CRASSULA MULTICAVA

I seem to mentioning the drought rather frequently still – odd this, when parts of the country have already experienced flooding and hailstorms. We have rejoiced in the little rain that has come our way in the Eastern Cape: mostly in the form of drizzle so light that one wouldn’t bother to reach for an umbrella, yet enough to green up the grass and to encourage the trees to put out leaves. Our landscape has been transformed by the different hues of green as well as a few wild flowers here and there. One of our main water storage dams is completely empty; another I drive past regularly probably only has enough water to fill an average home swimming pool; while an aerial view of yet another shows only a thin stream of water. The latter dam used to be so full that the local rowers would use it for regattas! Alas, no more …

Hence the joy I take in drought-resistant blossoms that either grow in my garden or in the veld within easy walking distance. Our garden has always been blessed with a generous sprinkling of Crassula multicava, also known as Fairy Crassula. It was many years before I discovered what it was called: even though it can be found in many gardens in this town, no-one seemed to have a name for it. A common response I would get is “I don’t know, it seems to grow wild here.”

A ‘wild’ plant it is too for it grows all over the garden and forms a good ground cover even in the deep shade, whilst appearing to be equally happy in the sunshine. Their leaves are flat and roundish. If you look closely you might notice the tiny spots on them. These are what might have given rise to another common name for this plant, Pitted Crassula.

The colour of the leaves vary from light to dark green depending on whether the plants are growing in the sun or the shade. They contain hydathodes (which are water-secreting pores), which serve for rapid absorption of water from the leaf surface – making them ideal ‘drought’ plants. Dainty white, or pale pink, star-shaped flowers appear in sparse clusters from about May to November.

These are best appreciated when seen in a mass and attract a variety of insects, including bees and butterflies.

Crassula multicava occurs naturally from the southern Cape, through the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, into Mpumalanga. They multiply rapidly – if they can do that in my drought-stricken garden, then imagine what they can do under ideal conditions. This is because, apart from the expected dispersal of seeds, these plants root easily and spread from leaves that fall or break off from the mother plant. Another form of self-propagation is that the Crassula multicava produces plantlets on the flower-head that drop off and develop into independent plants.

They seem to have all bases covered!

WILD GARLIC

All indigenous species of wild garlic in South Africa are named after Ryk Tulbagh, the Dutch governor of the Cape from 1751 to 1771. How I marvel at the enterprise of the early explorers, artists, writers, botanists, and administrators whose insatiable curiosity and meticulous record-keeping have formed the basis of so much of what we know about our flora. Tulbagh sent numerous South African plants to the legendary Carl Linnaeus for classification. Wild Garlic was among these.

The general appearance of both the plant and flowers of Wild Garlic resembles that of an onion. Tulbaghia violacea is the best known of the indigenous species as it is has become a popular garden plant both here and internationally. The flowers are very attractive.

Particularly useful as far as I am concerned, is that Wild Garlic tolerates prolonged drought conditions, although it obviously thrives when well-watered. This evergreen perennial with long, narrow, strap-like, slightly fleshy leaves bears pinkish-mauve tubular flowers on long stems. The leaves smell strongly of garlic when bruised, as do the flowers when they are picked.

The flowers bloom in the summer, usually from about January until April. I have read a recommendation that crushing some of the leaves while one is sitting outside in the evening might help to deter the annoying presence of mosquitoes – I have not tested this theory yet, but if it works I will be very pleased as I am not partial to using commercial sprays or creams to keep mosquitoes at bay. The other aspect I have not yet tried out is using either the leaves or flowers in salads.

Wild Garlic grows throughout the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and in Limpopo. It multiplies by making offsets that develop into clumps and the flowers are pollinated by butterflies and bees.

This is an interesting article about Wild Garlic which you might enjoy reading:

https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/archive/wild-garlic-a-lingering-allure/

BULBINE NARCISSIFOLIA

The description of a particular grassland plant being common on overgrazed range-land made me realise I had hit the jackpot in identifying these canary-yellow flowers growing on a neglected triangle of ground – where the once regularly mowed lawn has long since been replaced by wild grass, on the overgrazed patch of lawn below our house, and along neglected pavements in the suburbs.

The Bulbine narcissifolia is also known as the Strap-leaved Bulbine, doubtless after its loosely twisted, strap-like grey-green leaves. As you can tell from the photograph below, flowers are star-shaped with bearded stamens and mature from the bottom of the inflorescence. The open flowers are pollinated by insects.

