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I'm Principal Scientist for Botany at the RHS and work on the correct naming of plants and manage the RHS Herbarium. I am part of an expedition to South Africa this January to study Kniphofia and their natural hybrids.

Hogsback in flower

Posted by Chris Whitehouse on 29 Jan 2012 at 12:59 PM

If yesterday was a disappointing day, today could hardly have gone better.  But it would unlikely to have been so without the helpful assistance of Monique, the manager of the King's Lodge at Hogsback.  I have received a lot of assistance in planning my route from a variety of experts, but there is nothing like local knowledge and upon my arrival Monique went out of her way to contact those people who knew the plants and how to get there.  As a result, by 9.30 this morning I had found three different species of Kniphofia and they were all flowering (K. linearifolia, K. triangularis and K. parviflora).

This included the rare brown-flowered form of the unusual K. parviflora.  It is the only species that has nodding flowerheads like this, and although the flowers are normally yellow to white, the brownish red flowers of this form make it even less red hot poker like.

All these species were on the grasslands above Hogsback, but for the next two species on my list, I had to climb the imposing peak of Gaika's Kop (1963m).  This is not a peak that visitors to Hogsback normally climb and there is no official path, but thanks to Monique's contacts I had been directed to the right place to start.  It was a stiff climb - it is some years since I have tackled anything so strenuous. Fortunately, halfway up I came across the magnificent K. northiae, which provided a useful excuse for a rest.  This is the king of the pokers when it comes to foliage, with broad arching leaves it looks more like an aloe.  The flowers had finished some time ago, but as the main attraction of this species is the leaves, I did not feel cheated.


The other species on Gaika's Kop is K. citrina.  I saw several rosettes of the leaves but no flowers, until I reached the very top and there were three flowering plants in the damp seepage area. It is like a small K. uvaria, with shorter arching leaves, but the colours were also much bolder than yesterday's washouts.



Plant of the day: this was a very hard choice today, as the grasslands of Hogsback and Gaika's Kop were full of beautiful flowers, many of them familiar garden plants such as Agapanthus praecox, Dierama pulcherrimum and Berkheya purpurea, but I think it has to go to another popular garden plant, Eucomis autumnalis. With its little top-knot of bracts above the inflorescence, it gets its common name of pineapple lily.  It is an odd looking plant in the garden, it looked even more bizarre growing out on the hillside of Gaika's Kop.


Bird of the day: the Black Eagle is an instantly recognisable bird of prey in flight on account of its distinctive wing shape.  It soars around the mountains of South Africa in search of dassies.  There were three of these magnificent birds circling around Gaika's Kop as I neared the top.


Botany said:

Safely back home, it is now time to assess the expedition and write up the reports. A first assessment

on 19 Feb 2012 at 09:08 AM

Botany said:

This page is to act as a summary of my expedition to find Kniphofia , red hot pokers, with links through

on 24 Feb 2012 at 03:29 PM