Hypoxis, which are commonly known as African potatoes, star lilies and yellow stars, is a genus in the Hypoxidaceae family. This genus of plant is native to South Africa and thrives in sunny locations. It commonly grows on grasslands, but some species have been found to also grow in forests or along cliffs. In a majority of the species included in the Hypoxis genus, the leaves are positioned one on top of another in three rows that lean away from the plant’s base. On the other hand, in some species, the bases of the leaves are surrounded by a sheath that forms a false stem.
This genus of perennial plants makes use of a corm, which is an underground food storage or rootstock, to survive during dry and winter seasons. The corm of a Hypoxis plant is hard, sticky, and orange-yellow or white on the inside. Exposed parts of these plants tend to die under unfavorable conditions, but new sets of leaves grow from the corm’s peak during spring.
These plants have leaves that are usually somewhat hairy and range in shape from lance-shaped to linear. During spring, the leaves and flowering stems of Hypoxis plants begin to grow. The flowering stems do not have branches, though they have two to 12 flower buds on each stalk. Each flower normally has four to eight symmetrical, bright yellow petals. Only two species in the Hypoxis genus, H. parvula and H. membranacea produce white flowers.
The flowers of Hypoxis plants only bloom for a short time and can be pollinated either by honey or solitary bees. Their yellow pollen grains are enclosed in translucent pollen sacs. The fruits of this genus are pods in the shape of an open capsule, exposing tiny black seeds. In the species H. angustifolia, the lower part of the fruit capsule is split even further to help with propagation.
Two species in the Hypoxis genus, H. colchicifoliaare and H. hemerocallidea, are widely used as traditional African remedies, though their existence is considered threatened. Their rootstocks have been utilized for centuries by Zulu healers for treating nervous disorders, heart ailments, and tumors. H. hemerocallidea is nicknamed the wonder herb for its traditional medicinal properties that are said to ease immune-associated conditions such as flu, cancer and HIV/AIDS. It contains a natural steroid called hypoxoside, which is believed to convert to rooperol, an anti-cancer compound.