SENECIO PTEROPHORUS

Senecio pterophorus sounds akin to a species of dinosaur, instead it is a flower commonly found growing along road sides. The Eastern Cape veld is brightened up by these clusters of yellow flowers at the moment.

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GLADIOLUS DALENII

Newly greened grass stretched either side of the road I was travelling along – a glorious sight after such a long period of shades of brown. When my attention was drawn to a small splash of red – I had to stop for a closer look.

The long bracts of hooded-shaped flowers and the fan of sword-shaped leaves immediately identified it as one of our indigenous Gladiolus species. As I neared it, I was assailed by the memory of swathes of these plants growing in a patch of garden on the farm where I grew up. My mother used to collect bulbs from around the farm to plant in the garden – for which there was never enough water – and over the years these multiplied to provide a glorious show of flowers. This is the Gladiolus dalenii, also known as the Parrot Gladiolus or – a name I am unfamiliar with – the Natal Lily.

Although this was the only specimen I could see in the area, this plant generally thrives in grasslands throughout the eastern parts of South Africa.

PRETTY IN PINK

We are enjoying a wonderful display of pink blooms on the Dais cotinifolia (Pom-pon) trees dotted about our front garden. There was only one mature tree in our garden when we arrived 29 years ago – the rest are self-seeded and are doing well, growing as they do on the margin of our ‘forest’.

Linnaeus founded the genus Dais in 1764. Dais means a torch in Greek, and the genus got its name from the resemblance of the stalk and bracts holding the flowers to a torch about to be lit – a very apt description I think.

The national tree number for the Dais cotinifolia is 521. They are wonderfully low maintenance as they are indigenous to the area. These trees are fast-growing and fairly drought-resistant – I water them only when they look particularly stressed, which is not often.

REMNANTS OF BUSH

The Eastern Cape is one of the most ecologically diverse regions of Southern Africa, including as it does mountains, semi-desert areas, Cape Fynbos and Albany Thicket. At one time swathes of it would have been thickly covered with virtually impenetrable bush that has since been cleared in places to allow for the farming of livestock and certain crops. Small pockets of thicket remain as a reminder of the diversity of plants that have made way for such human endeavours.

Here a tiny clump of trees has been left on the open expanse of pasture on an Eastern Cape farm:

You can get an idea of what the countryside may have looked like by focusing on the background of this picture of animals taken in the Addo Elephant National Park:

WHEN WILL THE DROUGHT BE BROKEN?

‘Drought’ is probably among the earliest concepts I learned – one would as the daughter of a farmer. Perusing the headlines of newspaper articles over the past two years gives one an idea of the longing – these days even by townspeople – for the drought to be broken:

South African drought not broken after the driest year in South Africa’s history.

Latest rain not a break in South Africa’s drought.

Western Cape drought not broken despite massive storm.

Drought has not been broken.

Recent rainfall won’t break drought.

Where there is rain there is hope.

Hope for the dams to be filled; hope that crops will grow; hope that gardens will thrive; hope that rainwater tanks will overflow; hope that domestic water will no longer have to be purchased or collected … we all hope that good rains will spell the end of ‘drought’.

Rain 2017

Of course we must be grateful for every drop of rain that falls. While rainfall provides some form of drought relief, many people have the false impression that any rainfall means that the worst of the drought must be over. Stock farmers, for example, know only too well that it takes two to three years of significant rain for the grazing to recover.

Kruger National Park 2016

The prolonged drought across South Africa has remained severe, resulting in increasingly alarming accounts of dams and reservoirs drying up; the introduction of severe water rationing in towns; and the need for consumers to stop being complacent about the provision of potable water to their homes. Everyone needs to think twice about how they use water in their homes, in their gardens, and whether or not a beautifully clean car and lush green lawns are worth the amount of water required.

Settler’s Dam 2010

Some experts say that 100mm of consistent rain over a ten day cycle would lead towards the breaking of a drought cycle. Others insist that it takes three consecutive seasons of above-average rainfall to break the drought – this is so that rivers and dams can fill up as well as allowing for the rise in the levels of ground water. This ‘soil water’ is needed to support the growth of grazing and crops.

Maize fields 2015

So, we don’t really know when the drought will be broken. Flooding has occurred in some parts of the country, light rain has fallen in others, temperatures rise and they fall, snow is forecast for some places over the next few days, while in other areas dams have already dried up with no rain in sight.

WAS THAT AN EGG?

Large ants scurried underfoot in the Bushveld. Being part of the landscape, they were largely ignored.

They were largely ignored until I spotted this one from a distance carrying something large and white. Was that an egg? I bent down for a closer look.

The ‘egg’ had a stalk attached.

It was no egg, but what could it be? I looked around for similar objects and saw none until the following day when I happened upon a cluster of them lying on the ground.

The mystery was solved. These were fruits from the Karee trees that lined the dam.

NAMAQUALAND DAISIES

These indigenous Namaqualand Daisies (Dimorphotheca sinuata) are grown in gardens all over South Africa, providing a riot of colour during the late winter months. All gardens except for mine that is! Somehow, neither the many packets of purchased seeds, nor handfuls of collected seed have ever found favour here – until the first sprinkling of rain at the end of September this year.

I see these flower seeds are now marketed under the umbrella name of African Daisies, which I think is a misnomer – there are so many ‘African’ daisies to choose from. Interestingly enough, the name ‘Daisy’ originates from the ancient Saxon term ‘Day’s eye’ referring to its habit of  opening during the day to show its ‘eye’ and then closing at night – or when the sun is not shining. As you can imagine, these Namaqualand Daisies look their best in the full sunshine.