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Identifying Sceptres - Paranomus

The genus Paranomus is best distinguished by its leaves which vary from entire to dissected. The dissected leaves have a grooved dorsal surface ending in a mucron, and are always slightly curled upwards. The 'entire' leaf morph is unfortunately not found in all species, but in the species in which it occurs, it is characteristic of younger branches, especially those bearing inflorescences. The inflorescences are spike-like, with every bract containing a set of four flowers, each subtended by its own leathery bract. These bracts become woody with age, forming tiny round shells. The florets contain four free perianth segments, which are usually hairy on the outer surface. The ovary is surrounded by stiff, white hairs, and the style may be hairy or hairless. The fruits are a smooth nut, surrounded by a ring of hairs at the base and containing a persistent style.

The identification of Paranomus requires a X10 magnification hand lens, although groups may easily be discerned. Important features for the identification of Paranomus species include the position, length and density of hairs on the style, the size, shape and number of flowers in the spikes, and the leaf shapes and sizes.


1. Leaves of two distinct kinds: upper entire leaves and lower dissected, larger leaves goto 2

1' Leaves all dissected, although upper leaves may be much less divided than lower leaves goto 3

2. Perianth segments of florets densely woolly, and linear, untidy involucral and floral bracts goto section LONGICAULAE

2' Involucral and floral bracts ovate to acute, never linear, perianth segments with fine hairs, never woolly goto section REFLEXAE

3. Style hairless goto section ESTERHUYSENIAE

3' Style hairy, hairs confined to small zone below middle, pollen-presenter not much wider than style, spike globose, less than 15-25mm in diameter, leaves about 20mm long goto section CAPITATAE

3" Style hairy, hairs on various portions of style, if hairs only on lower half of style then spike not globose and longer than 25mm in length, leaves usually longer than 20mm, else floral bracts hairless on upper half goto section DISPERSAE

Section DISPERSAE: The Common Sceptres

The Common Sceptres form the majority of the Sceptres which only have one form of leaf, namely dissected leaves. All have hairy styles, a feature shared with the Fine-leaf Sceptre, from which they differ by having leaves longer than 20 mm long and a spike longer than 25 mm in length.

Perianth length is a useful feature to measure before trying to identify members of this group.

Leaves up to 70 mm long, all alike. Spike 40-80 mm long. Style densely covered with woolly hairs over 2/3 of its length. Pollen presenter 1.5 mm long, wider than style.

Paranomus bolusii OVERBERG SCEPTRE
Leaves up to 50 mm long. Spike 20-70 mm long. Pollen presenter 1 mm long, not much wider than style.

Paranomus candicans POWDER SCEPTRE
Leaves covered with silvery hairs, tips slender, pointed and free of hairs. Perianth 10-13 mm long, one segment less hairy than others.

Paranomus tomentosus HAIRY-LEAF TREESCEPTRE
Leaves covered by silvery white hairs, apex rounded, hidden by hairs, 25-40 mm long.

Paranomus bracteolaris SMOOTH-LEAF TREESCEPTRE
A much-branched shrub, 0.6-2 m tall. Spike very lax, 40-90 mm long, stalk 20-50 mm long. Perianth over X4 as long as subtending bract. Perianth 13-15 mm long, silvery haired below with long apical hairs, one segment less hairy than others.

Paranomus lagopus RABBIT-PAW SCEPTRE
Lower branches tending to grow downwards or creep along ground. Leaves much dissected, segments slender, curling upwards. Spike stalk 0-30 mm long. Perianth 9 mm long, short haired below with long, bristly apical hairs, one segment less hairy than others. Pollen presenter 0.5-0.7 mm long.

Paranomus abrotanifolius BREDASDORP SCEPTRE
Leaves much dissected, hairless when mature. Spike spherical. Style sparsely haired on lower half. Pollen presenter dark red, wider than style.

