MOTHER-IN-LAW’S TONGUE

Odd isn’t it … there are so many objections to various perceptions of relationships and gender in today’s society, yet no-one has given a thought to the much maligned – butt of many jokes – general name for the Sanseviera plants: mother-in-law’s tongue!

Let us leave that to the activists and focus on these tough plants that are true survivors of the drought. I think the plants in my garden are Sansevieria hyacinthoides as they look very similar to the plants I have seen growing in the shade of trees in the Addo Elephant National Park, and which are common all over the eastern part of South Africa.

Blooming in the natural thicket at Spekboom Hide in the Addo Elephant National Park

According to http://pza.sanbi.org/sansevieria-hyacinthoides, the genus Sansevieria is named after Pietro Sanseverino (1724-1771), Prince of Bisignano, who grew these plants, among other rare and exotic specimens, in his garden near Naples. Further information found at http://growwild.co.za/trees/sansevieria-hyacinthoides reveals that the discoverer of this plant, Vincenzo Petanga, wanted this plant named after Pietro Antonio Sansevierino, but Carl Thunberg named it after Raimondo di Sangro (1710-1771) an Italian nobleman, inventor, soldier, writer and scientist. The mystery of plant naming continues.

The specific name hyacinthoides means resembling a hyacinth – referring to the large creamy-white flowers with their recurved, thread-like flower segments.

In my garden

What is most striking about these plants are their long, linear leaves, often mottled with light green contrasting horizontal markings. Their flowers do not last for very long. It is nonetheless interesting watching them develop. The following pictures were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park:

Still green and tightly bound

 

Opening up

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FLOWERS OF THE GREAT FISH NATURE RESERVE

The Great Fish Nature Reserve conserves the largest single tract of sub-tropical thicket in South Africa. A visit there during the driest part of the year in this semi-arid region does not raise any expectations of a display of indigenous flowers, and yet … prominent splashes of bright yellow draw attention to the beautiful blossoms of the Rhigozum obovatum, commonly known as Karoo Gold – at least that is the nearest identification I can find to match these lovely flowers. My sources suggest a later flowering period, but so many plants appear to be pushing the envelope these days. If you can provide a more accurate identification, please do.

Other pretty flowers observed include Jamesbrittenia microphylla

Hibuscus trionum, also known as Bladder Hibiscus

Leonatus leonuris, known as Wild Dagga

There were glimpses of Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) in the thickets too.

I had hoped to photograph aloes – there were so many in bloom along the road to the reserve – but saw only three plants, only one of which was blooming. I suspect the Black Rhinos find these succulent plants are tasty and nutritious to eat!

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA

How can one reduce the wonders of South Africa to a mere ten? I thought I would choose five, then it stretched to eight and then I knew I would have to stop at ten – even then I have had to be ruthless. So here they are in alphabetical order to save me from ranking them.

Aloes: These beautiful flowers stand out in the veld during the otherwise dry winter months and attract myriads of insects and birds at a time when food is not as plentiful as in other seasons. There are over 500 species of them – enough to warrant whole books to themselves.

Aloes

Black-backed Jackal: I am well aware that small stock farmers curse these beautiful, wily creatures at times, but having watched them closely in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Kruger National Park and in the Addo Elephant National Park I regard them as one of the ‘must see’ animals on any visit.

black-backed jackal

Dirt roads: Venture onto a dirt road in this country and you know you are headed for an adventure. Kilometres of them criss-cross the land away from the main highways.

dirtroad

Elephants: We are so fortunate to live within easy visiting distance of the Addo Elephant National Park for we never tire of seeing these wondrous animals either on their own or in family groups. One can spend hours observing them at a water hole – meeting, greeting, drinking, mock charging, wallowing in the mud, blowing bubbles … they are endlessly fascinating.

elephants

Erythrinas: The scarlet blossoms of these trees, also known as coral trees, are also a feature of late winter and attract a wide variety of birds and insects. The red ‘lucky beans’ that fall to the ground are also beautiful.

erythrinas

Grass: It may sound odd to some, but I love the tawny coloured grass growing tall in the veld.

grass

Giraffe: Not only are giraffe very photogenic, they are elegant and peaceful as they move between trees or bend down to drink.

giraffe

Thorns: The long spines of the thorns of the Acacia trees have always fascinated me.

thorns

Windmills: Sadly these hardy icons of rural South Africa are becoming rarer with the more widespread use of solar-powered pumps. The clanking sound of the windmill as it turns in the wind is unforgettable.

windmill

Zebra: I cannot leave the zebra off my list – always sleek, beautiful, photogenic and very watchable creatures they are.

zebra

I wonder what your favourite things are.

A GREENER ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

A GREENER ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

I have come from the very dry Bushveld in the Limpopo Province to the softer, mellower landscape of the Addo Elephant National Park in a short hop: the contrast was made sharper by the transformation of the latter after some good rains. The veld boasts a rich green flush of grass, some flowers are blooming and the trees are beginning to expose their new spring coats. Driving through the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape is a regular reminder of nature’s miracles.

