We all go in search of beautiful creatures or plants when we travel or simply just walk around a garden. Here at Londolozi during many of our game drives, we love to search for the mysterious leopard. They are stunning animals that are incredibly elusive by nature and for many of our guests, it may even be the very first time that they have ever seen a leopard. The first thing guests notice when they see a leopard for the first time is their rosettes, their golden coat with blotchy black spots. I mean their coat is so admirable it is fashion-worthy, I won’t deny having leopard print clothing.
But it’s not just Leopards with this attractive golden spotty coat…
The Londolozi famous leopard orchid (Ansellia africana) has a very similar appearance with its yellow petals being decorated with brown spots resembling that of a leopards coat and being the origin of its name. I say “famous” because the leopard orchid has great significance to the Londolozi community and has been a key driver behind many of the values and ethos of the entire Londolozi family.
The leopard orchid is an epiphyte meaning that it grows on a host tree but does not harm or affect the host in any way, it merely just uses it as a structure to grow on in order to get the maximum sunlight. The orchid obtains its nutrients and energy from the air around it as well as decaying plant matter and humus in a nook or small cavity in the tree, or the ‘V’ of two branches.
Londolozi means ‘the protector of all living things’ and we strive to live in harmony with the environment around us, having a mutually beneficial relationship with the land and its animals. Similar to that of the leopard orchid, where we attempt to work together with the complex ecosystem that makes Londolozi the magical place it is rather than harming it in any way.
Londolozi has become synonymous with leopards due to the amazing relationship and trust, we have with the leopards of Londolozi, it is only fitting that we decided to use the leopard as an iconic symbol and ambassador of Londolozi too.
Before I stray too far, the leopard orchid is one of my favourite plants that are indigenous to the Lowveld regions. I love driving along riverbeds amongst the tall ancient trees and spotting a new leopard orchid in bloom. There are many leopard orchids dotted around the reserve and some even closer to home that are found in some of the camps, most notably the huge one on the Tree Camp main deck.
This flower brings in many different insects like Hawk moths that feed on the sweet nectar within the flowers at night time and it can even be used as a nesting site for various birds. In the northern regions of Londolozi there was a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl that was nesting in the middle of a leopard orchid, the chicks were well hidden in the orchid and I can only imagine they felt quite comfortable in the soft leaves of the orchid.
In some traditions it is used as a love charm, it is believed at midnight if the person climbs a tree and picks a root of the leopard orchid and chews on it then spits it out while saying their desired partners name, the person they are admiring will think of them. Ethnobotanical usages have been documented in various traditional medicines used for madness as it has an effect on the central nervous system. Recent studies have shown that the leopard orchid can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease as it has many sources of biomolecules.
Next time you head out on drive ask your ranger to point out the Leopard Orchids of Londolozi…