Since 2007 I have been renting a house for two months, every two years in a conservancy called Marloth Park which is located just across the Crocodile River from Kruger National Park in Northeastern South Africa. The main activity of staying in
Marloth is day safaris to Kruger National Park. Our days usually started early and we were generally headed back to our house in mid afternoon.
Very often as we left Kruger we would smell the scent of potatoes being fried and thought it was people in the Crocodile River camp beginning to prepare dinner. When we entered the gates into Marloth Park the same wonderful smell would greet us. Of course if we drove around Marloth Park in the late afternoon to see what was going on along the river the scent would also be present.
Until two days ago I just assumed that fried potatoes were a staple in the South Africans diet to the point of cooking them every day, as the scent was always present in the late afternoon. What else could it be? Well was I surprised to find out that a plant called informally “The Potato Tree” was the source of this yummy scent and not the daily cooking of french fried potatoes. The plant Phyllanthus Recticulatus (see http://www.plantzafrica.com) aka The Potato Tree has small pinkish flowers that open in the mid to late afternoon and release the scent of a potato frying. The flowers are clustered on the tips of short slender branches that are about 3cm long. The flowers create small roundish fruit or berries that are green at first turning red to purple to blackish.
The plant is a member of the Euphorbia family of plants and is a dense deciduous shrub or small tree. This is one of the characteristic smells of Africa. The plant has no connection to the potato. The flowering season can extend from July to November and is often encountered along the river banks in the Lowveld.
When I return to Marloth in September and October I will have a new plant to look for and photograph.