LOOKING BACK OVER A THOUSAND POSTS

This is my thousandth post since I tentatively began my blog in December 2013. Apart from trawling through my archives or wanting to find out more about me, the three posts that have attracted the most views since then have surprised me. This might be an appropriate time to tell you how they came about:

The most viewed post is Weeds with a History (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/weeds-with-a-history/) published in June 2015. While only ten bloggers have ‘liked’ it and it took three years before anyone responded to it (thank you Joy!), the post about three of the most common invasive weeds in South Africa (Khakibos, Blackjacks, and Cosmos) has been viewed nearly eight hundred times. Are viewers interested in weeds, or does the ‘with a history’ attract their attention? It came about as a result of one of our many travels through this country when we were climbing up Yeomanry Kopje outside Lindley in the Free State to view the graves of British soldiers buried there during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). As we walked through the inevitable swathes of Khakibos in the long grass it struck me then that these weeds had not existed in this country prior to that war. Having researched the subject, I gave a short talk on it at the Eastern Cape branch of the South African Military History Society. The interest shown there encouraged me to publish the post.

Following close on its heels – and closely related to it – is War Horses: the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/war-horses-the-role-of-horses-in-the-anglo-boer-war-1899-1902/) published nearly a year later. I have long been familiar with the Horse Memorial in Port Elizabeth, having first seen it as a child, but visiting the Horse Memorial on the campus of the Weston Agricultural College in KwaZulu Natal brought home to me the role that horses have played in war and in the Anglo-Boer War in particular. This post is very basic – written while I was feeling passionate about the topic but had not yet researched it deeply. Only nine bloggers have ‘liked’ it and Nature on the Edge is the only one to have responded (thank you Liz!), yet it has been viewed nearly seven hundred times. My interest in the topic grew and the more I found out about the role played by horses, the more I wanted to disseminate this. Thus I have since expanded it and addressed the Military History Society, The Grahamstown Historical Society, our local U3A and Friends of the Library – incorporating poetry and a variety of illustrations to embellish the message.

Surprisingly, the third most viewed post is on the topic of Flying Ants (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/flying-ants/), also published in 2016. Although only four bloggers have ‘liked’ it and only Summer Daisy Cottage responded, it has been viewed close to four hundred times. We actually used to receive rain three years ago and I happened upon the alates emerging from the ground, having been alerted to this by the interest shown by a variety of birds in that particular section of the garden. I thought it would be interesting to record what was happening. Perhaps most of the viewers need to look up ‘flying ants’ for their school projects!

 

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SUNDAY DRIVE

We are fortunate that we can drive only a few minutes from home and be within sight of wild animals. Their presence isn’t guaranteed for it is in their nature to move around according to the available grazing, water, the sun or the shade. Nonetheless, we often see zebra only five minutes away – they share grazing with a herd of cows on a farm – and only a few kilometers further on is a private nature reserve with a greater variety of game.

This is a scene I photographed at the weekend, showing zebra and a variety of blesbuck. The latter come in shades of their normal dark brown to completely white – why anyone would want to breed white blesbuck is beyond me. Nonetheless, these animals make a pleasant change from the Urban Herd, donkeys – and moths!

The grey logs are from Eucalyptus trees that were cut down years ago. Many of the scrubby bushes are a re-infestation of wattle, and the odd humps scattered in the background are termite heaps – there are a lot of them around here. At this time of the year the grass has been grazed down to within an inch of its life. Once again, we are sorely in need of rain – do not let that distant hue of green deceive you.

 

NOTE: Click on the photograph for a clearer view.

BRAZILIAN PEPPER TREE

In its wisdom, our local municipality planted a row of Brazilian Pepper trees (Schinus terebinthifoliu) along the street that runs in front of our home. I say ‘in its wisdom’ – although, to be fair, this knowledge might not have been readily available forty odd years ago – because not only are their bright red, slightly fleshy fruits poisonous, but the sap of these trees is a skin irritant and affects the respiratory tract! How wonderful to have these as our street trees.

They were probably planted as ornamental trees because they are evergreen with wide-spreading, horizontal branches and the bountiful crop of fruits look attractive. Each of the fruits contain a single seed, most of which are dispersed by birds and animals.

The interesting thing is that this attractive tree is a Category One invasive alien, which means it is illegal to grow it in one’s garden – yet, here is a whole row of them in the street! The Brazilian pepper-tree is native to south eastern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay. It is now classified as a highly invasive species that has proved to be a serious weed in South Africa. Any chance they will be removed by the municipality? Don’t bet on it.

