If you’ve ever seen photos of these cherished flowers, or indeed, the flowers themselves, you’ll immediately know why I am absolutely in love with them. And it’s not just me who holds them in high esteem.
The Disa is actually a genus with 183 species, most of which are endemic to Africa. Its centre of diversity is in the Cape Floristic Region, which stretches over most of the Western Cape. This is important, since the Cape Floristic Region was recognised as crucial, in terms of diversity and endemism.
In fact, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers it one of the world’s leading areas for terrestrial biodiversity, and added several sites within the region to the World Heritage List, in 2004.
Flora rarely has such dependence on a single species of pollinator. I’m surprised that the flower itself isn’t more sparse because of this. It is plentiful on Table Mountain, though not on the ‘table top’ itself, but around the nearby shaded streams.
However, these Disa hot spots are usually quite an effort to get to, and it’s not a recommended excursion for the idle anthophile.
Although they are perennial, you’ll only find this orchid in moist conditions. This is why the wet areas around Table Mountain seem to be favoured by these flowers.
They actually prefer a lot of moisture, therefore as well as on stream banks and wet cliffs, you’ll even find them around waterfalls. Disa uniflora are a challenge for many orchidists, since to cultivate them successfully, which is apparently no easy task, they must never dry out.
Is it any wonder that Disa uniflora are actually the emblem of the Western Cape and its provincial rugby team, and as such, are strictly protected?
One of my absolute favourite spots to admire this exquisite orchid is Vida Nova Retreat, in Hout Bay, Cape Town. These flowers bloom all around this spectacular little hideaway, bordered by Table Mountain National Park, and the proprietors have clearly drawn inspiration from them.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than a hike to find Disa orchids, after having indulged in a breakfast of homemade banana and nut french toast smothered in coconut cream and berries, in their restaurant, The Green Orchid. This nearby secret spot is off the beaten track, and the hotel’s friendly concierge happily organises a guided tour along the private hiking trail, every time I visit.