Fynbos Research – Red Hot Poker

Kellyn Whitehead
10 July 2014
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The Nature’s Valley Trust research team has started to conduct a number of plant based research projects within Nature’s Valley Fynbos. One of the species the team is focusing on belongs to the genus Kniphofia, red hot pokers that are found along the R102 towards Nature’s Valley just before the Groot River Pass. Red hot pokers belong to the Aloe family (Asphodelaceae) and are perennials with rhizomes, leaves are narrow and channelled and the flowers are white, yellow or a variety of reds and tubular in shape. Kniphofia species can be found in Africa, southern Arabia and New Zealand, have a mainly winter rainfall in the southern Africa, with four species found in the Fynbos.

The species of Kniphofia which we are focusing on is Kniphofia uvaria with flowers that begin as orange and fade to a yellow-green colour. This red hot poker flowers for about three months, usually from April to June but can flower for longer. It is one of the plants which is pollinated by the sunbirds found in the area, namely the Southern Double Collard Sunbird and the Greater Double Collard Sunbird. We started research on Kniphofia uvariain April 2013 and have continued with the research this year. There are a number of aspects which we are looking at as well as a number of measurements we are taking for this long term research project. 

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Babalwa measuring flower length.

The first aspect we look at is the volume of nectar found in the tubular flowers and the concentration of sucrose found in the nectar. To do this we pick a total of 3 flowers from a floral head from 10 different plants to give us a sample size of 30 flowers for each trip. This is done every two weeks for the duration of the flowering period. Once we have picked a flower we use a 5 microlitre (µl) capillary tube to draw up the nectar from the base of the flower. We do this until there is no more nectar left giving us the volume of nectar for that flower. We keep some nectar back in the capillary tube and place it onto a refractometer which then gives us percentage sucrose reading. Once we have taking the nectar measurements for the flowers we then take measurements, the first being the total length of the tube and the second the width of the corolla (where the flower opens). These measures are taken to check if the plant conforms to expected patterns of sunbird pollinated plants.

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Kellyn looking at the percentage of sucrose in the nectar

Another aspect we look at is nearest neighbour distance and group sizes for the red hot poker. To do this we take the GPS coordinates, using a hand held Garmin, of each plant (if on its own) and each group of plants. Once we have noted down the GPS coordinates we then count the number of plants within a group, the number of floral heads for each plant and how many of the floral heads are open, in bud or in seed.  This allows us to study spatial variation of the population between years, and the effects of plant isolation on reproductive success.

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Kellyn and Babalwa Taking GPS coordinates

When all the data is collected we then capture it into our spreadsheets so that we can use it to do the necessary statistics for the project. This data will allow to see if there are any changes in nectar and floral measurements from year to year and whether or not the plant benefits when on its own or within a larger group.

The research project allows us to get out-and-about in the Fynbos of Nature’s Valley and helps us to better understand the working of bird pollination for the area as well as helping us learn more about the plants around us.