LEAVES IN MY GARDEN

While there is not much in the way of flowers in our wintry garden – and the temperature seems to drop by the day – there are a variety of interesting leaves. The first of these are the remnants of the Sword Ferns (Nephrolepsis exaltata), which I try to keep under control so that they do not overrun the garden. Here they are caught in the dappled afternoon light:

Next are the beautifully shaped leaves of the Delicious Monster (known in some quarters as the Swiss cheese plant), which outgrew its pot years ago and now has the freedom to expand in the shadiest part of the garden:

There are not many leaves left on the Frangipani (Plumeria) tree, as most of them have fallen off and lie wrinkled and brown on what should be a lawn beneath it:

Having looked at the exotic plants, let us turn to some of the many indigenous trees and shrubs. The first of these is the Ginger Bush (Tetradenia riparia), which is in bloom now while putting out a new lot of leaves, which is why they are still so small:

Almost leafless is the Blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (Ziziphus mucronata) growing near the front door:

The beautiful shape of the leaves of a Cussonia (Cabbage) tree is silhouetted when I sit in its shade:

Lastly, these are the rather thin-looking, slightly shrivelled leaves of the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) that will flesh out once the rains come:

THE DANDELION

While the Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) probably originated in Europe, it is now a cosmopolitan traveller that has settled around the world. In South Africa these flowers are commonly seen growing in lawns, along paths, pavements and road verges, as well as next to road verges. Despite the well-documented culinary and medicinal uses of dandelions, they are mostly regarded as weeds. Thanks to their long flowering period, dandelions also provide a ready supply of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators, often when little else is available. I enjoy seeing the bright yellow dandelion flowers that pop up in our garden.

They are survivors – as this poem by Vachel Lindsay illustrates so well:

The Dandelion

O dandelion, rich and haughty,
  King of village flowers!
  Each day is coronation time,
  You have no humble hours.
  I like to see you bring a troop
  To beat the blue-grass spears,
  To scorn the lawn-mower that would be
  Like fate’s triumphant shears.
  Your yellow heads are cut away,
  It seems your reign is o’er.
  By noon you raise a sea of stars
  More golden than before.

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.