Paranomus dispersus LONG-HEAD SCEPTRE
Leaves all similar, dissected with some apical leaves sparsely dissected and flattened. Spike lax, elongate, 25-90 mm long. Style scantily haired in middle. Pollen presenter 0.6-1 mm long.

Section ESTERHUYSENIAE: The Cornflower Sceptres

The Cornflower Sceptres are the only Sceptres with leaves all dissected and with hairless styles. While the leaves are all dissected, they vary greatly in shape with some apical leaves entire. Generally, the small, usually dense, spikes are globose and have few flowers (12-66) per spike, most other Sceptres having over 70 flowers per spike (exceptions being the P. abrotanifolius with about 50 flowers and the P. capitatus with about 30 flowers).

Paranomus dregei SCENTED SCEPTRE
Perianth 14 mm long. Style hairless. Pollen presenter 2 mm long.

Paranomus esterhuyseniae KOUGA SCEPTRE.
Spike 15-30 mm diam., globose, velvety. Style hairless.

Paranomus centauroides LADISMITH SCEPTRE
Leaves leathery, clasping stem. Spike 20-25 mm diam., with few flowers projecting in a tuft from an involucre of dark brown bracts. Style hairless.

Section CAPITATAE: The Fine-leaf Sceptre

The Fine-leaf Sceptre is best recognized by its small, globose, dense, hairy spikes which give a fluffy ball appearance to the inflorescences. In addition, the leaves are very small (the smallest in the genus) and much divided with slender lobes. Other features of diagnostic importance are the hairy style and the pollen presenter which is not much wider than the style.

The Fine-leaf Sceptre is the only Paranomus which (if the grooved leaves are ignored) could easily be confused for a Serruria, as the diagnostic four flowers per bract is not easy to discern.

Paranomus capitatus FINE-LEAF SCEPTRE
Leaves 10-20 mm long. Spike 15-25mm diameter, globose. Style hairless above and below, sparsely haired below middle. Pollen presenter not much wider than style.

Section LONGICAULAE: The Woolly Sceptre

The Woolly Sceptre is distinguished from other Sceptres with dimorphic leaves by its densely woolly inflorescences and untidy, brown, linear involucral bracts.

Spike at base subtended by a involucre of brown, linear bracts. Perianth subtended by linear brown bracts, over half the perianth length.

Section REFLEXAE: The Elongate Sceptres

The Elongate Sceptres are undoubtedly the most beautiful of the Sceptres. The dimorphic leaves, with spathulate leaves subtending the spikes, distinguish the Elongate and Woolly Sceptres from other Sceptres. Within the Elongate Sceptres, two groups are easily delimited:

Those with bright yellow perianths and long (> 14 mm) styles (P. reflexus and P sceptrum-gustavianus), and those with silvery-pink perianths and short (< 11 mm) styles (P. spathulatus, P. roodebergensis and P. adiantifolius).

Paranomus spathulatus LANGEBERG SCEPTRE
Leaves dimorphic. Floral bracts hairy, pointed. Perianth pink. Pollen presenter 2 mm long, linear, slight knee-bend below.

Paranomus roodebergensis HONEY-SCENTED SCEPTRE
Leaves dimorphic. Entire leaves ovate to heart-shaped. Floral bracts rounded, apically hairless.

Paranomus adiantifolius HAIRY-STYLED SCEPTRE
Leaves dimorphic. Style hairless above, long hairs below, 11 mm long. Pollen heart-shaped, wider than style.

Paranomus sceptrum-gustavianus KING-GUSTAV'S SCEPTRE PERDEBOS
A stout branched shrub. Leaves dimorphic. Strong scent sweet and overpowering. Floral bracts pointed at apex. Pollen presenter 2 mm long, dark, linear, with a knee-like bend at the base.

Paranomus reflexus VANSTADEN'S SCEPTRE
Leaves dimorphic. Spike 80-140 mm long. Perianth 30-35 mm long, green-yellow. Flowers reflexing as buds open.

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