Bright yellow Autumn Stars, Empodium plicatum, are common around the self-catering cottages and elsewhere on the reserve. They appear down at ground level, usually before the leaves emerge, at the end of April. The six petals are finely pointed, radiating from the centre like the arms of a star. In the middle is a boss of six stamens that stand upright around the style. The back of the petals are green, so that in bud they are camouflaged amongst the surrounding foliage.
Empodium belongs to the Hypoxidaceae family. The family is sometimes known as the Star-Grass family because all the flowers have a similar star-shape (though can be white or pink in colour) and the leaves are usually grass-like. The leaves of Empodium are distinct as they are often pleated, i.e. with several long folds up and down the leaf, whereas other members are often only channelled (with a single groove up and down the leaf). This is indeed the case for Empodium plicatum, which derives its specific name from the plicate, i.e. pleated, nature of the leaves (albeit it is not the only Empodium with this feature).
The generic name Empodium is derived from the Greek for “in the foot”. This refers to the position of the ovary, which is often at the base of the long floral tube below the flower and seated “in the foot” of the plant at or below ground level. This is in contrast to the very similar looking Cape genus Pauridia, where the ovary is often seated just below the flower. Another difference between the two genera is that Empodium often has a flower stalk flattened on its sides into 3 angles; Pauridia has a cylindrical flower stalk. They also differ in the number of chambers in the ovary: 1 in Empodium, 3 in Pauridia.
Empodium plicatum is the only species of the genus so far found at Phillipskop, but there are a couple of similar looking yellow stars of the genus Pauridia. Fortunately, most Pauridia species appear in spring. However, the dwarf Pauridia monophylla also flowers in April on the upper slopes of Phillipskop. Apart from being smaller than Empodium plicatum, that species produces only one firm leaf that is not pleated.