PLANT OF THE MONTH
By Geoff Nichols
Aneilema aequinoctiale; ClingingAneilema; idangaban e elikhulu (Zulu)
This is the cousin of last month’s Blue flowered Aneilema. This plant is more common in the damper edges of forest, and with us here in KwaZulu-Natal, it is found in swamp forest. The first time you’ll notice it is when the leaves and stems are clinging to your legs and clothing as you push your way through the forest undergrowth.
The “hairs” that cover this species’ stems and leaves are each tipped with a minute hook that latches onto an unsuspecting mammal walking through the forest. I’m not sure what this strategy does for the plant but here are two of my theories. The first is: bits break off and a piece of stem is carted off to another part of the forest to carry on growing in a new area, thus spreading by vegetative propagation. The other theory probably amounts to much the same thing, in that the seed capsules are also covered in the same hooks and this will definitely be a method of seed dispersal. The hooks allow the plant to literally piggy-back on the hairs of the unsuspecting Bushpig or Bushbuck that is walking through the forest or even grubbing out some of the succulent horizontal stems. These stems act like runners, to keep moving the plant out into the sunlight. The forest waxbills like Grey and Sweet Waxbills, plus the Green Twinspots, eat the seeds out of the ripening capsules.
The flowers are yellow in this species and make a very attractive subtle show during the spring and summer when the plants are all in flower.
These flowers provide nectar for a whole range of insects, from honey bees; solitary bees; odd wasps that mimic bees; to flies, and the flies that mimic bees, especially the dainty hover flies that are always flitting from one flower head to the next. The flowers open in the early morning and are closed on warmer days by midday but will remain open longer if the weather is overcast and cool.
In a human garden, this species is best used as a groundcover or herbaceous border near water or in a wetland or bog garden. I like to use it on pond edges, where its lush green leaves add a horizontal textural change to generally vertical growing plants. In the habitat garden, where I am able to use multiple species, I would combine this plant with the Acanthaceous plants like Hypoestes, Dicliptera, Rhinacanthus and Phaulopsis and use then as a forest edge planting. I would also mix in a few of the shrubby mint family or Spur flowers like the genus Plectranthus and Leonotis ocimifolia for good measure. This species will take a bit of frost but prefers sheltered areas, with sunlight for either the early morning or late afternoon.
Propagation in the gardening game is generally from cuttings that root easily in coarse river sand in about 10 days. You can collect the seed, but this is a finicky operation that takes time and energy that could be better used making cuttings.
12 – The Grapevine •