Orthanthera jasminiflora (Decne.) Schinz
Common names: jasmine creeper, star jasmine (Eng.); sandmelktou, sandmelk, moerwortel, moerworteltjie (Afr.); rapologwane (Setswana); kamongamba (Hmbukushu); mosamo womosana (Subiya); oruzenga (Ovambenderu); manXatura (Shiyeyi); ekoka, omakoda, eschilulua, engodyo (Kwanyama Ovambo)
The relatively unknown small genus, Orthanthera consists of six species: five in Africa and one from India, Pakistan and Nepal. It is unknown whether plants are cultivated, but because of their adaption to grow in harsh environments, they may contain genes that may be a useful trait in acidification because of global warming.
Fig. 1. Orthanthera jasminiflora (Photo iNaturalist)
Perennial shrub (that dies back annually and re-sprouts from a deep-seated rootstock) and prostrate creeper. The stems are up to 10 m long, flat on the ground, and are extensively spreading and sparsely branched. Leaves are in opposite pairs, egg-shaped, lance-shaped or linear, 20–60 × 3–25 mm, rough-textured, pubescent; petioles 2–15 mm long.
Fig. 2. Orthanthera jasminiflora. A, stems extensively spreading, sparsely branched. B, opposite leaves. (Photos iNaturalist)
The inflorescences are sessile or with a short peduncle and fascicled, pubescent; peduncles 8–40 mm long. Flowers are campanulate, greenish, white or cream-coloured. The corolla tube is cylindrical, 5–18 mm long, swollen at base; lobes ovate to lanceolate, 2–12 mm long but shorter than the tube, widely spreading; throat of the tube hairy. Plants flower almost all year round, peaking in spring and summer (Sep.–Apr.) The fruit is a solitary follicle, fusiform, 50–100 × 10–25 mm, tapering into a long beak.
Fig. 3 Orthanthera jasminiflora. A & B, umbellate inflorescence. C, flower. (Photos iNaturalist)
The sandmelktou is widespread and relatively common and because of its current stable populations, received an assessment status as Least Concern (LC) in the SA National Red List (Von Staden, 2020).
Fig. 4. Orthanthera jasminiflora. A & B, fruit a solitary follicle by abortion of the other. (Photos iNaturalist)
Distribution and habitat
This species is not endemic to South Africa where it occurs in the following Provinces: Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and North West. This species is widespread across the central and northern arid areas of South Africa, extending to Botswana, central to northern Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
It is a terrestrial plant that occurs in many vegetation types and grows generally in sandy grassland and savanna or dry deciduous woodland, between 800–1 500 m.a.s.l. It is especially common in disturbed places. The distribution is mostly either in habitats of extreme aridity or very low winter temperatures, to which the species has become morphologically adapted.
Fig. 5. Distribution of Orthanthera jasminiflora in the Flora of southern Africa (FSA) region based on specimens at the National Herbarium (PRE).
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Orthanthera is derived from 2 Greek words that mean ‘straight’ or ‘erect’ (ortho) and ‘anthers’ (anthera), in reference to the growth form of the first described species in the genus (Orthanthera albida). The specific epithet jasminiflora refers to the jasmine-like flowers.
Fig. 6. Orthanthera albida. A, habit, erect shrub; B, shrub in close-up; C, stem with inflorescence; D, flower; E, fruit a follicle. (Photos iNaturlist)
Wight described the first species in 1834 from material of an Indian species. The African species of Orthanthera were only described from 1888 onwards (O. jasminiflora in 1895). In southern Africa, the other 3 regional species are Orthanthera albida that is distributed in desert areas along the Orange River in South Africa and along the western parts of Namibia in the Namib Desert and O. gossweileri and O. stricta from Angola.
Fig. 7. Orthanthera gossweileri. (Photo iNaturalist).
Flowers open at sunset or on overcast days and are highly perfumed. The scented, white to cream-coloured flowers that open at low light intensity and with long tubes, indicate a pollination syndrome by long-tongued moths.
Plants of the genus are highly adapted to dry, harsh environments. In O. albida the stems are whitish grey, and the leaves reduced to limit water loss through transpiration. In O. jasminiflora the leaves are leathery and shiny on the upper sides, which also limits water loss.
