Saturday, November 14, 2020

Kukumakranka - the wonderful edible fruits of Gethyllis bulbs

Kukumakranka - except the "K" letters represent clicks in the seemingly extinct Southern African language of the Koina people instead of the normal consonant sounds - besides being a name I cannot reliably accurately pronounce, names a group of bulbs, or rather their fruits. In botanical latin, the species below is Gethyllis verticillata.

My son describes the taste of this, the very first fresh fruit of this group I've managed to grow in California thus: "watery and tart, with a fruity fragrance". The fragrance of the fruit is intense and pleasant. To my spouse it is like "fruit cocktail in sweet syrup but with a slightly perfume-y strong strawberry component added to the flavor". 


The fruit has about the texture of a very ripe strawberry, with a lot of seeds that are soft and easily chewed - and which taste like the rest of the fruit.

A note about plant names - the useful part of the plant seems to most often be named first, then the rest of the plant gets that name applied, often with a nod to it denoting the rest of the plant rather than just the interesting bit. Examples are "Apple" and "Apple Tree", or "Walnut" and "Walnut Tree".

In rare cases, the plant has more than one amazing or useful bit - for example, the Oak Tree bears Acorns, not "oak tree nuts". In Hawaiian, the 'Ohia tree has the Lehua flowers.

In the case of Kukumakranka, the fruit is the bearer of the name, with the name of the plant or the bulb from which it arises seemingly lost.

These bulbs are from Winter rainfall/Summer dry deserts of South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia (with the exception of two species from the Summer rainfall areas of the Nama Karoo).

There are about 32 described species of Gethyllis. While many of them are rare, mostly due to being quite localized and/or habitat conversion, many remain abundant enough for the fruits to be made into brandy and show up in local markets when in season.

The flowering is day length triggered - flowers appear about one week after the longest day of the year. As these bulbs live in the ground, they must have some sort of clever strategy to keep aware of day length changes. (See light pipe leaves). The flowers push right out of the bare ground without any leaves. In fact, when in flower, only the flower is above ground. When in fruit, only the fruit is above ground, and when in leaf, only the leaves are above ground. At no point in the growth cycle do I get two of these at the same time!

  This is Gethyllis villosa, named for its hairy leaves.


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Hemihyalea edwardsii and and the Tanoaks

Around the first day of Fall, several things happen in a usual order. The Brunsvigia josephinae and B. littoralis flower, the Haemanthus coccineus flower, and the Edward's Glassywing moths appear on our front deck.

Arctiinae: Hemihyalea edwardsii


This year, the question is: how many more years will they grace our evening lights?

Edward's Glassywing moth is the adult phase of a woolybear caterpillar that eats Oak leaves. The deaths of massive numbers of oaks is one of several factors fueling, literally, the unprecedented fires in the Coast Ranges, including our Santa Cruz Mountains.

Our own oaks are in trouble. About one third of our Tanbark Oaks (Lithocarpus densiflorus) have died of Sudden Oak Death in the past year. The forest I fell in love with is fading into the past.

The area above our driveway is shown here - this is literally on the ridgeline of the Santa Cruz Mountains at around 2300'.