Peculiar parasite draws attention

Yesterday, guests attending the Heritage Association of South Africa symposium in Barberton visited Mountainlands Nature Reserve to learn more about the flora of the area.

As luck would have it, their timing was excellent to see the striking reproductive structures of a root holoparasite Sarcophyte sanguinea subspecies sanguinea. When mature they resemble a raspberry croquembouche rather than the flowers of a plant.

The female plant

But,it is a raspberry pudding with a twist as they are fairly hard and have a putrid smell making it irresistible for a number of insects such as flies and dung beetles. Male and female reproductive parts are carried on separate plants and the males are recognised by their white anthers and the females by having swollen, roundish structures.

Closeup of the white anthers of the male plant

They get their water and nutrients by penetrating the roots of certain Vachellia (Acacia) species on the reserve. Sarcophyte sanguinea subsp sanguinea usually breaks through the soil in October and seeing them above ground was a special treat. For more information go to: http://pza.sanbi.org/sarcophyte-sanguinea-subsp-sanguinea

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