Two splashes of red in close proximity to each other on a recent coastal walk turned out to be two magnificent parasitic plant species, both with red flowers.
Cytinus sanguineus is known as the aardroos (earth or ground rose), a very apt name for this beautiful bright red cupped flowering plant. It is dioecious meaning that the male and females are separate plants and is mostly parasitic on shrubby Asteraceae (daisy family).
It is pollinated by sunbirds which is quite unexpected given the location of the flowers at ground level and the absence of perches. Sunbirds generally do not like foraging on the ground. The birds transfer pollen on their beaks while drinking the nectar from the flowers. It flowers from July to December and is found in sandy soils from Namaqualand and the western Karoo to Mossel Bay.
The second parasitic plant was Hyobanche sanguinea which is also a root parasite with scale-like leaves. It has hooded crimson-red or pink, flowers which are very hairy. It flowers in spring and is widespread, growing from southern Namibia to Swaziland. Its common name the ‘Cat’s Claw’ refers to when its in full flower and the white stigmas curve out of the corolla tube looking somewhat like the claws of a cat. Another common name is ink flower. During colonial times, the flowers were dried and crushed to form a black powder which was then diluted to be used as ink.
Haemanthus sanguineus is a holoparasite meaning that it does not photosynthesise for food. Instead it attaches itself to the roots of other plants to draw water and nutrients from its hosts. In our area it appears to mostly parasitize Leucandron’s (cone bushes) and other members of the Protea family.