white; December - March; summer; autumn
damp shade; green walls; walls; rockery
cliffs; woodland forest; wetland ponds; grassland
subtropical east coast; highveld;
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Xerophyta elegans is a most attractive perennial mixing strong, leather-like leaves and dainty wand-like flowers. Better known as Talbotia elegans (now considered a synonym of Xerophyta elegans and without a common name), this elegant clumping herb is a niche specialist thriving in the shade amongst rocks and clinging to cliff faces. In the wild plants grow close to water, at the edge of streams and hanging off shaded waterfalls. Mature plants form rosettes of stiff leaves, each leaf up to 25 cm long tapering to a sharp point, and arching gently downwards, and with a pronounced mid-rib. Plants form a spreading clump in ideal conditions, plants increasing via stem creep. Satin-white star-shaped flowers, 20 – 35 cm wide, with long yellow stamens, droop from the tips of extremely slender stems up to 140 mm above the leaf mass. Flowers are on show usually from December to March, but the plants illustrated here had already opened beneath the thorn tree canopies in early November. Black seeds form within the hard, dry capsules, carrying small hooks than enable animal dispersal. In his informative book, Growing Rare Plants: A practical handbook on propagating the threatened plants of southern Africa – SANBI 2005, Geoff Nichols writes: ‘This species grows easily from cuttings or stems that are cut off and inserted into sharp river sand and makes excellent container plants. However, it needs a resting period during the dry winter months.’ From the family VELLOZIACEAE: Flowers of this family are bisexual Xeros: meaning dry Phytos: meaning plant, and refers to the ability of the genus to withstand desiccation (drying out) Elegans: elegant ‘resurrection’ plants, are extremely desiccation-tolerant and are capable of losing more than 90% of the cellular water in vegetative tissues. Resurrection plants can remain dried in an anabiotic state for several years; when rehydrated they can resume normal growth and metabolism within 24 h. Provincial distribution KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga Range Widespread across eastern South Africa from Mariepskop to the southern KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg foothills.