White flower Hypoxis

The small and delicate Hypoxis membranacea with its white flower, pustules and hairs on the leaves.

The chance observation of a photo of a Hypoxis plant from Mountainlands Nature Reserve inspired a passionate student to arrange an impromptu visit to see it. Most Hypoxis plants have bright yellow flowers, but Hypoxis membranacea (common name: small white hypoxis) is one of only three white flower species that occur in South Africa. It is endemic to the country with an accepted distribution in Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape and it grows at altitudes below 900 m. Previously, it was believed that a specimen originally collected in the Barberton area may have been misidentified and that this northern locality was questionable.

Hennie Niemann, a PhD student at the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits University was alerted by his friend and fellow plant lover, Dewald Coetzer of a photo of Hypoxis leaves taken by the author. Hennie immediately recognised it as Hypoxis membranacea and the next day the two of them arrived on Mountainlands.
The plants grow in a remote area of the reserve and it took some bundu bashing to get to it. Needless to say, the two could not contain their excitement seeing some of the plants in bloom as the white flowers confirmed their initial identification.

Hennie Niemann (left) and Dewald Coetzer looking at another Hypoxis on Mountainlands, which they suspect may be Hypoxis colchicifolia, a species known from the Free State, Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Hennie’s PhD study centers on the distribution of Hypoxis in South Africa. This observation may help with the expansion of knowledge about this unique, shade-loving species and how Hypoxis plants diversified. Obviously, we are thrilled that Hypoxis membranacea occurs on the reserve and can be protected for posterity.

With this rare find, it seems that Mountainlands has at least nine Hypoxis species so far.

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