A monograph on the genus Cliffortia

We are pleased to announce the publication by SANBI of Chris Whitehouse’s “Monograph on the genus Cliffortia”. This publication has been over 22 years in the making. It stems out of Chris’s PhD work on Cliffortia done between 1999-2003 at the University of Cape Town, but much work has continued on the genus since then adding observations and photographs. Cliffortia was last revised between 1934 and 1948 by Henning Weimarck. This updated work takes knowledge of the genus into the next century.

A monograph on the genus Cliffortia book

Cliffortia in the Rosaceae family is one of the ten largest genera in the Cape Floristic Region. It extends beyond that region, northwards to Namaqualand and eastwards through the Drakensberg, with two species extending into tropical Africa. The genus represents a diversity of growth forms that is rarely matched by other genera within the Cape flora. Although the majority of species can be described as ericoid shrubs, some grow into small trees up to 5m tall, while others form low, sprawling, semi-herbaceous ground covers, or impenetrable dense tangled thickets. All species are wind pollinated and usually flowers are solitary and scattered evenly over the plant. Only in a few species does this pattern vary and a more complex inflorescence can be described. Species differentiation within Cliffortia is therefore based primarily upon vegetative characters and fruit morphology, as opposed to pollination-driven floral characters.

Cliffortia ruscifolia
Probably the best known species is the spiky Cliffortia ruscifolia
Cliffortia stricta
Not all species are spiky, but many have Erica-like leaves such as Cliffortia stricta
Cliffortia phyllanthoides
While few species could be described as ornamental, species such as Cliffortia phyllanthoides have their own attraction

Cliffortia species are found throughout the Cape Floristic Region, growing almost exclusively in fynbos, from coastal sand plains to the peaks of the highest mountains. Certain species require their roots to be constantly surrounded by water, while others exist in rock crevices of mountains on the arid edge of the Karoo. The majority of Cliffortia species is found in acidic, nutrient-poor, sandstone-derived soils, but they are also found on alkaline limestone-derived soils or the richer shales. Outside of the Cape, they are almost entirely restricted to the afromontane heathlands from the southern Drakensberg to as far north as Mount Kenya, although they are occasional on the low-altitude sandstones of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, or the dolerites of the Great Escarpment.

Cliffortia burgersii seeds
The fruits of Cliffortia are often key to identification such as the remarkable winged seeds of Cliffortia burgersii
Cliffortia conifera
Only a few species such as Cliffortia conifera have cone-like heads of flowers
Cliffortia graminea
Cliffortia graminea looks more like a grass than a Cliffortia
A monograph on the genus Cliffortia inside page

All 124 species are supplemented with photographs in the book. All except the rarest species, where good photographs were hard to come by, have multiple photographs showing details of flowers, fruit and habit that are important for identification. Easy to use dichotomous keys enable the species to be simply identified. The nature of Cliffortia makes this possible for many species even without flowers. Distribution maps and collecting localities of herbarium specimens for each species also help narrow down the options. The book is available as softback at the Kirstenbosch bookshop but, as part of the Strelitzia series of publications, it is also available to freely download at the following link: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12143/7719

Whitehouse, C.M. A monograph on the genus Cliffortia. Strelitzia 43. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
Soft cover. 180 × 240 mm. pp. 484. ISBN 978-1-928224-44-0.
Price SADC R620.00, available from the SANBI Bookshop: tel. +27 12 843 5000 E-mail: sanbibookshop@sanbi.org.za

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