NOTE: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

AGAVE ATTENUATA

While the leaves of the Agave attenuata, also known as Swan’s Neck or Fox Tail are attractive on their own, for me the real attraction is their flowers.

The long spikes of flowers appear as each of these rosettes of sharply pointed grey-green leaves matures over a period of four to five years.

As you can see, these flower spikes grow to be about 3m tall and bend over so that from certain angles they look akin to the curve of a swan’s neck – hence that common name, although it is also known here in Afrikaans as Die Sonkyker.

Probably due to their weight, these tall spikes reflex towards the ground before arching up again – apparently like the tail of a fox, giving rise to another common name.

Each of these spikes is filled with a myriad creamy flowers. Once a rosette of leaves has produced a flower, it dies.

This plant originates from Mexico and is a popular plant for large gardens and in public gardens. This particular specimen grows next to the road leading into our town, along with various colour varieties of bougainvillea – plants suited to ‘neglect’ as they have been planted on a bank and are never watered by the municipality.

 

SMALL ROUND-LEAVED PRICKLY PEAR

We are used to seeing prickly pear plants all over this country. All prickly pears here are regarded as alien invasives even though some are used for fodder and many people enjoy eating their fruit.

The unusual purple fruits of these plants on a farm in the Stormberg area caught my eye. They are from the Small Round-leaved Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii), also known as the Kleinronderblaarturksvy.

The plant, which can grow to 1, 5m tall, is smaller than the more common ones we come across.

As you can see, the plant has long white spines and bears purple, fleshy, edible fruits.

Like so many alien invasive plants, the Opuntia engelmanii was probably introduced as an ornamental plant that has since escaped the boundaries of gardens. Originating from North and Central America, it has been listed as a noxious weed in this country since 1984 and is a particular problem in the Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng and Free State provinces. The spines can injure livestock and wild herbivores and its presence in grazing areas can curtail the movement of such animals.

VERBENA ARISTIGERA

I have always known this plant as ‘wild verbena’ for it grows all over the country and bears a close resemblance to the far more lush and beautiful verbena seeds people purchase for their gardens.

This tough plant flowers next to roads, in the veld, and in disturbed soil.

It is so ubiquitous that I have been puzzled why it is not represented in the various guides I have to wild flowers in South Africa. The answer lay in my trusty Common Weeds in South Africa by Mayda Henderson and Johan G. Anderson published in 1966: this fine-leaved verbena originated in South America (as so many of our alien plants do) and was probably brought in as a garden plant. The names Verbena aristigera and Verbena tenuisecta appear to be synonymous. They are such pretty flowers that I am pleased to read that they do not, as yet, present a serious weed problem.

Note: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

A REVIEW OF 2018

The statistics provided for our blogs make interesting reading, particularly as I look back on another year of posting about this or that. That most of my viewers are from South Africa pleases me, for it is my home audience after all. The United States of America and the United Kingdom provide the next most viewers – although the spectrum of viewers from all over the world is exciting, for it is good to know that what I post has a broad appeal.

I am intrigued that the top search term remains black jack plant.

It is thus not surprising that the most popular post is Weeds with a History, which was first published in 2015. It received seven views then and 323 views this year! This post came about as a result of a trip we did through the Free State at a time when the Cosmos flowers were blooming; we had walked through the veld to view military graves and returned covered in Black Jack seeds; and had inadvertently crushed Khakibos underfoot, which released a particularly fragrant aroma I have always associated with my childhood in the Lowveld.

All three of these weeds came to this country as a result of feed brought in for the British horses during the Anglo-Boer War.

The next most popular post is War Horses: the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). This was posted in 2016 after a trip to KwaZuluNatal during which we visited the horse memorial at the Weston Agricultural College. Even though I was familiar with the well-known horse memorial in Port Elizabeth, I found this a particularly moving experience and felt compelled to research and write about the role horses played during this war.

It was viewed 49 times in 2016 and 297 times this year, which encouraged me to conduct further research and to write about this topic in greater detail to present as a talk to three very different audiences.

What has taken me by surprise though is the popularity of the post on Flying Ants, which was also published in 2016, gaining an initial nine views then and garnering 233 this year – simply an observation of what was happening in my garden!

What about the posts published in 2018 then? Blackjacks tops the list – this is a more in-depth exploration of these weeds which came about as a result of the popularity of the search term. My short story, Poor Uncle Kevin couldn’t go to the party – based on my son’s dog which died this year – came second, with National Bird of South Africa – the Blue Crane – coming third.

Thank you to everyone who has taken time to read my posts, to those who have become followers, and especially to those who have liked and commented on my posts. This has been a wonderful way to connect with readers and has enriched my blogging experience enormously.

I hope you will all enjoy a happy festive season.