Chironia baccifera, the Christmas berry, belongs to the Gentianaceae family. The Gentiana genus of this family has achieved fame for the blue-flowered gentian plants growing in the Alps. The Chironia genus is, however, mainly South African, represented here by 15 species (Letty, 1962). This plant grows coastally from KwaZulu-Natal to Namaqualand on dunes and dry, sandy soil.
The Christmas berry is a popular ornamental plant with a wide range of medicinal uses. It is also poisonous to some domestic animals. The shrub grows fast from a woody base or suffrutex to heights of 50 cm, occasionally taller.
This display of green and orange berries was photographed in Kirstenbosch during March. Flowering lasts from end spring through summer.
Chiron was a well-behaved centaur in Greek mythology, the father of Medicine and Botany. Zeus honoured him by turning him into two well-known stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri, the Pointers of the Southern Cross. Baccifera means berry-bearing (Germishuizen and Fabian, 1982; www.plantzafrica.com).