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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MYSTERY OF MYSTERIOUS PLANT UNVEILED

Hooray for knowledgeable fellow bloggers and how wonderful to begin the new year with a mystery solved. My previous post included “a mystery plant that at first looked and (the leaves) smelled akin to a carrot. Within days it had shot up and produced a variety of blooms”.

Alittlebitoutoffocus helpfully not only identified it as a Wild Carrot (Daucus carrota), but included a video that takes one through the identification process.

This plant is also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, a reference to its resemblance to lace made by Queen Anne. The flowers are clustered in flat, dense umbels, with the red flower in the centre apparently representing a blood droplet where she pricked herself with a needle while making the lace. The function of this tiny red flower, coloured by anthocyanin, is to attract pollinating insects.

Queen Anne’s lace is a biennial plant that is native to Europe and southwest Asia, so how did one end up in my flower pot? I was unaware that it is a popular garden plant in South Africa – particularly for using in mixed floral displays – so it may have come from a seed blown in from one of the neighbouring gardens.

It is a hardy annual that, apart from creamy white flowers, also apparently produces flowers in a range of sizes and colours, from blush to dark purple. Mine started off looking white but soon developed a purplish tinge. Some sources say the flowers change colour with age. Eliza suggests that my plant may be a cultivar known as Daucus carrota ‘Dara’.

That it likes full sun comes as no surprise for the pot it chose to grow in receives full sun from early in the morning until about two o’clock in the afternoon.

Not that I plan to do pull it up – just yet anyway – I understand that the taproot is whitish and both looks and smells like a carrot. The leaves certainly look and smell like a carrot. This is not surprising, given that it is the mother of all carrots!

The stiff, solid stem is hairy.

As the seeds develop, the umbel curls up at the edges, becomes more congested, and develops a concave surface.

 

RANDOM GLIMPSES OF THIS WEEK

The week leading up to Christmas always seems to be such a busy one – there is no end of tasks that need to be completed. My cell phone camera has kept track of some of the interesting sights and events of the week. Today was 38’C so I naturally sought the shade while having tea and watching birds – only to be attacked by mosquitoes!

I have noticed for some time that several Cape Honeysuckle leaves appear to be covered by a series of intricate white dots.

A closer look – thank you cell phone – reveals tiny insects probably sucking at the sap in the veins. I imagine these are a type of aphid. Eliza (see comments) has identified them as cotton mealybug (Phenacoccus solenopsis).

Imagine my surprise and delight at this unexpected courier delivery bringing Christmas cheer from afar!

The poppies in the back garden succumbed to the heat a long time ago, leaving the hardened seed cases behind – I rather enjoy their structural details.

I leave you with a ‘new’ Urban cow sporting an interesting pattern on her hide. Her calf is next to her – they are part of another large herd that have moved in to munch on the long grass growing near the vacated school playing fields.

RED SESBANIA

I was very young when I first came across Red Sesbania (Sesbania punicea) trees. A row of these attractive deciduous shrubs lined the short driveway leading towards the homestead on a neighbouring farm. The owners were justifiably pleased with the overall effect these trees had on the appearance of their small holding.

Although everyone seemed to call them Sesbania, I later learned that other common names include coffee weed, rattlepod (probably because of the dry seeds in their pods) and Brazilian glory pea. The latter name is understandable when you look at the shape of the showy red to orange flowers.

When I recall that row of pretty trees, I remember other examples of these trees being planted as ornamental specimens in the gardens seen during my youth. They are quick growing and their dense sprays of blossoms look very beautiful during the flowering period of about to September to March. That must be the only reason why they were ever imported to this country from South America – in every other respect they are far from desirable for their seeds, leaves and flowers are actually poisonous. The seeds are especially toxic for birds, mammals and reptiles.

Those seeds … these trees spread through the dispersal of their seeds. These photographs are taken too early to show the seeds, which would initially be hidden by the dark green leaves.

A small stream flowed near the smallholding I mentioned earlier. We used to cross it via a low-level concrete strip of the kind commonly found all over South Africa where the water runs intermittently. Very occasionally there would be a flood that would cut off the road, but mostly the stream bed was an expanse of rocks and soft, dry sand … until the Sesabania seeds moved in to find rootholds in tiny damp spaces. In seemingly next to no time, the stream-bed became literally choked with these trees. The water – such as there was – dried up and trees began invading nearby citrus orchards and other cultivated land.

I can therefore appreciate why the Red Sesbania has been listed as a category 1b species, which necessitates its control or removal and destruction if possible. I have seen how it competes with and replaces indigenous riverine and wetland species; how it blocks access to water and hampers the flow of water so that – when there is a flood – rivers burst their banks and cause erosion.

These trees now grow over large parts of South Africa – only the more arid regions are spared – where they invade wasteland, ditches and thrive in the run-off water along the roadside, which is where these photographs were taken.

Reference:

Van Wyk Braam and Van Wyk Piet Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. 2013 Struik Nature. Cape Town.

MEXICAN POPPY

As the name implies, the Mexican Poppy (Argemone subfusiformis) – also known as Prickly Poppy – originates in Mexico. It is thought to have been introduced into South Africa at the turn of the 20th century and is a common pioneer species throughout the country. These plants grow on waste land, in disturbed sites, and can be particularly troublesome on cultivated land. It is not surprising then, that it has been declared an invader plant in South Africa: all parts of the plant are toxic.

The prickly stems and leaves are a bluish-green or greyish-green in colour and are hairless. As you can see from the photograph above, the whitish-coloured veins give the leaves a variegated appearance. They are deeply serrated and have several sharp spines along their margins. The spiny capsules are generally oval, oblong or egg-shaped.

When the spiny flower buds open they reveal rather attractive flowers with six pale yellow, lemon or cream-coloured petals.

The flowers have a number of stamens surrounding a purplish stigma.

Flowering occurs mostly during spring and summer.

More detailed information can be found at:

https://africawild-forum.com/viewtopic.php?t=3932