Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid.
Ansellia africana, the Leopard Orchid, is a fascinating plant. Discovered by Ansell on the Niger River inWest Africa in the nineteenth century the plant is considered by some to be monotypic, a single species with a genus, and others a complex of similar plants. The plant is distributed throughout most of the drier savannah areas of the Continent and is usually seen high up in trees in the sun. It is a rather messy plant, in the wild a mass of roots, old and new canes (pseudobulbs) and old flower stalks are seen alongside the distinctive leaf shape. The plant can get huge, up to an estimated 1000kg and plants in the Ndumo area of Zululand Kzn are known to have Eagle Owls nest in them.
The root system of the plant is very interesting. Roots to attach to plants and feed are present as are the “leaf catcher” roots. These roots grow upward forming a basket which traps plant little, bird matter and other detritus to compost and feed from.
These plants flower in Spring and Summer. The flowers are four to seven cm across and either butter yellow is the Southern specimens or bright yellow with purple/brown blotches.
I have a number of plants in trees, pots and hanging baskets and they do very well in all here is Pietermaritzburg.
The plant grows happily is a tree or in pot. This Spring flowerer and can grow into a massive plant and is demonstrated below.
A first photograph is of a wild growing plant, no flowers but healthy. Growing in the Mkomaas Valley, KZN. It is on a dead tree with all limbs hacked off for fire wood. The canes are about 500 mm long and 40 mm thick. In this photograph you can clearly see the “leaf catcher” roots growing upward to catch plant matter, bird poo and other detritus that might fall and compost to be used as food.
The next is of a garden plant. This plant is growing in Scottsville Pietermaritzburg. It is happy and healthy and the pollinator is present as viable seed capsules are visible. The second photograph is a close up image of the pods.
And now, the flowers. These vary, from a pure butter yellow to yellow with brown/purple spots. They are small flowers, from three to six cm across. The flowers are borne on a stalk originating at the terminal end or at a node on the cane. From twenty to fifty flowers can be found per stalk. Below are a few images of the flowers.
Here is an image of a plant from KZN