Tuesday, 01 July 2014
Indigenous Plant Of The month
Mondia whitei; White's ginger (English); umondi (Zulu)
This is a very robust creeper that lives in the swamp and coastal lowland forests of Eastern Africa, from Zululand up into East and Central Africa.
I first saw this plant in 1974, growing in the garden of the KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium just above the Durban Botanic Gardens. The plant was planted by the late Mr Strey who was the curator of the institution during the 1970s. I encountered the plant again, this time in the wild, in Richard's Bay, Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay. However, it is no longer common in swamp forests due to the fact that it is used medicinally by rural people as a love potion, and the bark of the roots are eaten to calm a unsettled stomach after a big meal - Africa's substitute for a “Rennie's” tablet. The flavour after chewing the root bark is a bit like vanilla but the initial taste is sweetish and only after about a minute or so, the vanilla-like flavour kicks in. It is extinct in swamp forest near Durban due to the over exploitation of the roots.
As a gardener in a hot, humid, sub-tropical climate, this is a really attractive creeper for any pergola where you are able to keep the creeper in trim. Being a creeper, the whole object of this plant's life is to reach for the sunlight. If it is allowed to it will cover many tree canopies in a garden. In the swamp forests, this creeper will festoon the tallest Quinine or Sycamore Fig canopy to be able to present its flowers to the insect pollinators in the sunshine above the canopy.
In cultivation, there are two flower colour forms of this creeper - a more common maroon, and a less common cream. I have never seen the pale, cream-coloured form in the wild. The plant produces a twin-horned follicle or seed capsule that, when ripe, splits open to release the brown seeds. These are attached to fluffy silky threads which act as parachutes to carry the seed away on the wind to settle in a new location to begin another plant.
This creeper will also grow from cuttings taken from the previous year's growth. The stem has to be a bit hard, then the cuttings can be rooted in coarse, sharp river sand and kept damp in the semi-shade.
One lucky reader can win a Mondia whitei donated by Geoff. Send a postcard to: Paper Plume Giveaway: P.O.Box 41120, Rossburgh, 4072 to reach us by 31.07.14 (Please include your phone number).