Beautiful Pseuds

Midsummer on the Klein River Mountains sees the arrival of purple clumps of Pseudoselago pulchra. This species must count as one of the most beautiful of the fynbos members of the family Scrophulariaceae and its name reflects that (“pulchra” is the Latin for beautiful). It produces dense domed heads of small deep violet-purple flowers on top of green leafy stems. The flowers have a short tube with five flared petals at the end. Protruding from the centre of the flowers come four short stamens that give the flowerhead a pincushion effect. The whole head provides the perfect landing platform for butterflies, especially those that are particularly attracted to purple coloured flowers, such as the Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus – see experiment here based on very closely related Papilio demoleus:

Pseudoselago pulchra (Scrophulariaceae) and Papilio demodocus
Citrus Swallowtail feeding on Pseudoselago pulchra
Pseudoselago versus Selago

The genus Pseudoselago is confined to the south-western Cape. The odd name comes from the fact that it was once included in the more widespread genus Selago, but 28 species were split off as they were considered to be “falsely” (“Pseudo”) included in that genus. The two genera differ on a number of small characters, the most significant are the presence of hairs around the mouth of the flowers in Pseudoselago but hairs are absent in Selago. Other easier details to spot, but less consistent, include the way the leaves cluster at the nodes in Selago but rarely do in Pseudoselago and the presence of a different coloured spot near the mouth of the flower in Pseudoselago but absent in Selago. There are also differences in the seeds and fruiting inflorescence as outlined in the table at the bottom.

Pseudoselago verbenacea flower close-up
Individual Pseudoselago verbenacea flower showing orange spot and hairs on upper lip
Selago scabrida (Scophulariaceae)
Selago scabrida showing leaf clusters and lacking orange spot on upper lip

Pseudoselago pulchra and Pseudoselago serrata

Pseudoselago pulchra is the most eye-catching of the species in the Klein River Mountains. It is very similar and often confused with Pseudoselago serrata from the Kogelberg and Cape Peninsula, but that species has not been recorded eastwards of Bot River. Pseudoselago pulchra differs from Pseudoselago serrata by having the leaves more upright and with the margins with smaller teeth but in a greater number, the inflorescence branches and bracts are glabrous without the short glands of Pseudoselago serrata, and the stamens are longer so that the anthers more visibly protrude above the flowers. The best way of distinguishing them though is on distribution as their ranges do not overlap.

Pseudoselago pulchra (Scrophulariaceae)
Pseudoselago pulchra with closely overlapping upper leaves
Pseudoselago verbenacea
Pseudoselago verbenacea (Scrophulariaceae)
Pseudoselago verbenacea has a looser inflorescence and the stem is visible between the leaf pairs

Within the Klein River Mountains, Pseudoselago pulchra is most likely to be confused with Pseudoselago verbenacea. That species also produces heads of purple flowers but the clusters are not so dense (or so “beautiful”, though nevertheless attractive). The key difference though is in the leaves, which in Pseudoselago verbenacea are opposite all the way up the stem and with clear internodes between them, whereas in Pseudoselago pulchra the leaves in the upper half are alternately distributed around the stem and overlap each other.

Pseudoselago pulchra (Scrophulariaceae)
Pseudoselago pulchra often grows in rock crevices on the upper slopes
Pseudoselago verbenacea (Scrophulariaceae) with Vanessa cardui
Butterflies also like Pseudoselago verbenacea, such as this Painted Lady Butterfly
Pseudoselago gracilis (Scrophulariaceae) seedhead
The inflorescence of Pseudoselago elongate as they age, so that older flowerheads, such as here in Pseudoselago gracilis, can look quite different
Pseudoselago gracilis and Pseudoselago spuria

