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Chairmen of the African Violet Appreciation Society circa 2032

September 15, 2011

If I get a chance to reach an advanced age I’d like to be Chairmen of the African Violet Appreciation Society. It’s a cool name for an organization but more importantly I could bore everyone with wildly exaggerated stories of my Strep hunting days in Africa. In the mean time I’ll just post an entry on a free blog.

The Streptocarphus genus belongs to the Gesneriaceae ( African Violet )family. Often referred to as streps amongst its followers it is very closely related to the Satinapaula genus, which is more commonly referred to as African violet.

Streptocarpus is a large genus native to Southern Africa with over 150 species being recognized. There are two main divisions or sub genera within the genus. One is what I would call a more conventional-looking plant with stems, leaves and flowers from the leaf axial. The other subgenus grows with either leaves, which grow an irregular rosette with several leaves emerging directly from the ground, or my favorite as a single leaf, the only leaf the plant will ever produce. Many of the plants are monocarpic meaning they die after producing seed and are thus not popular in cultivation. However the more conventional plants are extremely popular hence the many clubs and societies that exist all over the world.

The single leaf variety are most fascinating plants, they have a tropical look to them and although the flowers are what I presume attracts the most attention for me the leaf is something special. The photo below of  the famous English botanist, taxonomist and plant hunter extraordinaire B.L Burtt shows him in the Nkandla Forest with a massive leaf of Streptocarpus grandis.

B.L “Bill” Burtt  collaborated with his second wife, the South African Professor Olive Hilliard of the University of Natal, to produce many papers but also three acclaimed books one of which was Streptocarpus: an African Plant Study (1971). It would be impossible for me now to do justice to their contribution to the study and understanding of the Streptocarpus genus but hopefully once I know more about them and the plant I can post a separate blog on their work.

As well as being very popular with gardeners and amateurs like myself the plants have fascinated scientists and botanists as they exhibit some unique morphological characteristics especially regarding their cotyledons and the single leaf varieties .

All the photos were taken at Krantzkloof Nature Reserve, Durban with the first shot being from one of the many wonderful falls in the reserve. The photo above  is Streptocarpus molweniensis which is only known from the Krantzkloof Nature reserve although there is a sub species in Eshowe, a small forest town about 115kms from Durban. It is named after the Molweni River that flows through the Krantzkloof Nature reserve. The majority of streps prefer dark and damp habitats but the last photo below is Streptocarpus polyanthus which I have seen on rocky outcrops and forest margins in more exposed situations. This plant has been in cultivation in Europe since the 1800s.


From → Landscape, Plants

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