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.

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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.

WANING ALOES

Among the joys we can look forward to in autumn and winter is the blooming of aloes all over South Africa. Their beautiful flowers appear at a time when other food might have become scarce and so they provide an excellent source of nectar in particular. Certainly, the aloes in our garden regularly host bees, wasps, and a variety of birds including weavers, sunbirds, starlings, hoopoes and the Black-headed Orioles. As our garden has become increasingly shady as the trees mature, the flowering period of our resident aloes has shortened. Sadly, it is already time to bid them farewell.

The flowers open from the bottom and in the image below you can see there are still a few at the top waiting to share their booty of nectar. Lower down, the flowers have either withered or fallen off the stem, or have been eaten by some of the birds mentioned above.

Peeping between these two ageing aloe flowers is a pink Pompon tree flower that usually only blooms from about November.

Once the flowering period is over, aloes continue to please. If you look closely at these young leaves, you might notice a wisp of spider web near the top. Aloes provide shelter for spiders, beetles, ants as well as lizards and geckos.

In time these leaves too will wither, harden and turn brown.

There are patterns and shapes in this image that remind me of, among other things, the eye of a jackal; the snout of an aardvark; a caterpillar; a frog; and the mouth and ear of some mystical creature. I wonder what you can see.

Here is a reminder of the beauty of aloes as seen along some of our roads:

 

SPIDER-HUNTING WASP

Three or four spider-hunting wasps (belonging to the family Pompilidae) have been daily tea-time companions for a couple of weeks. They have been difficult to photograph as they hover above or go in and out of the potted plants on the patio. I have at last captured one on a Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and am showing off its brilliant colours as highlighted by the sun in these three photographs:

NOTE: Click on a photograph should you wish to see a larger view.

INDIGENOUS FOREST TREES

I have been meaning to write about trees for some time, especially as some growing in our garden are out of kilter with the seasons. This is probably because of the long summer drought accompanied by scorching heat and the late rain that arrived early in autumn. How fortunate I was then to find this First Day Cover of Ciskei indigenous forest trees in a box – alas, I see the fish moths have been nibbling away at it since it was issued in 1983! The Ciskei homeland doesn’t exist as an entity anymore as it has been incorporated into the Eastern Cape Province. I will discuss the trees from left to right as they appear in the photograph below.

The Common Cabbage Tree (Cussonia spicata) is widespread throughout this country. It is an attractive tree with a thick corky trunk and large, blue-green leaves borne at the ends of the fleshy branches. They bear small flowers that are densely packed in spikes, which gives rise to the epithet spicata. This one growing in my garden was given to me by a friend, who germinated it from seed.

These trees are said to grow quickly under the right conditions. I found these two self-sown ones in what was then our garden when they were only about 30cm tall. That was about twenty-five years ago. Since then, that portion of our garden has been subdivided and they have subsequently grown almost as tall as the double-storey house that was built next to them!

These particular trees were attacked by Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth caterpillars (Bunaea alcinoe), which chomped their way through the leaves in no time at all. I featured these in 2014. See https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/the-emperors-new-clothes/

The Curtisia dentata, commonly known as the Assegai, is an evergreen tree with smooth, dark glossy green leaves on the upper surface while underneath they are grey-green with conspicuous veins. It is usually found in climax forests and on grassy mountain slopes. The fleshy, bitter creamy white to red fruits are eaten by birds, which then disperse the seeds. Unfortunately, the future of these trees are threatened by over-exploitation by bark harvesters.

We are fortunate to have a beautiful specimen of the Cape Chestnut (Calodendrum capense) in our garden. This was planted as a small sapling at least twenty years ago, although it only began blooming about five years ago. The more mature specimens in town look stunning when covered with their large, pale pink flowers with darker centres.

What is interesting, is that these trees usually flower during the early summer, from October to December. Not a single blossom appeared this past summer, yet now in May the tree is sporting more blossoms than it ever has!

Another tree that is doing the same (not depicted on the stamps) is the Dais cotinifolia. They too are usually covered in beautiful pompon-like pink flowers from November to December. These ones were, for about two days last December, before their blossoms shrivelled in the searing heat. Now they too are blooming fairly prolifically.

The last tree depicted on the stamps is the Outeniqua Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus), which is said to be the tallest indigenous tree in southern Africa. In fact, the well-known Big Tree in the Knysna forest is one of these and has grown to over 36 m high during its lifespan of over 800 years!

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.