The flowers of Babiana praemorsa, are trumpet-shaped with a straight perianth tube that is more than twice as long as the tepals. The beautiful deep purple flowers have striking white marks on the lower tepals. The flowers are unscented and 25–30 mm across.
Babiana praemorsa is a stemless geophyte, 50–150 mm high, with narrow, pleated, fan-like leaves that are blunt at the tip, with short hairs. The young leaves are linear, approximately 1 mm wide and covered in silky hairs. The green bracts are 25–50 mm long and minutely hairly. White to cream-coloured, spear-shaped marks, often edged with red or dark blue, appear on the lower lateral tepals of the striking dark violet flowers. The flowers are slightly zygomorphic (flowers that can be divided into equal halves along only one line; bilaterally symmetrical), five or six in a congested spike. The perianth tube is straight, cylindrical and 40–60 mm long. The flowers are unscented or rarely faintly sweet-scented.
Babiana praemorsa is listed as Rare by P.A. Manyama in the Red List of South African plants (Raimondo et al. 2009).
Distribution and habitat
Babiana praemorsa is found in the Northern Cape: Calvinia District, from the Hantamsberg and westward to near Nieuwoudtville on the Bokkeveld plateau in dolorite outcrops, often in rock crevices.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Babiana means baboon and is derived from the Dutch word baviaan. It also refers to observations made by early colonists at the Cape of Good Hope, who observed that baboons favoured the corms of this genus.
Praemorsa is derived from the Latin word praemorsus, meaning bitten-off, and refers to the blunt tips of the leaves.
The flowers of Babiana praemorsa are pollinated by long-proboscid flies.
Growing Babiana praemorsa
Babianas are beautiful when grouped together in small clusters in a rockery. Lining the area with wire mesh will help to prevent mole rats and porcupines from eating them.
Seeds are sown in autumn. They must be sown thinly to prevent overcrowding. Water regularly during winter using a fine rose on the watering can or hose. Do not disturb the seedlings for two years; thereafter they can be planted over into permanent containers or into the rock garden at the beginning of their third season.
The corms can be planted in autumn in sandy loam. The corms like to be deep-seated and should be covered with some 8 cm of soil. Space them about 5 cm apart, closer in pots. They will benefit from regular, deep watering to root level once a week throughout winter and spring if rain is scarce. They need full sunlight to bloom properly and prefer to be kept completely dry during the summer months when they are dormant, although they will tolerate water during the summer if drainage is very good. Babiana praemorsa can withstand light frost.
Corms may be lifted in early summer and stored in dry packing material (straw or newspaper) until the next autumn.
Division is by offsets, which form on runners underground as well as on mature corms. Babianas can also be multiplied by seed sown in autumn. Germination takes six weeks.
References and further reading
- Goldblatt, P. 1986. The moraeas of southern Africa. Annals of Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens 14.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J.C. 2000. Iridaceae. In O.A. Leistner (ed.), Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10: 623–638. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds). 2009. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
Hantam National Botanical Garden