National Geographic : 1947 Jul
A "Jolly Botanical Band" from Africa WHEN the plant explorer sets down a rec ord of his travels, he is fortunate to have some well-known personage to write a really appropriate Foreword. Consequently, when John Hutchinson, that distinguished stu dent of African plants, now Keeper of Mu seums of Botany, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England, was writing an account of various of his journeys in Africa-published in 1946 under the title of A Botanist in South ern Africa-he was doubly fortunate in having a friend who had been with him on one of these botanical expeditions who did this pleas ant chore. In the company of soldiers this personage is addressed as "Field Marshal"; around the council table in the deliberations of nations this elder statesman is referred to as "The Right Honorable"; among botanists, who know and respect him as a keen and enthu siastic student of the plants of his homeland, he is called "Doctor." And so I quote from this foreword which Field Marshal the Right Honorable Dr. Jan Christiaan Smuts, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, wrote for Hutchinson's book. In referring to a particular expedition he recounts: "What a jolly botanical band we were! . . . What busy days of collecting, swimming the rivers, climbing the mountains; nights by the veld fire, with the native dances to the beating of Africa drums; sleeping un der the stars . . .; camping by the ruins of Zimbabwe, by the smoke-mist of the Victoria Falls, by the shores of Lake Tanganyika and the banks of the Luanzua torrent rushing headlong into it. What joy to find plants never found before. . . .! It was a thrilling time, and some of us were invited into the mys teries of Africa in an experience which will surely never be forgotten." What a "jolly botanical band" indeed! And how the good Dr. Smuts and his friend Hutchinson are to be envied this exciting trip together, hunting the remarkable plants of Africa. POKER-PLANT (Kniphofia, several spe cies): Of the more than 50 species of this tropical and South African genus available, the large-flowered K. uvaria type and the small-flowered K. foliosa type are most often grown. It is unlikely that these species now are to be found in their original forms in gar dens, for they have been hybridized with others of the genus and show considerable variation. The reddish forms are often called Red-hot-pokers or Torch-flowers. This genus belongs to the Lily Family. GERBERA (Gerbera Jamesonii): Originally with predominantly orange heads, this spec tacular member of the Sunflower Family has been broken up into many different color forms, a few of which are shown toward the left of the picture. CAPE MARIGOLD (Dimorphotheca auran tiaca): Among the 20-odd species in this group of showy South African plants, some are annuals, some perennial herbs, and still others are shrubby. In our northern gardens this popular species comes into flower soon enough that it can be treated as an annual; farther south, where frost does not touch it, some strains persist and become somewhat shrubby. Thought originally to be yellow or orange, the flower heads of this species now exhibit a wide range of color; it seems likely that this is the result of hybridization between it and the much more variably colored D. annua. LOBELIA (Lobelia Erinus): There is scarcely a region in the world where one is not likely to stumble on one or more of the 250 species of Lobelia known to botanists. In color they range from red, orange, and yel lowish to violet, blue, and even white. Our native American Cardinal-Flower (L. cardi nalis) is an example of one of the red ends of this floral spectrum. The smaller, dwarfish species seem to run more to blues than any other color and this South African species (L. Erinus) is no exception. Originally a rather diffuse and untidy plant, numerous low, com pact, and floriferous forms have been selected so that today it is one of our most effective plants for edgings. Varieties of this now may be had in deep or light blue, purplish, rose, crimson, or white. The foliage also ranges from pale to deep green, with some forms bronzy or reddish-tinged. CASTOR-OIL-PLANT (Ricinus communis): There would be no excuse for sneaking this primarily economic plant into our series were it not for the fact that it is also popular as an ornamental object. In rich soil the plants grow rapidly and bring a truly exotic tropical note into. our northern gardens. In the frost free Tropics the plants become treelike, speci mens up to 40 feet high having been recorded. One of these is shown growing beside the com pound wall in its native setting. The stem and leaf vary somewhat in color in the different forms; in Mexico, where the plant is grown commercially, the forms with red-streaked, deeply divided leaves are called "Palma Christi"-Palm of Christ.