flowers that grow beside the brightest annuals and can be spotted from afar. They generally lie scattered in little clearings among orange daisies in the fields around Springbok amd Kamieskroon, where they are plentiful.”
Charles Craib in his beautiful and interesting book “Geophytic Pelargoniums” (2001), calls the species “one of South Africa’s most spectacular flowering plants.”
The plants are tuberous geophytes occurring in a narrow strip along South Africa’s west coast, from near the northern part of the Richtersveld to the Nardouw flats in the south.
Although the summers are very hot here, in winter it may be freezing cold.
The rainfall varies between 150 and 300 mm per year, mainly in winter.
When in flower, the plants are 20 to 30 cm tall. The flowers appear from August to October, usually with 20-40 (sometimes as many as 60) together in a large cluster on a single stalk. They show a wide range of colours, from red and pinkish purple to mauve, pale lilac and even nearly white.
After our trip to Madagascar in June this year, my wife and I decided to make a return trip later in the year.
As a result of this, coming Saturday we will depart on a 3-week trip to the country again, this time to the south. The last time we were there was 19 years ago, so it will be interesting to see what things look like now.
The trip will also give me an opportunity to thoroughly test the new travel tripod I bought a while ago. It has behaved well on shorter trips, but this trip will be rather different. Come to think of it, it would probably be worthwhile to write a post on tripods in general.
To bridge the gap between now and mid-November, I have scheduled two posts to appear during my absence. See you later!