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.

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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.

SERENDIPITOUS PELARGONIUMS

Serendipity: an unplanned, fortunate discovery.

Serendipitous: occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

This is what happened today: two friends and I were admiring the flowers blooming in a nearby indigenous garden. Among them were a variety of pelargoniums in different colours and sporting different patterns on the petals as well as their leaves. We briefly discussed the very early cultivation of these flowers and how they have been developed and domesticated over the centuries to make them such a popular summer bloom all over Europe and in parts of the United States – most originating from our humble indigenous stock. I didn’t have my camera with me so will show you two examples from a previous post.

Once home, I settled down to read the blogs I follow – this is where serendipity comes in to play – and the first to appear was one I look forward to reading each week. This time the topic was none other than pelargoniums! It was as if Carol had been pre-empting our morning discussion. It is a wonderful article which I urge you to read if you are interested in these flowers: https://naturebackin.com/2019/05/23/pelargoniums-wild-and-domesticated/

Soon after, I received this photograph from a friend of her dear departed dog, Dusty, who enjoyed picking a flower now and then.

Now, if that was not serendipitous enough, a belated birthday present arrived for me:

What a happy, pelargonium-filled day it has been!

BLADDER HIBISCUS

So many cattle graze on the open field below our house so often that I am surprised that anything survives – the indigenous trees that were planted there after the enormous Eucalyptus trees were removed haven’t! What a pleasure it was then to find the area brightened by a myriad of cream coloured flowers with a dark eye – I had to take a closer look and walked there, camera in hand.

They turned out to be Hibiscus trionum, also known as the Bladder Hibiscus, which grow in grasslands and in disturbed areas – which fits the bill for this piece of land. The solitary, creamy-white flowers with a dark purple centre have a calyx with conspicuous purple veins.

It is interesting to contrast this annual herb with the enormous flower blooming on the Hibiscus tree in our garden.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger image.

CAPE HONEYSUCKLE

Looking through my archives, I am reminded of the long flowering period of the indigenous Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) in the Eastern Cape. I have photographs of these beautiful orange tubular flowers stretching from September through to May. There is an abundance of them now, both in gardens and in the veld.

While many gardeners trim these fast-growing plants into attractive hedges, I fight a losing battle against its propensity to spread everywhere. Nonetheless, it is evergreen here and forms a usefully dense screen of glossy green leaves – and I am always grateful for its very attractive flowers.

They are rich in nectar and so attract bees and butterflies as well as a number of nectar-feeding birds. Two I have managed to photograph are the Double-collared Sunbird:

Another is a Cape White-eye:

Despite its unruly, rampant growth, the Cape Honeysuckle is drought resistant and so is a welcome inhabitant in our garden, both in the sun and in areas of semi-shade. It is always a delight to see buds forming as they are the forerunners of a blaze of colour, often when we need it most!

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish a larger view.

PAINTBRUSHES AND CANDELABRAS

What do paint brushes and candelabras have in common? Both are lilies blooming in the Eastern Cape grasslands at this time of the year – doubtless spurred on by a little rain. Paintbrushes first: the Haemanthus sanguineas, commonly known as April Fool in English and Velskoenblaar in Afrikaans, are dotted about singly and in small groups. Their lovely red flowers supported by a plain red stem stand out above the short grass and are easy to see.

The candelabras, on the other hand, tend to appear in a much more isolated fashion, yet their beautiful pink blossoms stand out in the grasslands. This one is the Giant Candelabra Lily or Kandelaarblom (Brunsvigia grandiflora).

NOTE: Click on the photographs for a larger view.