#KnowYourFynbos: Fabulous vygies

#KnowYourFynbos: Fabulous vygies

Like fireworks in the fynbos, once a year when spring arrives, thousands of vygies erupt in an explosive carnival of colour. Bees, butterflies and insects are drawn to the ‘bright lights’, as clusters of pink, purple, yellow, orange, red and white blossoms pop up across the Western Cape. What makes them all the more irresistible is their silky sheen; the daisy-like flowers of the vygie not only bloom in a brilliant array of colours; they have shiny – almost iridescent – petals, unlike any other in the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Say it with gusto: Vygie

The commonly used Afrikaans word ‘vygie’ rolls of the tongue easily (well, for South Africans at least). It translates literally to ‘small fig’, thanks to its fruiting capsule which resembles just that.1 Not as easy to pronounce is its English (Latin origin) counterpart, Mesembryanthemum, often shortened to ‘mesemb’ for this precise reason. The name Mesembryanthemum is rooted in the Greek words for ‘noon’ and ‘flower’, hence the plant’s other English name ‘midday flower’. Other names you might hear thrown about are ‘ice plant’ and ‘fig marigold.’

What to look out for:

With more than 1600 species found in Southern Africa, vygies vary greatly in form, but there are a couple of special characteristics that’ll give you that ‘it’s a vygie’ feeling:

  • Form: Vygies generally take the form of either low shrubs or groundcovers. In some fascinating cases, they exist as small, thumb-sized plants, made up of only two flat leaves and a flower head.
  • Succulent leaves: Mesemb leaves take on a multitude of shapes and sizes (flat, cylindrical, tongue-shaped – you name it) and textures (rough, smooth, waxy),3 but are always succulent in nature.
  • Flower: While flowers vary in colour and size, they are always daisy-like, with uniform petals around a boss of stamens in the middle. This is no ordinary daisy – always keep an eye out for the silky sheen on its petals. 3

 

You might not know:

  • Flowering stones: Some mesemb species – such as Conophytum, Lithops and Fenestraria – are known as ‘flowering stones’. In these cases, one or two swollen, grey-green leaves make up the entire thumb-sized plant, so it appears just like a stone when not in flower.3
  • Rain pollination: So cleverly adapted is the vygie to arid conditions, that it waits for moisture before pollination can occur. Seed capsules open as a result of moisture, and the seeds are then expelled by falling raindrops.4
  • Water-wise garden plants: Vygies are some of the hardiest and most drought-tolerant plants around – perfect for Western Cape gardens! They produce magnificent flowers in spring and summer; some of the favourites being the bokbaaivygie (Dorotheanthus bellidiformis) as well as types of Lampranthusand Drosanthemum, Carpobrotus and Aptenia.2

 

Family matters:

A quick allusion for those getting to grips with their fynbos families: while mesembs are often classified part of the family Aizoaceae, many taxonomists prefer to treat them as their own separate family Mesembryanthemaceae.2

 

References
  1. Burst into spring with vygies – Life is a Garden [Internet]. Life is a Garden. 2017 [cited 22 July 2017]. Available from: https://www.lifeisagarden.co.za/burst-into-spring-with-vygies/
  2. Mesembryanthemaceae | Plantz Africa [Internet]. Pza.sanbi.org. 2017 [cited 22 July 2017]. Available from: http://pza.sanbi.org/mesembryanthemaceae
  3. Pepler D, Davies A. Vygies: sparklers of the veld – Visi [Internet]. Visi. 2011 [cited 22 July 2017]. Available from: https://www.visi.co.za/vygies-sparklers-of-the-veld/
  4. Factsheet -Mesembryanthemaceae [Internet]. Keyserver.lucidcentral.org. 2017 [cited 22 July 2017]. Available from: http://keyserver.lucidcentral.org/key-server/data/04030b04-0102-4b0c-8e07-0e0105010a0f/media/Html/Mesembryanthemaceae.htm

Kate Black

As the daughter of a wildlife filmmaker, Kate spent her early childhood in the Okavango Delta. Over the years, she has been fortunate to explore many of Southern Africa’s other wild places, contributing to her keen interest in African wildlife conservation. With a career grounded in digital marketing, Kate recently made the decision to work as a freelance communications specialist, with a particular focus on environmental NGOs. An avid trail runner and hiker, she loves the outdoors and the incredible natural diversity that the Western Cape has to offer.

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