Petalidium crispum

Petalidium crispum commands so much more attention than these photos could ever convey! True to the epithet, its leaves are crisp and borderline NASTY pungent. Kyle and I first encountered this species during our first trip into Marienflüss… sometime around the magic hour… the scorching sun was thinking about sinking. To our tremendous delight, Petalidium crispum absolutely cloaked the lower cliffs of a bright red slope that reminded me, of all places, of the Mojave. The sunbirds didn’t seem to mind our presence and went about their business extracting good stuff from the corollas (see photo).

Much more to a point of *trying* to be serious (it’s hard, when life is so much FUN): there is an extremely interesting evolutionary story going on between Petalidium crispum and is presumed (almost certainly) sister species, Petalidium subcrispum. Ok — forget the ‘presumed’ bit – these two species are nearly identical except for their flowers. Red/bird/crispum and purple/bee/subcrispum. Most remarkable thing: they are nearly sympatric…separated only by the width of the valley (Marienflüss), which is at most a couple of miles wide. They flower concurrently. They have potential to exchange genetic material. So how do they maintain reproductive isolation (or.. do they?). We have a field experiment stewing…

PS 1: Glandular trichomes on calyx of Petalidium crispum become spiny and quite uncomfortable to the flesh when dry.

PS 2: The Himba use this plant as a perfume. Really? Yep – that’s what they told us (via Leevi, who can speak their language well enough). Celebrate diversity – the world is more interesting for it.

PS 3: I love the landscape photo – epitomizes the Kaoko (and Kyle): complete with the latter sitting down in the bottom of the wash looking like a tiny fly, but one with binocs watching birds…

Wild collected, Namibia, Tripp & Dexter #2005 (RSA-POM); Photos by Erin Tripp

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