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Accepted Scientific Name: Drimia altissima (L.f.) Ker Gawl.
Bot. Mag. 27: t. 1074 (1808)
Origin and Habitat: Drimia altissima is widely distributed in tropical and southern Africa, from Senegal via East Africa ( Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti) to the South Africa comprising Namibia, and Botswana. It is reported in Uganda (W. Nile District, Karamoja District, Teso District), Kenia, and Tanzania (Mwanza District, Mbeya District, Arusha District)
Altitude range: 0–2100 metres above sea level.
Habitat and ecology: This species is very common in savanna, open woodland and scrub, forest clearings and along roadsides. It often grows in uniform populations.
Drimia altissima (L.f.) Ker Gawl.
Bot. Mag. 27: t. 1074 (1808)
- Drimia altissima (L.f.) Ker Gawl.
- Idothea altissima (L.f.) Kuntze
- Ornithogalum altissimum L.f.
- Urginavia altissima (L.f.) Speta
- Urginea altissima (L.f.) Baker
- Drimia barteri Baker
- Idothea barteri (Baker) Kuntze
- Drimia paolii Chiov.
- Drimia uitenhagensis Eckl.
- Urginea brevipes Baker
- Urginea epigea R.A.Dyer
- Urginavia epigea (R.A.Dyer) Speta
- Urginea gigantea (Jacq.) Oyewole
- Ornithogalum giganteum Jacq.
- Urginea micrantha (A.Rich.) Solms
Description: Drimia altissima (L.f.) Ker-Gawl. (= Urginea altissima, Scilla altissima, Idothea altissima, Ornithogalum altissimum) is a perennial bulbous plant producing a tall flowering stem followed by a rosette of leaves about 20-50 cm long. As the species name implies, this is one of the tallest among all African geophytes. The plants are often found in colonies and the large bulbs lie just below the surface of the soil. In this species, the flowering stem is exceptionally long, reaching 2 m and usually flowering before the leaves. The white flowers have a green streak down the middle of each petal and the subtended spurred bracts are clearly visible in young flowers. The species is variable, at least three forms occuring in W. Africa: large, medium and small sized plants.
Derivation of specific name: Latin altissima: very tall.
Bulb: Very large, globose to pear shaped and ca.8-12(-15) cm in diameter, often half above ground, with tough, white, overlapping fleshy scales and a brown outer tunic of dead scales.
Leaves: Lanceolate, light green, glabrous, (20-)30-45(-50) cm long, (2-)5-7.5 cm broad.
Inflorescence: The inflorescence is a more or less dense, cylindrical, raceme 60-90 cm long, 3-4.5 cm in diameter with up to 700 flowers. Scape erect, usually tall and robust, sometimes 0.9-1,2 m long, up to 1 cm. in diameter light glaucous green. Pedicels spreading or patent, (8-)12-25(-30) mm long. Bracts small, lanceolate, bent up to 14 mm long and obscurely spurred below the middle ( spur up to 3 mm long). Like Drimia sanguinea the inflorescences appear before the leaves.
Flowers: Perianth campanulate, 18 mm long; segments (tepals) free or united for up to 2 mm, oblanceolate-oblong, 5–12 mm long, white or greenish white, with a a green or dull purple-brown keel outside, spreading. Stamens shorter than the perianth. Filaments linear to very narrowly triangular, free or basally united to tepals slightly flattened, free part 4-7 mm. Anthers oblong, 2 mm long; style 4 mm long. Ovary ovoid, 2–5 mm long; style about as long as ovary. Flowers opening in the morning, usually closing by midday.
Fruits (capsules): Three chambered, globose or subglobose, obtusely trigonous, sometimes with an emarginate apex, 8–15 mm long, 9-15 mm. in diameter. Young fruits green.
Seeds: Semicircular 5–8 mm long glossy, black, flattened and winged. Seeds then ripen during the early part of the rainy season.
Chromosome number: 2n = 20.
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) J. G. Baker “Flora Capensis” 1897
2) T. S. Kellerman, J. A. W. Coetzer “Plant poisonings and mycotoxicoses of livestock in southern Africa” Oxford University Press, 31 August 2005
3) Maurice M. Iwu “Handbook of African Medicinal Plants, Second Edition” CRC Press, 04 February 2014
4) Kirby, G. “Wild Flowers of Southeast Botswana” Struik Nature, Cape Town South Africa Page 85. (Includes a picture). 2013
5) Umberto Quattrocchi “CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology” (5 Volume Set) CRC Press, 03 May 2012
6) Pickering, H. & Roe, E. “Wild Flowers of the Victoria Falls Area” Helen Pickering, London Page 65. (Includes a picture). 2009
7) Hyde, M.A., Wursten, B.T., Ballings, P. & Coates Palgrave, M. (2015). "Flora of Zimbabwe: Species information: Drimia altissima."
http://www.zimbabweflora.co.zw/speciesdata/species.php?species_id=114260, retrieved 19 August 2015
8) Shone, D.K. & Drummond, R.B. “Poisonous Plants of Rhodesia” Ministry of Agriculture, Rhodesia Pages 30 - 31. as Urginea altissima (Includes a picture). 1965
9) M. Thulin “Flora Somalia”, Vol 4, 1995 [updated by M. Thulin 2008]
10) Brita Stedje, Ph.D. “Flora of Tropical East Africa” 1996
11) Baumann, G. “Photographic Guide to Wildflowers of Malawi” Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi Pages 196 - 197. as Urginea altissima (Includes a picture). 2005
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