Aphyteia acharii Steud.
Aphyteia hydnora L.
Hydnora africana is an unmistakable plant - a totally parasitic, perennial that is without any chlorophyll or leaves at all. With its vegetative parts looking more like a fungus, it is one of the strangest plants in the world. Its vegetative plant body is highly reduced and consists of only roots and flowers - it belongs to the only family of angiosperms with no leaves or scales of any sort. Parasitic on the roots of host plants, especially in the family Euphorbiaceae, it has an underground stem, or pseudo-rhizome, that grows into the host's roots and so extracts food. The plant is only seen when the tips of the flowers push out of the ground - even the fruit develops below the soil surface[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of tannin.
Africa - drier areas from Ethiopia south to S. Africa.
Semi-arid vegetation which is associated with species of Euphorbia, especially E. mauretanica and E. Tirucalli[
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It is thought that the plant excretes powerful enzymes that dissolve away the hard tissue of the host in order to attach itself[
The flowers bear no real resemblance to normal flowers other than being colourful in order to advertise themselves to potential pollinators. White bait bodies are found on the inner base of the flowers. These bodies play a very important role in the life cycle of the plant. They omit a putrid odour to attract various carrion beetles and other insects which become trapped in the flowers. Numerous stiff bristles are found on the inner surface of the perianth lobes which restrain the trapped insect from escaping. After feeding on the bait bodies, the trapped insect drops down the flower tube onto the anthers collecting pollen all over its body. It then drops even further down onto the soft cushion-shaped stigma thus pollinating the flower[
Fruit - raw or cooked[
]. A gelatinous pulp with a slightly sweet and starchy taste[
]. A delicious, sweetish flavour when baked on a fire[
] The fruit pulp can be mixed with cream to make a delicious dessert[
]. Rich in starch[
]. The globose fruits are up to 80mm in diameter, containing up to 20,000 tiny brown seeds per fruit[
The fruit is extremely astringent[
]. Diarrhoea, dysentery, kidney and bladder complaints have all been treated with infusions and decoctions of the plant[
Infusions used as a face wash also treat acne[
The fruit is extremely astringent and has been used as a source of tannins for preserving nets[
Seed - it is more likely to germinate when in close proximity to a host plant[
]. The germinated seed develops a primary root (primary haustorium) which establishes the first attachment point to the host. After the plant has grown and spread, it may develop several secondary haustoria, attaching itself to the same or different hosts nearby[
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