This ravishing little orchid can still, very occasionally, be found growing in the wilder, more mountainous places of South Africa’s south-western coast. Blue is relatively rarely found in any flowering species but is especially unusual amongst orchids. Its Afrikaans name is Bloumoederkappie, and its European name, Disa. longicornu. It prefers a damp habitat, enjoying tucking itself into mossy rock clefts at between 500 and 1000 metres. The main threat to its survival seems to be that people can’t resist picking it whilst out walking. This orchid has been somewhat defended by fierce legal protection though may always be as vulnerable as it remains now. But, for the moment, this protection means that you and I may still go wandering amongst the fynbos and be entranced by tiny waterfalls of unexpected blue.
Endemic to the quartizitic sandstone of the Table and Hottentot Hollands mountains of the western Cape, D. longicornu has only been found in six small locations. It grows in any suitable moist, mossy, vertical and cloudy rock face it can find, normally facing south east. Here unlike so many of S. Africa’s fynbos species, its survival is at least independent of and un-threatened by the naturally-occurring fires which periodically sweep through the vegetation. In December and January, its exquisite flowers offer pollinators banquets of nectar from the inner surface of petals and spurs.
It was first named for European science in 1773 by Carl Thunberg who seems to have based it on the greatly revered legendary Swedish heroine, Disa. She has been admired since the Middle Ages for her courage and wisdom in averting a massacre. Thunberg seems to have felt he’d risked his life to find the orchid…..”with great difficulty and at hazard of my life I got for the first and last time Disa longicornis, which is as beautiful as it is singular in form.” Maybe he believed he was pursued by snakes, as there are species such as the excitingly named Boomslang, Cape Cobra, Rinkhals, Gaboon Viper and Black Mamba in S. Africa which, though undoubtedly highly venomous, are still mistakenly believed by many [ including me during one excitingly uncertain expedition on Table Mountain ] to actively chase invaders.
Perhaps if it wasn’t so much less dangerous to access the orchid nowadays, it will still be found in the wild in 2073. © Frances Livingstone 2018