Two other species have been recorded from this area: Pseudoselago gracilis and Pseudoselago spuria. These are both smaller species, with narrow leaves. The two species are rather similar to one another and possibly hybridise so that distinguishing them is difficult. Typical Pseudoselago spuria occurs from the Cape Peninsula to Sir Lowry’s Pass, while typical Pseudoselago gracilis is found from Ceres northwards. Hilliard, who first described the genus Pseudoselago, was particularly troubled by the plants along the southern Cape coast from Betty’s Bay to Potberg, which fitted neither Pseudoselago spuria nor Pseudoselago gracilis well. It was only “with reluctance that [she] broadened [her] circumscription of P. gracilis to include plants” from the Overberg. In general Pseudoselago gracilis has white flowers, with the leaves only shortening slightly up the stem, while Pseudoselago spuria has purple flowers, with the upper leaves markedly shorter than the lower ones. But the distinction is unclear in the Overberg and the presence of hybrids probably blurs it further.

Pseudoselago gracilis (Scrophulariaceae)
Pseudoselago gracilis with thin leaves of similar size up the stem
Pseudoselago gracilis close-up (Scrophulariaceae)
Flowers of Pseudoselago gracilis can look similar to Selago species but the orange spot can be seen on the upper lip, as well as the hairs
Pseudoselago gracilis x spuria (Scrophulariaceae)
A mauve coloured plant from the Klein River Mts of Pseudoselago that is intermediate in characters between Pseudoselago gracilis and Pseudoselago spuria

All the species make attractive garden plants, easily grown in a sunny spot in the garden. Pseudoselago verbenacea in its natural habitat grows where there is a bit more moisture in the soil than the other species.  All the species can be short-lived, especially Pseudoselago verbenacea, which can behave as an annual. It is therefore important to continue to propagate them regularly either by seed, or cuttings with the more perennial species.

Key differences between Pseudoselago and Selago
Leaves opposite, often alternate upwards, leaf clusters absent (though developing branches may be present)Leaves alternate, nearly always with axillary leaf clusters
Hairs on stems and leaves thin-walledHairs on stems and leaves sculptured
Narrow club-shaped hairs always present at least at base of upper lipCorolla limb without hairs around the mouth
Yellow/orange (sometimes whitish?) patch always present at base of upper petalsCorolla limb without a yellow/orange patch at base of upper petals
Bract and calyx persisting on axis of inflorescence, basal part of bract then inflated in many speciesBract and calyx eventually falling from axis of inflorescence, base of bract never inflated on the back
Seed-bearing cases soft-walledSeed-bearing cases hard-walled
Seeds compressed on one face, convex on the otherSeeds tapered on both sides
Key to Pseudoselago in Klein River Mountains
1.Stem leaves broad, elliptic to obovate, more than 5mm wide2
 Stem leaves narrow, linear, less than 2mm wide4
2.Leaves opposite all up the stem to beneath the inflorescence. Stem visible between leaf pairsP. verbenacea
 Leaves becoming alternate towards the inflorescence, closely overlapping with stem not visible between3
3.Leaf only slightly recurving, margins with 7-14 teeth on each side, inflorescence axis and floral bracts glabrous, corolla tube 8-10mm long, fliaments of longer stamens >3mm longP. pulchra
 Leaf often strongly recurved, margins with 5-9 teeth on each side, inflorescence axis and floral bracts minutely glandular, corolla tube 5-8mm long, fliaments of longer stamens <3mm longP. serrata (not present in Klein River Mtns but included here for reference)
4.Stems usually branching, leaves spreading to ascending, only gradually smaller upwards, spikes either solitary or up to 5 in a loose corymb, lowermost flowers in a spike often distant, flowers normally white, rarely mauveP. gracilis
 Stems usually simple, leaves crowded on lower half and there more or less spreading, on upper half rather abruptly smaller, distant, sharply ascending, spikes arranged in a congested corymb, flowers crowded even at base of spike, flowers shades of mauve or blueP. spuria (true P. spuria possibly not present and all plants should be included in P. gracilis at present)

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