The flowers give the veld a cheerful lift in the form of yellowy-orange aloes, scarlet Schotia spp., pink pelargoniums peeping through the shrubbery, carpets of yellow Senecio spp., the remnants of orange Leonatus leonurus, blue Felicia spp., and a brilliant array of yellow Gazania spp.

aloe

There was a light cloud cover overhead and a steady wind blowing for most of the day. The temperature gradually rose from 19°C to peak at 24°C before dropping during the latter part of the afternoon. Game viewing was excellent.
Warthogs, zebra, hartebeest and kudu were plentiful – many of the latter were observed grazing out in the open on the fresh grass shoots, rather than nibbling on the leaves of trees in the thickets.

warthog

zebras

kudu

We enjoyed seeing a lot of elephants too. One almost brushed past our vehicle, it was so close. Another had a broken tusk.

broken tusk

This time we saw only two single buffalo.

buffalo

Something different was the sight of several suricates digging in the earth while we were on our way to Carol’s Rest.

suricate

An enormous tortoise lumbering next to the road seemed to bid us farewell as we made drove towards the exit gate, having enjoyed a wonderful day in Addo.

tortoise

My bird list is:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black cuckoo
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackshouldered Kite
Blacksmith Plover
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cattle Egret
Darter
Denham’s Bustard
Egyptian Goose
Emeraldspotted Wood Dove
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greyheaded Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Karoo Robin
Little Grebe
Moorhen
Olive Sunbird
Ostrich
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Red-billed Teal
Redeyed Dove
Redknobbed Coot
Rufousnaped lark
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Southern Tchagra
Speckled Mousebird
Threebanded Plover
Village Weaver

EGYPTIAN GEESE

EGYPTIAN GEESE

I mentioned last time how surprising it was not to see Egyptian Geese at Rooidam in the Addo Elephant National Park, even though it was full of water. This is because pairs of these birds tend to dominate stretches of water, fiercely guarding their territory against perceived intruders.

Egyptian geese

They sometimes perch on high points, as this one is in a park in Cape Town, as if to keep a beady eye on their territory.

I think of them as ‘geese’ rather than as an individual ‘goose’ because, as a pair, they form a strong bond and are monogamous. It is interesting to watch them during the breeding season in particular, when the males vigorously chase off any rivals – we have often observed this behaviour while parked for a while at Ghwarrie Dam. This involves a lot of flapping of wings, honking and hissing noises. Their pinkish legs and feet become more reddish during the breeding season.

I presume the appellation ‘Egyptian’ derives from these birds having originated in the Nile Valley. Literature suggests that they were regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt and thus depicted in the art of that country.

The Afrikaans name, Kolgans, appropriately draws attention to the distinctive brown patch in the middle of the bird’s buff-coloured chest. They are attractive birds that are seen all over the country and can be seen grazing at the edge of a waterhole in a game reserve as easily as on golf courses and lawns.

They are nonetheless interesting birds to watch throughout the year.

WINTER IN ADDO

WINTER IN ADDO

The dew was still thick on the ground and glistened like a myriad diamonds in the early morning sun when we entered the Addo Elephant National Park for the second time in just over two weeks. It was a gloriously clear winter’s day that warmed up gradually from 9°C to a very comfortable 23°C by the middle of the afternoon.

Warthogs were the first animals we spotted. They are ubiquitous: mowing the road verges, drinking from waterholes, and generally moving through the veld in family groups.

warthogs

Birdwatching became easier once we had emerged from the Eastern Cape Thicket, along with seeing more game. A female Ostrich stopped us in our tracks as she calmly proceeded with her dust bath on the Mbotyi Loop, sweeping her head and neck along the dusty ground and fluffing out her feathers.

ostrich

Another pleasant surprise came in the form of a pair of Secretary Birds striding purposefully across the veld, coming close enough for us to see their fine crests that earned them their name because it is reminiscent of the quill pens 19th century secretaries tended to stick in their hair or wigs.

secretarybird

Two other unusual bird sightings were a pair of Denham’s Bustards and a glimpse of a Burchell’s Coucal. The latter scuttled through the undergrowth next to the road before I could even lift my camera. This behaviour is so different from the ones in the Kruger National Park. There we saw several Burchell’s Coucals flying across the open veld, seemingly content to remain on their prominent perches for a while as they surveyed their surroundings.

Majestic looking kudu, delightful zebras and shining hartebeest abounded throughout the Park, which was alive with the shrill answering calls of Sombre Bulbuls and sprinkled with Fiscal Shrikes at every turn.

kudu

hartebeest

The veld is still relatively green and is brightened by a variety of different coloured blossoms: pale blue Plumbago, bright red schotia, orange and yellow aloes, bright yellow canary creepers, orange Cape honeysuckle, purple verbena, and blue felicia.

schotia

Unfortunately we arrived at Hapoor just as an enormous herd of elephant was dispersing into the veld. A few stragglers remained for a while, affording us the opportunity to watch them.

elephant

Rooidam was full of water. Oddly enough there wasn’t even a pair of Egyptian Geese to be seen. This is in contrast to Ghwarrie Dam, where we watched two Blackwinged Stilts work their way through the shallow water, and at Domkrag.

Rooidam

Blackwingedstilt
The sun was already low in the sky when we nosed our way homewards, having enjoyed a brief look at an elephant at the waterhole at the Main Camp and marvelled at the pink-tinged clouds on the western horizon.

My bird list is:

African Stone Chat
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackshouldered Kite
Blacksmith Plover
Blackwinged Stilt
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Sparrow
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Denham’s Bustard
Egyptian Goose
Emeraldspotted Wood Dove
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greyheaded Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Karoo Robin
Laughing Dove
Little Grebe
Moorhen
Olive Thrush
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Redeyed Dove
Redknobbed Coot
Redwinged Starling
Rufousnaped lark
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Threebanded Plover