Rare plants sighted on Beacon Hill

2013-12-09 00:00

ON the regular Beacon Hill walk on the last Sunday of November, Eve Hughes was thrilled to discover eight Asclepias woodii plants in flower.

“I spotted them some distance away and wasn’t sure, but on closer investigation, Molly Perret and I were convinced.”

She called Gareth Boothway, biodiversity stewardship manager for Midlands Conservancies Forum, to let him know. He went up to see the plants and took photos.

Asclepias woodii (Wood’s Asclepias), a member of the milkweed family, is listed as vulnerable in the Sanbi Red Data List. It is a KwaZulu-Natal Midlands endemic that reappeared on the hill recently after not being seen for nearly 100 years.

Kate Fennell, Friends of Beacon Hill committee member, said: “It’s always such a treat to find new things flowering on the hill, especially a rarity such as Asclepias woodii.”

Fennell shared some facts about the plant in a recent presentation. Asclepiads attract pollinators through its floral scent and produce various volatile compounds. A recent study identified between 15 to 57 compounds and a distinct scent profile for each species. Nectar is produced in small to moderate quantities.

With inflorescences that are dense and mechanically strong, the plants are perfectly adapted to pollination. Coronas are fat and fleshy, and store nectar. Inside the cups are hairs (papilla), which are thought to secrete nectar. Pollinaria produce pollen in compact masses called pollinia. These have mechanical clips that attach them to pollinators.

Chafer beetles pollinate the plants. The beetles are agile, fast-flying and hairy. Importantly, they do not damage the flowers when feeding. Asclepiads with similar features share chafer pollinators. Because bees are uncommon in grasslands, chafers fulfil the role of large bees.

Join the Beacon Hill walk on the last Sunday of each month to see some of the 106 species of plants that flower in this special grassland. Visit Midlands Conservancy Forum at

http://midlandsconservancies.org.za

• Contact Eve Hughes at 082 872 4333.

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