Plant of the month: January

AUSTRALIAN BROOMRAPE

(Orobanche cernua var. australiana)

(Photos: E. Cousins, a single stem, close-up of a flower head; Cape Jervis)

When we saw these at Cape Jervis in early December, the plants were just starting to set seed, in what looked like little parcels of fine brown grit. Looking at the stem in the first photo, you can imagine what the plant looks like before the flowers appear: an asparagus stalk! Unlike asparagus though, these stems are covered in tubular purple flowers, each with leaves at their base (those brown flaps). Notice there is no green at all in the plant (stem, flowers OR leaves)! This isn’t because it is an old plant or anything, but because the plant is parasitic, relying on nearby plants for food. Although rare in SA, the patches we found were healthy and fairly extensive. Maybe this is because the adjacent Senecio host plants were also abundant and flourishing this year, after all those early rains!!