During Winter, the famous golden hills of KwaZulu Natal are striped in black as farmers burn fire breaks. The smoke-filled air creates spectacular sunsets, which are the perfect prelude to a cosy evening in front of a wattle-fuelled fire. Just when one begins to wonder if anything could survive, the tiny yellow flowers of Cytanthus breviflorus poke cheerfully out of the charcoal grassland. The bulbs lie dormant buried under the ground, surviving the heat of the fires and the bright tubular blooms emerge triumphantly when all is calm, earning them the common name of Fire Lily. Recently burnt rocky slopes are often covered with spots of yellow in late winter. Cyrtanthus breviflorus occurs in a range of habitats from the Eastern Cape to Kenya and is often found in damp, marshy areas. Where there is greater access to water, the flowers are much larger and the strap leaves fleshier.
Besides cheering up despondent explorers of burnt veld (that’s me), the edible bulb of Cyrtanthus is used traditionally to treat intestinal worms. Infusions are taken as love charm emetics and are used as protective sprinkling charms.
I am trying to work out what the Zulu name ‘uvelabahleke’ means. According to my dictionary vela is: ‘to become prominent’ and hleke is either a ‘cluster’ or ‘splitting apart’. So the flower which splits the earth and becomes very visible? Works for me. Zulu names are usually very descriptive and poetic, so I am going to ask around the farmyard in the morning and see if anyone can help.