The seeds are wind dispersed. The fruits, called follicles because they split only along one suture, split open to release the seeds, which are attached to a coma of hairs. As these hairs dry out, spreading in all directions, it forms a ‘parachute’ that makes the seed airborne and the slightest breeze can carry them away.
Observations indicate that elephants and ostriches relish the roots.
Fig. 8. Orthanthera jasminiflora, stem, leaves and flowers, note the hairiness on these parts (Photo iNaturalist)
The flowers are sweetly scented and in the Kalahari, homemade pot-pourri is made from them. The boiled young fruits are eaten here as a vegetable and the rootstock is used in the brewing of beer.
In Botswana, members of the Hmbukushu eat the young fruit and leaves as a leafy vegetable (morogo) with their staple (maize), or the peeled young fruit are eaten raw.
The boiled root, is used as medicine by drinking the watery decoction to relieve backache. Ovambo women tie the stems around their waists like belts to prevent backache when hoeing their lands. The Ovambo also use an infusion of boiled leaves, by cooling it down, and pouring it in a person’s ear for relief of earache.
The Wayeyi women wean breast-feeding children by using the bitter sap of the roots, and they believe that eating the fruit will enhance their bust size. In the past Ovambo people planted ekoka near their kraals as a good luck charm. Modern day Ovambo people still use it as a good luck charm by laying it out to walk on, or to bless a new shop for example, by throwing branches on the roof.
Sap of the roots is smeared on the teeth of unwilling hunting dogs to make them aggressive in order to enhance their hunting capabilities.
Wood bundles are tied with the young stems of the star jasmine as ‘rope’ for easier transport. Children blow the ripe seeds in the air as entertainment.
Growing Orthanthera jasminiflora
No literature indicating the horticultural use of this species or evidence that it is available at nurseries could be traced. However, a few websites indicating the sale of seeds of Orthanthera jasminiflora were found. In general, seed of members of the Apocynaceae family need to be fresh for best results when sowing and growing from seed.
- Bester, S.P., Retief, E. & Meyer, N.L. 2017. Orthanthera. In E. Retief & N.L. Meyer, Plants of the Free State inventory and identification guide. Strelitzia 38: 1–1236. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Brown, N.E. 1909. Asclepiadeae. In W.T. Thiselton-Dyer, Flora capensis IV Section I (Vacciniaceae to Gentianeae): 518–1036. Lovell Reeve, London.
- Bruyns, P.V. 2014. The Apocynaceae of Namibia. Strelitzia 34. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Craven, P. & Marais, C. 1986. Namib Flora: Swakopmund to the giant welwitschia via Goanikontes. Gamsberg, Windhoek.
- Figueiredo, E. & Smith, G.F. 2008. Plants of Angola. Strelitzia 22. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds) 2003. Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Heath, A. & Heath R. 2010.Field guide to the plants of the northern Botswana and the Okavano Delta. Kew Publishing, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
- Hyde, M.A., Wursten, B.T., Ballings, P. & Coates Palgrave, M. 2020. Flora of Zimbabwe: species information: Orthanthera jasminiflora. https://www.zimbabweflora.co.zw/speciesdata/species.php?species_id=146120, retrieved 31 October 2020.
- Hyde, M.A., Wursten, B.T., Ballings, P. & Coates Palgrave, M. 2020. Flora of Botswana: Species information: Orthanthera jasminiflora https://www.botswanaflora.com/speciesdata/species.php?species_id=146120, retrieved 31 October 2020.
- iNaturalist, Photos of Orthanthera jasminiflora. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/513962-Orthanthera-jasminiflora/browse_photos
- Retief, E. & Herman, P.P.J. 1997. Plants of the northern provinces of South Africa: keys and diagnostic characters. Strelitzia 6. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Rodin, R.J. 1985. The ethnobotany of the Kwanyama Ovambos. Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 9: 132, 133.
- Van Rooyen, N. 2001. Flowering plants of the Kalahari dunes. Ekotrust cc / Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Von Staden, L. 2020. Orthanthera jasminiflora (Decne.) Schinz. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2020/10/31.
Stoffel Petrus Bester
National Herbarium (PRE)
Acknowledgements: images from iNaturalist.
Plant Type: Climber, Ground Cover, Shrub
SA Distribution: Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, North West, Northern Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer
Flower colour: Green, White, Cream
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Challenging