Xerophyta retinervis is a deciduous perennial up to 2 metres tall with stout, erect stems, densely covered in persistent, fibrous leaf bases, often charred and blackened by veldfires. Fragrant flowers appear after fire or rain, and are blue or mauve, or rarely white. The small capsules are covered in rough hairs and are loculicidally dehiscent, releasing numerous small, black angled seeds about 2 mm long. The species is tolerant of extreme conditions such as drought, fire, and low temperatures. The old leaf bases are arranged so that rainwater is funnelled down and to the core, where it is absorbed by densely packed roots that run the entire length of the stem. Strap-shaped leaves occur in tufts along stems.
The species is widespread throughout seasonally high rainfall regions, occurring in grasslands on rocky outcrops, and sheetrock with a covering of shallow soil. It may be found through KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Limpopo, North West Province, Botswana and Swaziland.
There are some 50 species in this genus, nine occurring in South Africa. The generic name is from the Greek 'xeros' = 'arid', and 'phytos' = 'plant' an allusion to its being drought-tolerant, while the specific name is Latin for 'vein network'. Plants collected by Burke & Zeyher in the Magaliesberg were described by Baker in 1875. Synonyms have included Barbacenia retinervis (Baker) Burtt Davy, Hypoxis vellosioides Harv. ex Baker, Vellozia clavata (Baker) Baker Vellozia retinervis (Baker) Baker and Xerophyta clavata Baker.
Tips on starting this plant from seed
First, get the following: plastic container with a lid (round type about 8” across with a lid, the type that cookies come in from the super market), soil (I did half cacti soil and half playbox sand), some rocks if you like, bottled water, and lastly your seeds.
- Clean and sterilize everything. This means remove labels from the plastic container and wash with antibacterial soap, rinse set aside to dry. Bake as much soil as you think you’ll need for the project. Bake at 350F for 45minutes. I usually add 1 1/2 cups of water and cover with foil. Don’t want the soil bone dry. Rocks, mine were collected from the yard, boil in water for 15 minutes. All the above is designed to kill anything living in the soil, water or attached to the plastic container or rocks. The goal is to create an enclosed greenhouse free from any living matter except the seeds.
- Once all the above is done, close any windows in your workspace, wash and scrub your hands and set up all your materials.
- Take your container and place your rocks in and then the soil. You don’t need much for these guys, about .5” or so. I suggest arranging the rocks in such a way that they create a crevice or crack arrangement for the seedlings to grow into.
- Surface sew your seeds on top of the soil in between the cracks. The seeds are extremely small and hard to manage. I suggest putting a little sand in the bag that they came in to break up the static cling to aid in spreading them. Cover with a thin layer of coarse sand, about 1/16” or so.
- Soil some of the bottled water and after cooling place into a sterilized spray bottle. Water in the seeds with continuous misting until you see the slightest of puddling on the surface of the soil.
- Place seeds on a north facing window. The following day come back and evaluate the water level, you still want a little puddling on the surface. If there is none, mist again until you get the desired puddling and then cover.
Leave the container sitting on the north facing window for several months. Resist the urge to open the container or water the soil. If you see condensation on the walls or roof of the container, then there is adequate moisture in the container.
Good seeds can sprout in 45-60 days. Some can take as long as 6 months. Be patient, get a magnifying glass and really look. If your lucky you will see small seedlings with about four leaflets each, a little bigger than a coarse piece of sand. They are very easy to miss and overlook. Reported growth rates are at 5mm in the wild. I have experienced growth rates as much as .5” in a year. A rarely cultivated species that will reward the patient grower.
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