REMOVING THE LAST CYPRESS

It was such a sad spectacle to witness that it has taken me six years to record it in a blog post: the removal of the last of the row of six cypress trees that separated the back garden from the front. They were already mature trees when we came to live here: their thick foliage and wide columnar growth gave the impression of tall green pyramids. These hardy trees with their needle-like, evergreen foliage and acorn-like seed cones did well for they clearly didn’t mind either the clay soil or the periods of drought. I suspect they were Leyland Cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii). One died, then another; one began leaning in a precarious fashion … each space thus created allowed the remaining trees to spread their branches ever wider, until there was a single tree left. It was the one growing the closest to our house.

There it grew for many more years until we experienced a drought so severe that there was a real danger of fire. We had already experienced a raging fire over the road and seen trees ignite and flare up as the flames licked at their feet. We witnessed sheets of flames carried across the open and start a new ring of fire where they landed. It was time to take stock: we cleared the garden of dried leaves and heaps of garden refuse; the indigenous trees were not a problem – the cypress was. Not only was there the danger of the branches ripping tiles off the roof during the strong Berg winds, but should the tree catch fire, so would our house. It had to go. I apologised to it profusely throughout its ordeal – which began when the tree fellers brought their weapons of destruction.

They carefully assessed their approach to its removal.

First to go were the branches growing over the roof of the house.

The lower limbs were removed next.

Until only the top was left.

The whole tree was chipped and I like to think its nutrients have lived on in our garden.

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A LONE EGYPTIAN GOOSE

I am often amused to see photographs of Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) abroad – especially in the United Kingdom, where they appear to have made themselves quite at home.  I read somewhere that some were brought into Britain in the 17th century as ornamental birds.

In South Africa it is common to see pairs of these birds dominating stretches of water – such as dams or particular stretches of a river – by fiercely guarding their territory against perceived intruders. As Egyptian Geese are predominantly herbivorous, it wasn’t at all surprising to see this one grazing next to a dam. It was, however, surprising to find it on its own with a mate nowhere in sight.

HERONS

While this Grey Heron was preening itself close enough to the edge of the water to see its fine reflection …

Its cousins, the Black-headed Herons, were stomping about in the veld looking for food. See how this one is striding across some open ground in the hope of finding some terrestrial invertebrates.

Meanwhile, a relative thought a more grassy area might prove to be more useful in terms of finding something to eat.

It certainly has a gleam in its eye!

AN INDIGENOUS MYSTERY PLANT: SOLVED!

It is many years since I walked through the Burnt Kraal area on the fringe of Grahamstown, revelling in the trees, grasses, flowers – and of course the birds. On our way back to the vehicles, I picked up a small fleshy branch lying on the path; it had obviously been broken off – although the parent plant wasn’t obvious in the grassy area. I brought it home and stuck it in a pot to see what it might turn out to be.

Every year this dry-looking stick would sprout green leaves and occasionally a pink flower would appear. The plant has been re-potted three times already and has begun to branch out, producing more flowers every year.

Long thorny spines also appear on the branches.

The tubular flowers are a pretty pink with darker stripes leading to the centres.

As you can tell from these photographs, the leaves are still on the plants when the flowers appear.

The nearest plants to it that I can find in my guide books – and searching through Google images – are the Adenium spp. such as the Impala lily (found in the dry Lowveld vegetation – especially seen in the Kruger National Park) and the Summer Impala lily, which is also restricted to the bushveld, and especially in Swaziland (now known as the Kingdom of Eswatini). Both of these places are very far from the veld where this plant was found.

If anyone has any bright ideas about the identification of this plant, I would love to be able to put a name to it.

Dries at DeWetsWild is the star: he has identified this plant as a Pachypodium succulentum, commonly known as Thickfoot, thanks to the massive underground caudex – a  thickened, underground, water-storing, tuberous stem, which helps the plant to survive during drought periods. This means that I must find an even larger pot for it! Although I had consulted the site Dries recommends in the comments, I was put off by the pale colour of the flowers illustrated there. The name he gave me, however, led me back to my Field Guide to Succulents in South Africa by Smith, Crouch and Figueiredo: the flower in that book is the same colour as mine – they apparently vary from white to crimson.

These plants are endemic to South Africa and naturally occur in stony grassland and along rocky ridges in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape as well as in the western Free State. Do look at http://pza.sanbi.org/pachypodium-succulentum for a host of very interesting information about this plant.

ZEBRAS IN ADDO

There is always a sense of anticipation whenever we enter a national park: what animal will we see first? On this day trip to the Addo Elephant National Park, zebras won hands down: they were everywhere!

Some ignored vehicles in order to continue grazing right next to the road.

This one was literally pulling up daisy-like plants.

It has been a good season for babies.

The herds of zebra were always accompanied by flocks of Cattle Egrets, eager to catch insects in their wake.

These two were standing apart from the rest.