Chlorophytum saundersiae
(Baker) Nordal

(= Anthericum saundersiae Baker)

Family: Anthericaceae (‘hen-and-chickens' family)
Common names:
weeping anthericum (Eng.); watergras (Afr.)

Plant in flower

Chlorophytum saundersiae is a popular garden plant and is used extensively by landscape gardeners. It has a pleasing grass-like appearance making it a good ‘filler' in flower beds. It is hardy and gregarious.

Description
C. saundersiae is a gregarious (growing in groups or colonies) and spreading perennial herb which forms thick stands or clumps.
The plant grows up to 400 mm high and has a bushy grass-like appearance, with leaves forming a basal rosette. It has long thin roots without tubers (tubers are found in other Chlorophytum species such as C. comosum ‘hen-and-chickens').

Leaves are light green, linear (strap-shaped) and gradually tapering, 300–400 mm long and 10 mm wide.

The inflorescence has numerous small, white, star-shaped flowers. The flowers have folded-back tepals (members of a floral envelope not clearly differentiated into calyx and corolla) and prominent elongated yellow anthers. The inflorescence is a congested raceme (with flowers on stalks arranged along an unbranched axis, the terminal flower being the youngest) and is carried on long drooping (‘weeping') stalks.

The plant flowers from October to March.

Raceme of flowers showing developing fruits and buds

The fruit is a small, green to brown, globose capsule containing numerous black, angular seeds.
C. saundersiae grows very quickly and is also spreading. It is a perennial and will not die back during the winter. It looks like a grass but is more closely related to the Asparagus or Aloe families.

Conservation status
C. saundersiae is placed in the Least Concern (LC) category (Raimondo et al . 2009).

Distribution and habitat
C. saundersiae occurs naturally in KZN, Swaziland and parts of the Eastern Cape (i.e. it is endemic to South Africa). It is found in coastal forest, usually in low grassland near river mouths which become inundated at times. It is frost tolerant but occurs naturally in subtropical areas where frost is not common.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Chlorophytum is Greek: ‘ chloros ' = green, and ‘ phyton ' = plant, i.e. “green plant”.

The name saundersiae honours Katherine Saunders (1824–1901), an energetic botanical artist and collector who lived and painted in KZN from 1854 (Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite 2012).

The family Anthericaceae comprises 8 genera of which 2 occur in Africa, namely Anthericum and Chlorophytum (Nordal, Kativu & Poulsen, 1997) . The genus Chlorophytum, is an Old World tropical to subtropical genus with ca. 150 species, and its centre of diversity is in tropical Africa.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the genus Chlorophytum and the genus Trachyandra which belongs to the closely related family Asphodelaceae. The genera can be distinguished by their pedicels (flower stalks): in the genus Chlorophytum they are articulated (with a joint) more or less in the middle but in Trachyandra they are without a joint.

A well known species in the family Anthericaceae is Chlorophytum comosum (better known as ‘hen-and-chickens') which is also a popular garden plant.

Ecology
The white flowers of C. saundersiae attract butterflies, bees and other small insects.

Uses and cultural aspects
C. saundersiae is not medicinal and not poisonous. Pet owners may find that some cats like to eat the leaves for digestion.

C. saundersiae is widely used in horticulture as a landscaping plant. Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite (2012) from Witkoppen Nursery notes:

  • This plant is a popular and useful groundcover for shady or sunny areas .
  • Planted in mass it will create a soft, meadow feel.
  • Well suited as a border plant or to add atmosphere to a water feature or pond .
  • Well suited to containers and planters, where their weeping habit is effective.
  • A very good companion plant for Crocosmia, as they remain green after the Crocosmia leaves have died back in winter.

Growing Chlorophytum saundersiae

C. saundersiae is hardy and can be grown in sun or partial shade. It can be grown in any soil type but seems to prefer sandy soil with lots of compost. Another positive aspect of this plant is that it is low-maintenance. If it starts to become untidy or unruly it can be cut back in winter and will resprout in summer, forming lots of new green leaves. C. saundersiae is pest-resistant and does not require use of pesticides. Another positive aspect of this plant is that it is frost-resistant. Once planted, C. saundersiae is fast-growing and also produces copious seeds which sprout easily, especially if they fall to the ground around the plant. C. saundersiae is particularly useful for growing in summer-rainfall regions as a replacement for restios or sedges, when growing conditions are not always optimal, especially when practising water-wise gardening. However, it also grows well in water-logged conditions.

References and further reading

  • The Gardener: article 29, www.thegardener.co.za
  • Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite, 2012. www.witkoppenwildflower.co.za
  • Nordal, I., Kativu, S., Poulsen, A.D. 1997. Flora of Tropical East Africa : Anthericaceae.
  • Obermeyer, A.A. 1962. A revision of the South African species of Anthericum ,
  • Chlorophytum and Trachyandra . Bothalia 7: 669–778.
  • 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 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.

 

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