Hyobanche sanguinea

Hyobanche sanguinea
The Cat’s Claw, Hyobanche sanguinea, photographed in the Witteberg Private Nature Reserve

Although I was mostly taking laid-back ‘holiday photos’ during our trip to the Witteberg Private Nature Reserve this past long weekend, the chance to photograph these two specimens of the fascinating “Cat’s Claw”/”Katnaels” plant Hyobanche sanguinea was too good to ignore.  The small bright red plants are easy to spot along the routes through the Karoo scrub, and their soft ‘furry’ texture really does remind one of a cat’s soft feet.  The lack of anything resembling a normal leaf puzzled me, and I was therefore interested to learn that H. sanguinea is in fact a holoparasitic plant, extending an underground stem which extends dendrites that tap into the vasculature of host plant roots, allowing the parasite to extract water, minerals and substrate.  A single Cat’s Claw can grow to 15cm (most we saw were less than 5cm) and can tap into many different host plants.  More info on the plant and related species here.  Like so much in nature, beauty hides the savage truth…