Moth-fruit

Acridocarpus natalitius; Moth-fruit; Motvrug (Afrikaans); umabopha, umapophe or umabophe (Zulu)

 

This creeper or scandent shrub occurs from the Eastern Cape all the way along the KwaZulu-Natal coast and escarpment into Mpumalanga, Swaziland and up into Mozambique. Further north a similar species Acridocarpus zanzibaricus fills the same niche along the East African coast.

This plant is found in dune and escarpment forests, as well as bush edges on cliffs and rocky outcrops. Being a creeper, it grows towards the light. I first found this plant by seeing the bright yellow flowers on the top of a forest tree, from the other side of a ravine. There are two leaf forms of this species - the coastal forest form has broad leaves, and the form that occurs in northern KwaZulu-Natal has narrow leaves.

It has become quite sought after in the local gardening trade because the yellow flowers jump out from the pages of the various plant field guides and humans, like other animals, are attracted to bright colours – a bit like moths to a candle, which brings me to the common name of Moth-fruit. The early botanists that first described this genus of Acridocarpus had it right - they likened the winged fruits to the pinkish wings of locusts or grasshoppers. The stiff wings are for me, far more reminiscent of locust wings than those of moths.

The bad news for gardeners is that these plants are not that easily obtained in the nursery industry, mainly because the plants are difficult to find in the wild and finding seed of this species is also tricky in that the seed is often parasitized by beetles on the plant before you can even pick the fruit. I have grown the plant from cuttings but these take a while to root and this then also slows the delivery.

The interesting thing is that are a number of butterflies, known as Policemen, that lay their eggs on this plant so that their caterpillars can feed on the leaves and flowers of the Moth-fruit. The caterpillars are really attractive, with their stripes and different coloured segments contrasting with the bright yellow flowers on which they feed. Like us, these caterpillars prefer to eat the soft, younger leaves of their food. These caterpillars will pupate by sewing the leaves of the host plant together to hide themselves in the pupal stage while they wait for the right time to emerge as flying adults in the next season.

 

 


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