Dermatobotrys saundersii Bolus ex Oliv.
Common names: tree jockey
Dermatobotrys saundersii is unusual in that it is an epiphytic shrublet, which grows in the forks of a variety of trees, and occasionally on the forest floor.
It can reach one metre in height. The leaves are soft and fleshy with shallow toothed margins and reddish veins. Under natural conditions the plant is deciduous, losing its leaves in late autumn. The tubular deep red flowers appear from mid-winter to mid-summer (June to December), followed by smooth oval brownish fruit filled with numerous small seeds in a sweetish pulp.
Although it is regarded as not threatened, and assessed as Least Concern (LC) on the Red List of South African plants, this is a rare species with a high habitat specificity.
Distribution and habitat
This plant is found in coastal scarp forests from southern Zululand to the Transkei and in Madagascar.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Dermatobotrysis derived from the Latin derma meaning 'skin', and botrys meaning 'bunch of grapes'. Although the plant was first collected by W.T.Gerrard in the mid-19th century, the specific name comes from Sir Charles James Renault Saunders who collected the plant in Zululand, as Harry Bolus, who described the plant, was apparently unaware of the earlier collections.
The genus Dermatobotrys has only one species. Seeds sent to Kew in the 1890s germinated well and plants have been grown in cultivation ever since.
It is likely that this plant with its red tubular flowers is pollinated by sunbirds. The fruit has a most unusual scent, which may attract fruit eating birds and small arboreal mammals, which eat the fruit and distribute the seed.
Growing Dermatobotrys saundersii
These attractive plants are easily grown from seed or cuttings and make very good container plant subjects. They should be grown in well-drained humus rich soil and in partial shade. It is important to not over-water. The plant will thrive in the same container for several years if fed monthly during the growing season.
This unusual plant is well worth growing as a container plant, or planted in the forks of tall trees where humus has collected.
- Beckett, K. 1993. Trumpets in winter. The Garden. RHS.118(10): 474-475
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to the wildflowers of Kwazulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Trust.
- Scott-Shaw, R. 1999. Rare and threatened plants of KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring regions. KwaZulu Natal Conservation Service.
KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Epiphyte
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Winter
Flower colour: Red
Aspect: Full Sun, Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Average