Watsonia mtamvunae


Family : Iridaceae
Common names : none recorded

Flowers Photo Tony Abbott

Copyright: Tony Abbott

Watsonia mtamvunae is a rare species that occurs as single or scattered individuals within a specialized habitat, and is known from three to six subpopulations.

Plants 3060 cm high. Corm ball-shaped 1216 mm in diameter, tunics grey-brown, forming a fine network or lattice, inner layer membranous and unbroken. Leaves (3)4 or 5, sometimes dry and broken at flowering time.

Stem unbranched, bearing 24 sheathing bract leaves, not overlapping.

Spike 212(14)-flowered; outer bract 1216(25) mm long, inner bract shorter than outer bract and concealed, deeply forked apically. Flowers small, about 12, bilaterally symmetrical, pale pink; perianth tube with the lower part 1012 mm long and about 1,5 mm wide; upper part horizontal and flared, 79 mm long, widening to about 6 mm at the mouth; tepals ball-shaped, 1416 mm long, to 7 mm wide, curving outwards. Filaments about 710 mm long, anthers pale yellow, about 7 mm long. Ovary oblong, about 3 mm long; style dividing towards the tips of the anthers, arching over the filaments, branches 34 mm long. Flowering period: August to early October.
Capsules 79 mm long; seeds angular-elongate, 33,5 mm long, 1,3 mm at the widest.

Watsonia mtamvunae is closely related to the W. densiflora complex of species from which it stands out in the few-flowered spike of small flowers, the short, non-imbricate (imbricate = overlapping like tiles) to weakly imbricate bracts, short stature and linear leaves.

Conservation status
Watsonia mtamvunae is listed as Vulnerable in the 2009 Red List. This species is known from within the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve, but quite likely occurred at least within the immediate surrounding area in the past, which is now extensively transformed by agriculture and timber plantations. Although the population is protected from further habitat destruction, a potential threat stems from excessive water extraction by gum plantations outside the reserve boundaries negatively affecting its moist seepage habitats (Raymondo & Von Staden 2008).

Distribution and habitat
This species is restricted to coastal southern KwaZulu-Natal and adjacent Eastern Cape (in the area formerly referred to as Transkei) where it occurs on the plateau and slopes surrounding the Umtamvuna River Gorge. It grows well on grassy, stony slopes and in damp soil. Watsonia mtamvunae is fairly common at some sites in the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve and flowers profusely in some years, particularly after veld fires.

Habitat: Photo Tony Abbott
Copyright: Tony Abbott

 Derivation of name and historical aspects
Watsonia mtamvunae was named for the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve in southern coastal KwaZulu-Natal where it is endemic. The first collection of the species was apparently made by the KwaZulu-Natal botanist Olive M. Hilliard in 1963, and it has since been re-collected in the same area several times. The genus has 52 species endemic to South Africa and 1 endemic to Madagascar.

Watsonia mtamvunae grows in Pondoland coastal grassland or marshes on Msikaba Formation Sandstone. Like other species in the section Gladioloides, W. mtamvunae is adapted for bird pollination in that the deeply forked and curved style exceeds the anthers and is in contact with the pollen.Like other species in the section Gladioloides, W. mtamvunae is adapted for bird pollination. In that the deeply forked and curved style exceeds the anthers and is in contact with the pollen.

The use of Watsonia mtamvunae for medicinal purposes has not been recorded, but other species of Watsonia are popular for a variety of medicinal uses.

Growing Watsonia mtamvunae

When planting Watsonia species it is important to take into consideration the general climatic requirements of the plants, particularly whether the species is from the winter- or the summer-rainfall area. Watsonia mtamvunae, a summer-rainfall species, should be planted in March or April.

Watsonia species are mostly very easy to grow and to maintain in gardens. Furthermore, they make strikingly beautiful pot plants so that the effort to obtain plants is well worth the trouble. Potted plants should be kept dry during the dormant period and baking in the sun for a few weeks is a good way to ripen the corms so that flowering during the next season is good. Watsonia species do not need much fertilizer. A teaspoonful of slow-release balanced bulb fertilizer per plant pot is enough for a growing season.

W. mtamvunae can be propagated by seeds. Seeds germinate quickly, but plants do not flower until the second year at the earliest and sometimes not until the third. This species blooms well after fires.

References and further reading

  • Goldblatt, P. 1989. The genus Watsonia: A systematic monograph. Annals of Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens 19.
  • Pooley, E. 2005. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region, edn 2. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Raimondo, D. & Von Staden, L. 2008. Watsonia mtamvunae Goldblatt. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants

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Nomvume Petela

Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) Programme: KZN node (Intern)

September 2012








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This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.