The ‘black orchid’ – seen 23 months after the fire

A search party by Botsoc members on 21st November, was finally rewarded with the find of the cryptic little orchid Acrolophia ustulata on the mountain summit above Voelklip.

The ‘orchid group’ have been pursuing this elusive orchid since the fire of December 2012. Peak flowering occurs in the second year after fire so the time was right to explore!

After climbing the testing zig-zag path behind Voelklip we walked down from the jeep track to the lower rocky outcrop between Mt. Cyclopia and De Mond se Kop. The views over Voelklip and out to Walker Bay were glorious, but we had to remind ourselves to keep our eyes at ground level.

We were overjoyed when Christine Wakfer spotted the orchid’s tiny black flowers amongst the rocks and sparse vegetation – her walking stick marks the spot!  After a lengthy search we found 9 more plants, all black flowered, and with an average height of 6cm.

This orchid comes in 2 colour forms – dark maroon (black) and greenish yellow. The yellow form is more rare and usually comprises only 12% of populations. The orchid is listed as Vulnerable in the Red List of South African Plants.

It appears to be highly sensitive to fire intensity and has been lost from a number of known sites.

As far as we can ascertain, this new population is the first record of the orchid in the eastern part of Fernkloof Nature Reserve.

Acrolophia ustulata was first recorded in the Fernkloof in 1986 at sites below Galpin Peak, The Summit and Olifantsberg.

The photo of the yellow form was taken the day before on a hike in Vogelgat.

Field Notes in the Fernkloof Herbarium; Priscilla Drewe

The Cape Orchids; W. Liltved and Steven Johnson

Red List of South African Plants, SANBI.

Article by Sandy Jenkin;  Photos by Christine Wakfer

About roncorylus

He who wants the kernel must crack the nut
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