Species distribution and density. Darker squares represent higher density of members of this family.


Eriospermum family

A monotypic family of perennial, geophytic herbs with underground tubers (potato-like structures). Most species, particularly in the winter-rainfall regions, develop leaves and flowers at different times (hysteranthous).


Found from sub-Saharan Africa with the highest diversity of species in the Western Cape in South Africa. Many local endemics occur in Namibia and the Cape provinces.

Number of genera in the world


Number of species in the world

ca. 118

Number of genera in the Flora of southern Africa region



Number of species in the Flora of southern Africa region


Well-known southern African genera


Growth forms

Perennial tuberous geophytes.


Found in arid and semi-arid areas and grassland.

Flagship species

Eriospermum mackenii (yellow fluffy-seed; perdepootjie [A]; insulansula [Z]) is always entirely glabrous and is widely distributed in KwaZulu-Natal and the northern provinces. Leaves and flowers are present at the same time and 2-5 large egg-shaped leaves are produced from a tuber. In traditional folklore, this species is used to ward of lightning. The tuber is edible. This species is reported to grow well in cultivation. (Photo: GN).


Significance of the family

Tubers of some Eriospermum species are eaten as a vegetable and are used for various medical remedies by different ethnic groups. Some species have been cultivated in the past, but mostly out of curiosity rather than for economic purposes. Plants in cultivation do well as garden subjects. (Photo: NC).

Diagnostic characters

Tuberous geophytes . Inflorescence an erect, scapose, few- to many-flowered raceme . Flowers bisexual with 6 petal-like structures (tepals) in 2 whorls fused at the base, either similar or the outer whorl spreading and the inner erect. Stamens 6, attached to the tepals . Ovary superior , 3-locular. Fruit a loculicidal capsule  with 6-12 seeds. Seeds covered with long hairs resulting in a 'woolly' or 'cotton-like' appearance . (Photo  : NC).

Did you know?

Eriospermum is the only genus in this monotypic family.