Synonyms for Rhatany: Krameria, Peruvian rhatany, red rhatany
Scientific Name: Krameria triandra Ruiz et Pav.
Rhatany is an undemanding shrub. In its native habitat high in the Andes it grows on barren sandy slopes, reaching a height of up to one metre. Its branches are covered in little hairs and are procumbent rather than erect, growing outwards along the ground. In order to survive in this inhospitable landscape rhatany draws water and nutrients from other plants. It is not particularly selective, but uses diverse plant species as host. This is called hemiparasitism, because rhatany carries out some photosynthesis and is only partly dependent on the host plant.
Rhatany branches bear yellowish-white, downy, pointed, oblong-ovate leaves about one centimetre in length. Its flowers, which grow from the leaf axils, have four petals which are red on the inside and have grey hairs on the outside. These petals frame three striking-looking stamens. The unusual thing about the flowers is that they do not produce nectar to attract insects. Instead they produce an odourless oil in special glands called elaiophores. Bees of the genus Centris are specialised in the gathering of this oil, which they collect as food for their young and in doing so pollinate the flowers. The flowers give way to long, prickly fruits that are spread by means of their burr-like hairs which attach themselves to the fur of passing animals. The many-branched, wide-spreading rootstock is reddish-brown in colour.