SILKY OAK TREES

I have seen Australian Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) trees growing in rows on some farms around the country – learning much later that this is probably because they are sturdy and fast-growing here and so make good wind breaks. So many exotic plants make their way around the world for practical reasons such as this as well as for their beauty. The Silky Oak bears beautiful golden yellow to orange flowers shaped rather like a bottle-brush. These, combined with their straight trunks and moderately spreading crowns have made them a favourite street tree too – a number of streets in Grahamstown are lined with them – as they provide good shade.

I happened to be parked in a street lined with them when I noticed that the natural cracks in the bark of some of the trees were filled with termite tunnels. I have subsequently read that Silky Oaks are susceptible to termites that pack mud over their excavations into the wood.

You can see this clearly in the next photograph:

The fern-like leaves of the Silky Oak are dark green above and greyish-white or rusty-silk coloured beneath – which may have given rise to their other common name, Silver Oak.

As with the flowers of the Huil Boerboon (Tree Fuschia) the flowers of the Silky Oak drips with nectar, making a sticky mess on any vehicles parked underneath them during the blooming season. It is not flowering time now, but I noticed that a number of trees were exuding gum resin. Some of this was very fresh and literally dripped from one dollop of gum down to the next:

While other globules of gum were stiffer – probably older.

Stretched across some of the cracks in the bark – and covering the gum in places – were a number of tightly woven spider webs.

They are doubtless here to stay for I cannot imagine any debt-ridden municipality cutting down swathes of mature trees simply because views have changed and the silky oaks are now considered to be alien invasive trees. What they will be replaced with as they grow older is of more concern. Silky Oaks have been here for so long that they are considered to be naturalised – much as the Jacaranda trees have. A problem, however, is that, thanks to the easy dispersal of their seeds, they are considered to be particularly invasive in both the Western and Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

PRINTS IN THE MUD

Long-term readers, don’t get excited on my behalf. The mud in the picture below is the result of a burst pipe and not the longed-for rain. Still, it provides an interesting record of what has passed along this way:

A vehicle, a dog and a person. Seeing these prints in the now dry mud made me think of prints that have been preserved of dinosaurs for example – all a snapshot of an ordinary day. Imagine what future generations might make of these – if they too were preserved like that.

BABOON

Many visitors to our national parks are generally more interested in seeing the larger animals – especially lions – while others are focused on seeing as many different bird species as they can. The main attraction in the Addo Elephant National Park is naturally elephants, although one may be fortunate to spot a lion. Often dismissed by those intent on finding ‘more interesting’ animals are the smaller creatures. We have visited the park many times over decades and it is really only the last few years that baboons have become more prominent.

It is worth stopping for a moment to watch them in action. This one is picking thin twigs from a small plant and eating the leaves or seeds from it. These baboons have not (yet – hopefully never) been spoiled by visitors trying to feed them and so one can watch them going about their normal routine of finding food.

Here the baboon is reaching out for more of whatever this plant is that is proving to be worth eating. Its companions were further back from the road – if you see one baboon, there are bound to be others in the close vicinity so it is worth looking out for them.

Even whilst chewing, the baboon was on the lookout for the next tasty bite.

This part of the meal over, it was time to find something else. We left it at this point, having enjoyed observing the delicacy with which it picked out the food to eat, and the fine dexterity it employed to strip the leaves or seeds. These intelligent creatures are rewarding to watch in their natural state.

PREPARING FOR MAGNIFICENCE

Shades of orange are traditionally associated with autumn and as I was walking around my garden to check on the progress of the aloes dotted about, my eye was caught by these bright spots:

This fungi has appeared on an aloe stem and looks rather attractive when looked at more closely:

Back to the aloes though. I am heartened by the appearance of many tightly closed buds, such as this one:

The tall Aloe ferox in the front garden has been pushing up its swelling spikes unseen until now:

Soon these rather insignificant looking spikes will grow tall – you can see a discarded dry stem from last season still hooked onto the leaves – and unfurl into a magnificent display of colour. Watch this space!

A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME

This beautiful aloe – the first I have seen blooming here – is a taste of the autumnal treat that we look forward to.

These beautifully rich, warm colours will delight us – as well as birds and insects – throughout winter. The aloes in my garden are pushing up their closed spikes, but this one, growing in the full sun next to the road leading into town, is magnificent.

These flowers fill my heart with joy as I anticipate more to flower all over the country!