Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres
Journ. Bot. 13: 234 (1875).
Vellozia spekei (Baker) Jackson (1895).
Origin and geographic distribution
Xerophyta spekei is distributed in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and possibly also in Ethiopia.
The stem is pounded and made into very strong brooms and paintbrushes in Kenya. Unspecified plant parts are used for cleaning metal pans and utensils. In traditional medicine the leaf is used in case of stiffness of the neck or other body parts; a piece of cloth is put on the aching part, and the area is rubbed with the warmed leaf.
Shrub up to 2(–5) m tall, with much-branched stems covered with persistent leaf-sheaths; stem up to 13 cm in diameter; branches subcylindrical, 6–12 mm thick. Leaves clustered at the end of stem or branches; sheaths densely overlapping, convex, keeled, with the midvein enlarged into a broad projection, shiny dark brown at the base, densely covered with white stiff hairs towards the apex; blade linear to filiform-attenuate, 5–35(–70) cm × 2–12 mm, leathery, glabrescent above, densely covered with white hairs beneath, somewhat scabrid with stiff hairs towards the apex, along the margin and along the midvein below, parallel-veined. Flowers 1–4 together in leaf axils at stem apex, on a peduncle 2–8 cm long with widely spaced glandular hairs, bisexual, regular, 3-merous; tepals in 2 series of 3, petal-like, linear-lanceolate, 20–35(–50) mm × 5–8 mm, white to pale blue, lilac or mauve, glandular at base; stamens 6, filaments almost completely united with tepals, anthers 13(–20) mm long; ovary inferior, ellipsoid, 0.5–1 cm long, densely covered with glands. Fruit a subglobose capsule up to 15 mm in diameter, many-seeded.
In Kenya Xerophyta spekei flowers in March–May and September–December.
Xerophyta comprises about 30 species, distributed in mainland Africa, Madagascar and southern Arabia. The stem of Xerophyta squarrosa Baker, an herb up to 1.5 m tall distributed in Angola, Namibia and South Africa, is used for brushing together grain on grinding stones. The leaves of several Xerophyta species endemic to Madagascar are used like those of Xerophyta spekei for rubbing pans and kitchen utensils. These species include Xerophyta dasyliroides Baker, a shrub up to 2 m tall, Xerophyta eglandulosa H.Perrier, a shrub up to 60 cm tall, and Xerophyta pinifolia Lam., a shrub up to 60 cm tall. The leaves of Xerophyta dasyliroides, known as ‘oignon des pierres’ or ‘poireau des pierres’, are also fed to chickens, whereas dried leaves have been used for igniting fire.
Xerophyta spekei occurs on rock outcrops, at 300–1900 m altitude.
Genetic resources and breeding
Xerophyta spekei has a fairly wide distribution and there are no indications that it is threatened by genetic erosion.
The importance of Xerophyta spekei is unlikely to increase beyond its present use of locally supplying material for brooms and other cleaning materials.
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Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2009. Xerophyta spekei Baker. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.