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The Bushmans Poison Bulb

The Bushman’s Poison bulb has many medicinal uses. The Bushman once used the poison for their arrows and traditional healers still use it to treat pain and wounds. Parts of the plant are used by some African tribes and Western medicine to cure various ailments. The outer covering of the bulb is applied to boils and abscesses and fresh leaves are used to stop the bleeding of lesions. The plants are known to be poisonous to cattle and sheep and the bulb is very poisonous for humans. The name sore-eye flower refers to the fact that if a person is exposed to the open flowers in a confined space; it may lead to sore eyes and even to a headache.

The Bushman’s Poison Bulb is an attractive, bulbous plant with a thick covering of dry scales above the ground. The large, round heads are sometimes on such short stems that they appear to grow directly from the bulb, almost at ground level. The colour of flowers vary from bright shades of pink to red and are sweetly scented (July to Oct.). The large, round flowerheads attract bees and flies, which pollinate the flowers and ants are also known to visit.

The pedicels (flower stalks) elongate after flowering to form a large seedhead. This breaks off at the top of the scape (stalk) and tumbles across the veld dispersing the seed.The greyish green leaves are erect, arranged in a conspicuous fan and are usually produced after flowering. This spring-flowering species will flower even if it does not receive any water in winter.

The Latin name, Boophaneis is derived from the Greek bous (ox) and phane (death), referring to the poisonous properties of the bulb. The specific name disticha means leaves erect in a fan shape.If you pay a visit to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, this is one of the indigenous plants you will encounter.

by Marco Fitchet
Senior Ranger
Gondwana Lodge