The stalks reach up to 500mm, making the flowers conspicuous during their summer flowering season. Fortunately, they are drought tolerant and so bring joy during these dry times!

THERE IS NO RUST IN …

Those of you who have moved to a new town will empathise with the difficulties one faces when seeking a home to purchase. An obvious priority is that the house must fit within one’s budget, yet there are many other aspects to consider. The real estate world drums out the message ‘location, location, location’ … in our case, having spent a considerable amount of time travelling between home and school, we were keen to find a house that would be within reasonable walking distance of the schools our children would attend, not only at the time but as they grew older. Then there was the matter of the railway line – in some towns the siting of a house on one side or the other can make a difference of one kind or another. Not here, the estate agent told us, happily pointing out that a judge lived here, an advocate there, a professor somewhere else … This estate agent had several houses on his books and took us to one close to the one we finally settled upon. I had spent a year living at the coast and had been horrified at how quickly everything rusted there. As most of the houses we had looked at didn’t have a garage or, if they did, not one large enough to house our trailer, gardening equipment and so on and the fact that our town is only about 60km from the coast, we inevitably asked “Is there a problem with rust?”

At the time the estate agent was standing at the end of the driveway of a house we had looked at and had his hand balanced on the post box affixed to a wooden pole. It was not this one, yet looked very similar:

He looked at us with a straight face – perhaps not aware of the irony – and declared “There is no rust in Grahamstown.”

Needless to say, we concluded the sale of our present home with someone who appeared to be a little more honest!

MULBERRIES

What do you immediately associate with mulberries?

I think for many of us the answer might be silkworms. I recall having silkworms as a child – shoeboxes filled with these stripy creatures – and getting some of them to spin beautiful bookmarks in various shapes cut from card. I would pick mulberry leaves by the fistful to feed them. Beetroot leaves would result in a pinkish hue to the silk. It was always fun watching them spin their golden cocoons from which furry white moths would emerge. They would lay their eggs in the shoebox, which we would then put away until about September of the following year. This is when the whole cycle would start again.

These silkworms required regular maintenance: we would have to remove the withered leaves from the box (how many tiny silkworms were tossed away during that process?) and clean the box, replenish the box with fresh leaves and make sure the silkworms were all back in place. Their feeding frenzy would continue unabated – it was fascinating to watch how quickly the leaves would be consumed.

A tall, sturdy mulberry tree grew in our garden. During the fruiting season, my brothers and I would shin up the tree to eat the fat, juicy, sun-warmed fruit to our hearts content. We would come down with purple-stained faces, hands, and clothes. Even the soles of our feet would be stained from having stood in the fallen fruit. Sometimes my mother would ask us to fill a little basket so that we could have fresh dark purple mulberries as a dessert – either on their own if there were enough, or she would mix them into a dark jelly. If the ‘harvest’ was particularly bountiful, my Mom would make mulberry jam – a taste of heaven!

What happens to silkworms? I think they pass from one generation of school children to the next. Although I have seen cocoons, eggs and silkworms for sale online – I cannot remember any money changing hands either when I was a child or when my own children went through the ‘silkworm phase’. Perhaps I was only too pleased to be rid of them!

An enormous, spreading white mulberry graced the driveway next to our farmhouse. The fruit from this tree seemed fatter than the purple variety, and was white with a slight tinge of purple. While the white mulberries had a different taste, they too were sweet and were consumed in large quantities while we sat on the sturdy branches. Apparently the white mulberry is invasive and may no longer be planted without a permit – not that we saw any other plants in our farm garden.

There must be silkworms all over the country: it wasn’t long after we moved to the Eastern Cape before our children brought silkworms home from school. Finding mulberry leaves was not an easy task and so we planted a tree in our garden to ensure a regular supply. Birds loved the fruit so much that we didn’t get much of a show in, but the silkworms thrived. In due course they must have been passed on to another generation of young children. The tree was blown over in a storm and has not been replaced.

According to http://southafrica.co.za/mulberries.html mulberries are thought to have originated in China, Japan and the foothills of the Himalayas. The Dutch East India Company imported mulberry trees to South Africa in 1726 in an attempt to establish a silk industry here.

A young mulberry tree has sprung up on the verge of the street that runs behind our home. Its position suggests that it wasn’t planted there deliberately. The tree is never watered and is regularly chomped by the Urban Herd. Right now it is bearing the most delicious fruit that is just about right for picking – unless a cow gets in first!

Do you remember singing the nursery rhyme:

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.