If you have visited Singita Lebombo recently, as winter reaches its zenith, you would have had your eyes drawn to a striking plant that looks like a miniature baobab covered in dazzling pink and white blossoms – the impala lily.
This small succulent tree is native to southern Africa and is somewhat of a floral icon of the Kruger National Park. During the summer months, the Impala Lily is easy to overlook as its drab bulb goes unnoticed among the plethora of greenery and foliage in the bush. During the winter months, when the flowers bloom, it is one of the prettiest and most dazzling plants to behold. Once the grass starts to wilt away and the hue of the landscape fades to dusty gold, the Impala Lily bursts into life and colour, tinting the bush with shades of vibrant fuchsia. The Impala Lily, also known as a Sabi Star or the Desert Rose, surprises and delights people when they spot the pretty star-shaped blooms in a winter landscape that is all but devoid of colour.
There is an interesting history of the uses of the impala lily. The latex found in the bark and trunk is a highly toxic substance that has been used by indigenous tribes for hunting and fishing. The tip of the arrow head is dipped in the poison and then used to hunt animals, or shavings of the bark are put into small pools of water which is then filtered through the fish gills, stunning and eventually suffocating them. It is also used as somewhat of a ‘magic potion’ in traditional medicine by various tribes in South Africa and Mozambique.
The impala lily has a limited range, and is a threatened species in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, due to collection for horticulture, medicinal use, agriculture and browsing by wild animals. In South Africa, however, most of its range falls within the Kruger National Park where it is protected, so we are fortunate to see this beautiful floral species brighten up our winter days on our N’wanetsi Concession.