SOUTH AFRICAN STAMPS: THE PROTEA SERIES

This first day cover features the Third Definitive Series of stamps for the Republic of South Africa that were issued on 27th May 1977. According to the Post Office, definitive stamps are issued here every five to seven years. These contain a set of designs in a full range of face values to provide for the country’s postal needs. This particular series is known as the Protea Series and depicts the wonderful variety of proteas that grow in South Africa.

The stamps were designed by Dick Findlay, who has done the protea family proud with these beautiful paintings.

Here is a list of the proteas:

1c: Protea repens – also known as the sugar bush. It was one of the first proteas described by the botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The common name alludes to the copious nectar it produces, which used to be used as a sugar substitute as well as for medical purposes. There is an interesting reference to how this was made (including a recipe) at http://africanaromatics.com/sugarbush-protea-repens-syrup/. There is also a lovely traditional Afrikaans song that features the sugar bush (suikerbossie):

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Wat sal jou mama daarvan sê

2c: Protea punctate

3c: Protea neriifolia

4c: Protea longifolia

5c: Protea cyneroides – also known as the King Protea because of its size. It was proclaimed the national flower in February 1976.

6c: Protea canaliculata

7c: Protea lorea

8c: Protea mundii – named after the 19th century German collector, Leopold Mund.

9c: Protea roupeliae – named after a flower painter of the 1840’s, Arabella Roupell. She is noted for an anonymous set of flower paintings published in 1849 under the title Specimens of the flora of South Africa by a Lady.

10c: Protea aristata – only discovered in 1928.

15c: Protea eximia

20c: Protea magnifica – also known as the Queen Protea.

25c: Protea grandiceps

30c: Protea amplexicaulis

50c: Leucospermum cordifolium – known as pincushion proteas.

R1: Paranomus reflexus

R2: Orothamus zeyheri – known as the Marsh Rose, it is a rare and endangered species.

Coil stamps:

1c: Leucadendron argenteum – known as the Silver Tree.

2c: Serruria florida – known as the Blushing Bride.

10c: Leucadendron sessile

The date stamp is appropriately marked Kirstenbosch, which is a world renowned botanical garden situated in Newlands, Cape Town.

NOTE: If you wish to have a clearer view of the stamps, click on the photograph and enlarge it.

A MATTER OF PERCEPTION

Three people witness the same accident. Having interviewed them, the police find they have three very different statements. Were these three witnessing the same accident? Yes, but they happened to be in three very different positions and each saw the accident happen from a different perspective. And so it was with a large fire outside town recently:

While driving along the N2, one could be forgiven for thinking that the 1820 Settler Monument was ablaze. Turn onto a side road and the smoke from the fire appeared in a different place:

It looks fairly benign from this perspective – although NO fire can be considered benign in these tinder dry conditions. Driving a little further along the same road, one can see that the fire seems anything but benign:

It is all a matter of perspective.

LAST SPLASHES OF COLOUR

There has been no soft introduction to spring this year. Even the peach blossoms shrivelled within a day or two before disappearing in the dry wind. For two or three days I thought the jasmine flowers would fill the garden with their scent after each hot day – they too shrivelled and died without ceremony. There are not even single flowers to herald the spring in my garden – and not many in the veld either! I think anything that pops its head above ground in the latter gets grazed by wild and domestic animals eager for moisture and the taste of anything other than short, dusty grass.

At least indigenous trees know how to survive in this heat (we have already experienced 41°C without reaching the official summer) and dry weather. Most sport green leaves in different hues, even though some remain bare and skeletal looking. The last vibrant splashes of winter colour come from the Erythrina trees.

The Erythrina caffra in our back garden has been flowering for weeks and is only now beginning to cover itself with green leaves.

Several Erythrina lysistemon trees grow in the suburbs and their scarlet flowers are balm for the soul.

SHADES OF BROWN

So, we are still waiting for spring rain to save our garden from the brink of death. This is what it looks like at the moment:

The front lawn has not received water for months. Fortunately it consists of indigenous grass and so should bounce back and recover quickly once the rains come.

This should be a flower bed. What was growing in there died months ago and it isn’t worth planting anything there until the first rains arrive. Our current water restrictions do not allow for watering plants.

Following the natural course of the seasons, these Acacia pods have ripened and turned brown. The seeds provide food for a variety of birds.

There is a thick layer of brown (and yellow) leaf litter in what I used to call my ‘Secret Garden’. It is hardly secret anymore as there is no cover left in the form of shrubs, creepers and foliage from trees. Several of the older bushes growing there have died.

All is not lost though for these clivias have come into bloom next to the garden path. They provide cheering, beautiful colour as well as hope for better conditions to come.

ALOE POLLINATORS

Several aloes are still blooming in different parts of the country as the winter stretches out. Their bright colours attract a variety of pollinators, of which these are only a few:

This female Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa caffra) is an efficient pollinator that visits the flowers for nectar and pollen. The males are completely covered in yellow hairs.

The silhouette of the sunbird below belongs to a Greater Double-collared Sunbird. I only know because I saw it beforehand.

Bees and hoverflies play a role in pollinating the aloes too.

One can tell how successful the season’s pollination has been by the swollen fruits that appear later.

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

ERYTHRINA HUMEANA

As we start peering towards the end of winter, it is appropriate to introduce the slender, rather graceful member of the Erythrina family in South Africa: the Erythrina humeana, commonly known  as the Dwarf Coral Tree. This specimen in Kew Gardens still retains the former name for it: Dwarf Kafferboom, a name now considered offensive in this country. I am nonetheless interested that they have used the Afrikaans spelling instead of the English form, Kaffirboom. Well, ‘boom’ is Afrikaans anyway (meaning ‘tree’), so why not.

This attractive plant grows from the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga into Swaziland and Mozambique. They flower in summer, bearing leaves at the same time – unlike Erythrina caffra and Erythrina lysistemon, for example. The latter two flower from winter to early spring, when the trees tend to be leafless. The beautiful scarlet flowers are long-lasting as they usually appear from about September to April. The specimen below grows on a pavement in a nearby suburb of our town.