A PURPLE BEAUTY

A tree like the ones shown below has been growing next to our back gate ever since we arrived here over thirty years ago. During this time it has produced the odd purple flower and clusters of dark berries favoured both by birds as well as the odd passer-by – none of whom has been able to tell me what it is called.

After so many years of drought, I was taken aback to find it covered with blossoms that first appeared at the end of September and have continued through October and November.

This has proved to be so not only for the tree on our boundary, but the beautiful flowers indicated that there are a number of these shrubs in the veld below where we live as well as elsewhere in our local area.

The mass of flowers, ranging from light to dark, are beautiful to see.

Several of the bushes I photographed were covered with bees.

They also had plenty of buds waiting to open.

As we near the end of November, the clusters of berries have become more prominent.

None of the tree guides I have illustrate these beautiful blossoms – nor do the wild flower guides – and I have drawn a blank on the internet. A positive identification would be most welcome…

…THE MYSTERY IS SOLVED! Thanks to Dries at de Wets Wild we now know it is a Puzzle Bush or Deurmekaarbos. You can access interesting information about it at https://treesa.org/ehretia-rigida/

EASTERN CAPE SCENES

Here is a pictorial tour of my local environment:

Cattle grazing in the park below our home.

Rini – Grahamstown East.

Industrial road on the outskirts of town.

Waainek Wind Farm.

An abandoned cottage at the disused Atherstone station.

Lothians area.

Abandoned church on the Southwell road.

Typical farm scene.

DENSE-THORNED BITTER APPLE

This low-growing perennial shrub, introduced from the temperate climes of South America over a century ago, has spread rapidly in South Africa. It is a problematic weed commonly found in waste land, along road sides – where these specimens were photographed – and where the veld has become overgrazed. The Solanum sisymbriifolium is also known as Sticky Nightshade.

Propagation, which occurs largely through seeds, is enhanced by a high fruit production and dispersal by frugivorous birds. The root system of these plants is extensive and it coppices readily after mechanical clearing, all of which makes it a difficult plant to eradicate.

The spiny leaves of the plant are clearly visible in this picture.

VYGIES BY ANY OTHER NAME

The ice plant family is better known in South Africa as vygies (little figs), or even as mesembs (from Mesembryanthemacae). There is a bewildering array of these flowers, some of which have been hybridised, so that trying to accurately identify them from the different guides I have is problematic – each one covers only a limited range. Looking at the photographs accompanying the names and brief descriptions of the plants can be confusing too. The Carpobrotus acinaciformis – which I think this one might be – grows along dunes and coastal sands in the southwestern and southern Cape. This means I should rule it out for these flowers blooming in the veld close to Cradock.

Yet, these magenta flowers have a pale centre. Mmm, the actual petals do not have a pale base – so perhaps it is not this one. After all this site is some distance from the ocean. Now the Carpobrotus deliciosus, which has similarly shaped leaves, not only grows on sand dunes but also in rocky grassland in both the southern and Eastern Cape. This would make it a more likely candidate except … those centres do not look pale. On the other hand, Carpobrotus dimidiatus has a flower that matches the one in the picture above and it grows along the coast of the Eastern Cape … only we are not at the coast and the leaves of this species appear to be tinged with purple. Perhaps this might help you to appreciate the dilemma of a non-botanist who is fascinated by the myriad wild flowers we are blessed with in South Africa.

There are similar flowers growing in my garden:

At least I have discovered the etymology of Carpobrotus is a combination of the Greek carpos (fruit) and brotos (edible). Certainly the fruits of these flowers turn brown when dry, and have juicy centres scattered with seeds – reminiscent of a fig and hence the Afrikaans name, vygies. These fruits can be used to make jam or to add to curry dishes, which brings to mind that another common name for these plants is sour fig.

Note: Neither my camera nor my cell phone are able to accurately reflect the gorgeous colour of these flowers.

Guides referred to:

SMITH G.F AND VAN WYK B: Guide to Garden Succulents. Briza Publications 2008.

MANNING J: Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa. Struik Nature 2009.

SMITH G.F, CROUCH N.R AND FIGUEIREDO E: Field Guide to Succulents in Southern Africa. Struik Nature 2017.

NOVEMBER 2021 GARDEN

I am pleased to report that my garden today is wet. Yes, really: it is wet, wet, wet and although the rain has made way for the sun, leaves are dripping – some are even weighing down the branches with the weight of rain. This is a sight for sore eyes – 28mm of rain!

Rain means mud and mud means that the Lesser-striped Swallows can proceed with their urgent task of constructing their mud nest under the eaves.

A Hadeda Ibis chick balances on the edge of the precarious nest in the back garden.

While a beautiful nest woven by an excited Southern Masked Weaver bobs up and down with no tenants – it was obviously not deemed to be good enough when the female inspected it!

My teeny weeny patch of flowers has got a new lease of life – just when I thought it was soon going to revert to being a bare patch of ground.

A very old hibiscus has come into bloom.

So has the indigenous Plumbago.

A matter of weeks ago I thought I would have to remove the Christ thorns lining the front path.

All over the garden the Crossberries are coming into bloom.

As is the very beautiful Cape Chestnut tree.