The Alpine Flora of Lesotho is spectacular, from the Spiral Aloes in October right through to the Red Hot Pokers in February. Here are a few of our favourite plants:
Genus: Aloe Polyphylla
Common name: Spiral Aloe
Sesotho name: Kharetsana
An endangered plant endemic to Lesotho and the National flower. Distinctive clockwise or anti-clockwise spiral arrangement of the leaves, giving it it’s peculiar symmetrical appearance. The leaves are broad with a greyish green colour, mostly smooth with greenish thorns on the margins. Tips dry, purplish black. Pale red to salmon flowers (Sept – October). Protected by law, sadly not enforced.
Value: After a burial, one must wash one’s hands in a mixture of water and aloe juice to remove all bad spirits. Infusion good for stomach ailments.
Genus: Dierama Robustum
Common name: Hairbell
Sesotho name: Lethepo
1-2 m tall, solitary or in small clumps, 1600-2900m. Leaves linear. Inflorescence – 2-5 flowered spike on a long, slender, nodding stalk. Flowers pendulous, bell shaped, creamy white to pale pink or mauve flowers (Dec-Feb). Widespread in grassland at high altitude, especially on the Thaba Putsoa range.
Value: Used for making serotos (grass baskets). The stem is used for playing musical instruments such as the setolo-tolo and the lekope.
Genus: Dicotyledons – Cotyledon Orbiculata
Common name: Pig’s Ears
Sesotho name: Sereleli
The succulent leaves of this plant are shaped like pig’s ears. Red bell-like flowers (Nov-Feb). Inflorescence. The leaf margin is often red. On cliffs and steep slopes 2000-3000m.
Value: A cure for many illnesses, commonly used for bee and insect bites. Infusion of leaves good for an ear abscess and boils. Antiseptic properties.
Genus: Monocotyledons – Kniphofia Caulescens
Common name: Lesotho Red-hot Poker
Sesotho name: Khaputlane
Robust and often in large colonies, in marshes and wet cliffs, up to 3000m. Thick rhizome, blue-grey-green leaves. Buds coral pink to red arranged in a tapering spike at the top of a firm erect stalk. Flowers pale greenish yellow to creamy yellow (Jan-Mar). Stamens protruding. Value: The root is crushed & women who have problems
Value: The root is crushed and women who have problems conceiving use a mixture. Cleans the ovaries and activates the fertility process. Helps regulate menstrual flow. Charm against lightning.
Genus: Iridaceae – Iris Family – Moraea Huttonii
Common name: Large Golden Vlei Moraea / Yellow Iris
Sesotho name: Tele
Large, iris-like, bright yellow flower with darker, yellow-brown nectar markings near the blossom throat, with dark brown blotch on each style crest (Sep-Oct). Sweetly scented, close to mountain streams and rivers, in clumps.
Value: A lovely garden plant.
Genus: Zantedeschia Aethiopica – Araceae
Common name: Spotted-leaved Arum Lily
Sesotho name: Mohalalitoe
The leaves are triangular with large basal lobes, either plain green or speckled with white blotches. The flower is cylindrical, white or cream with or without a patch of deep purple in the throat. (Nov-Dec). Fruit green and stems bend towards the ground.
Value: Roots are infused and taken internally for kidney and bladder complaints and as a gargle for sore throats and mouth ulcers.
Genus: Gladiolus Saundersii
Common name: SaundersÕ Gladiolus / Lesotho Lily
Sesotho name: Mokhabebe
Long, sturdy erect leaves. Inflorescence erect. Flowers large and bright red, with broad white mark and speckled on lower tepals. Downward facing and hooded. Endemic.
Value: Herdboys suck the nectar from the flowers. Eaten as salad.
Genus: Monocotyledons – Merxmuellera Macowanii
Common name: Mountain Grass
Sesotho name: Moseha
A tufted, perennial grass with sharp pointed, yellowish to golden brown leaves. Spikes look yellow against the green grassland. Tightly folded with age. Inflorescence.
Value: Products are made out of this grass, such as brooms, mats, containers, ropes and hats – the most famous of which is the symbolic Basotho hat.
Genus: Euphorbiaceae – Euphorbia Clavarioides
Common name: Lion’s Spoor
Sesotho name: Sehloko
A perennial succulent forming convex solid cushions, whose main stem grows underground and consists of densely crowded branches. The stems are olive green to brownish, rounded at tips. Flowers are bright yellow with 3-4 bracts (Oct-Jan). The milky latex that is characteristic of this family, gives this species a pungent smell.
Value: Herdboys use the milky latex to heal cracks or chaffing on their foot soles and chew the milky latex when dry. Heals body rashes and sometimes used with clay to heal pimples. Used to prepare birdlime.
Genus: Mesembryanthemaceae – Delosperma Lavisiae
Common name: Mountain Vygie
Sesotho name: Mabone
A succulent perennial herb. Found in rocky areas, up to 2650m, form mats. Stems prostrate. Leaves are round to 3-angled with blunt tips, spreading. Inflorescence much branched. Flowers magenta on stalks (Nov-Mar). Endemic.
Value: Used as a cleanser in bath water. Taken to induce vomiting.
Genus: Mentha Longifolia
Common name: Wild Spearmint
Sesotho name: Koena-ea-thaba
Perennial herb, up to 2400m. Long pointed leaves and quadrangular stems, with green or greyish leaves. It has a mint smell, with purple or white flowers borne in pyramid-shaped clusters.
Value: Used for colds and fever. Sedative. Insect repellant. Basotho frequently put it inside their noses to stop inhaling cold winds, and also for nasal congestion. African Wormwood (Artemisia Afra-Lengana) is also used. This plant is an alien invasive plant.