Rhodohypoxis baurii is a diminutive, enchanting plant, forming colourful carpets of white, pink and red in rocky places in the Drakensberg area. It makes a jewel-like pot plant which deserves to be grown as widely in South Africa as it is in Europe.
Rhodohypoxis baurii is low-growing, up to 150 mm, with sparsely hairy, keeled, lanceolate leaves, 2.5-11.0 mm long, arising from a fibrous crown. The flowers are borne on hairy peduncles and may be single or paired, 20-35 mm in diameter, and white, pink or red. The anthers are borne at two levels in the short tube. One of the most conspicuous features of the genus is the sharp, in bent 'knee' which almost closes the mouth of the tube, giving it its characteristically blind or closed look. Flowering time is from October until February. The fruit is a capsule with tiny black seeds. When ripe, the top half of the capsule falls off neatly, and the seeds scatter when the pedicel (stalk) is moved by wind or animals.
Vegetative reproduction is by underground stolons.
Hilliard & Burtt (1978) recognized three distinct varieties in this species based on flower colour and geographical and ecological distribution: var. baurii flowers are usually deep red, growing in moist places such as shaded cliff faces;
var. platypetala flowers are usually white, growing in dry, shallow, stony soils over rock sheets;
var. confecta flowers are pink, white and red, the colour changing with age, growing on moist, grass slopes.
Hybridization between species and varieties of Rhodohypoxis, and also between Rhodohypoxis and the white form of Hypoxis parvula has been observed in nature.
This species is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
Rhodohypoxis baurii is found between Umtata in the Eastern Cape and Barberton in Mpumalanga, above altitudes of about 1 100 m, with its main centre of distribution in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg. As this is a high altitude, summer rainfall region, the plants are exposed to dry, cold winters. They are usually found in moist, rocky habitats.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Specimens collected by the Rev. Leopold Baur on Mt Baziya in the Eastern Cape, were sent via Prof. MacOwan to Kew, where it was described by Baker in 1876 as Hypoxis baurii. In 1946 the genus Rhodohypoxis was established by G. Nel on the basis of its pink and white flowers and anthers borne at two levels.
The genus name is derived from the Greek rhodon, meaning rose or red; hypo, meaning below; and oxy, meaning pointed; the species is named after Rev. Leopold Baur, a pharmacist, missionary and plant collector who came to the Cape in the 1800s, and first collected the species. The variety confecta is named after the resemblance of sheets of this multi-coloured form to scattered confetti (Hilliard & Burtt 1978), and var. platypetala means having broad, flat petals.
Rhodohypoxis is a small genus with six species, all endemic to the higher altitude regions of eastern South Africa. It is in the same family as the southern African genera Empodium, Hypoxis, Pauridia, Saniella and Spiloxene.
Very little appears to be known of the ecology of Rhodohypoxis baurii.
Uses and cultural aspects
Rhodohypoxis baurii is a popular container plant in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand where it is valued for its bright, star-shaped flowers, small size and its ability to completely fill the space in which it is growing. It is an ideal plant for small decorative pots and window boxes and is a very useful plant to display in conjunction with bonsai.
There are many named cultivars available from commercial nurseries in the northern hemisphere though sadly not here in South Africa.
Graham Duncan (2003) recounts the story of a parcel of dry turfy material arriving at Mrs Garnett-Botfield's home in England. In the first year a single red-flowered plant of Rhodohypoxis flowered, and the following year a white-flowered plant appeared. Amazingly, many of the R. baurii cultivars presently popular in horticulture originated from these two plants.
None of the Rhodohypoxis species appear to be used in traditional medicine, although members of the genus Hypoxis are widely used to treat many ailments.
Growing Rhodohypoxis baurii
These plants are best grown in shallow containers in a well-drained, acidic soil mixture with a high organic content. It is important that the mixture retains moisture but does not become waterlogged. A mixture of finely milled, composted bark, leaf mould and sharp sand in a ratio of 1:1:1 is a good starting point but should be adjusted to suit the grower's particular growing conditions.
Rhodohypoxis is easily propagated from seed as well as from the prolific offshoots which develop during the growing season.
The seed should be sown in pots or trays containing a fine, free-draining mixture and kept moist until the seedlings appear. The young plants can be pricked out into permanent containers but it is a tedious task and the seedlings will be quite happy in the seedling trays until the rhizomes develop and the plants are more easily handled.
Division of the mature plants is done in late winter.. Plant the small rhizomes vertically and close together about 2.5 mm below the surface of the mixture in early spring and water well. The short, grass-like leaves will appear within two weeks, soon followed by the first flowers. For the duration of the growing season, spring and summer, the plants must not be allowed to dry out. The containers should be kept in a position which receives full sun in the mornings and bright shade in the afternoons. When the flowering period is over, stop watering the containers and keep them in a cool dry place. It is best to allow the plants to grow undisturbed for two to three seasons, after which they should be divided and repotted into fresh soil.
Regular feeding with a liquid plant food should be done regularly during the growing season. These rewarding little plants do not seem to be prone to insect attack but it is worth keeping an eye open for slugs and snails.
References and further reading
- Duncan, G.D. 1989. Rhodohypoxis. In N.M. Du Plessis & G.D. Duncan, Bulbous plants of southern Africa : 64, 65. Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Duncan, G.D. 2003. Rhodohypoxis : carpets of Alpine jewels. Veld & Flora 89: 140-144.
- Hilliard, O.M. & Burtt, B.L. 1978. Notes on some plants from southern Africa chiefly from Natal : VII. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh 36: 43-76.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wildflowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
Brian Tarr & Isabel Johnson
KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden