AN INDIGENOUS MYSTERY PLANT: SOLVED!

It is many years since I walked through the Burnt Kraal area on the fringe of Grahamstown, revelling in the trees, grasses, flowers – and of course the birds. On our way back to the vehicles, I picked up a small fleshy branch lying on the path; it had obviously been broken off – although the parent plant wasn’t obvious in the grassy area. I brought it home and stuck it in a pot to see what it might turn out to be.

Every year this dry-looking stick would sprout green leaves and occasionally a pink flower would appear. The plant has been re-potted three times already and has begun to branch out, producing more flowers every year.

Long thorny spines also appear on the branches.

The tubular flowers are a pretty pink with darker stripes leading to the centres.

As you can tell from these photographs, the leaves are still on the plants when the flowers appear.

The nearest plants to it that I can find in my guide books – and searching through Google images – are the Adenium spp. such as the Impala lily (found in the dry Lowveld vegetation – especially seen in the Kruger National Park) and the Summer Impala lily, which is also restricted to the bushveld, and especially in Swaziland (now known as the Kingdom of Eswatini). Both of these places are very far from the veld where this plant was found.

If anyone has any bright ideas about the identification of this plant, I would love to be able to put a name to it.

Dries at DeWetsWild is the star: he has identified this plant as a Pachypodium succulentum, commonly known as Thickfoot, thanks to the massive underground caudex – a  thickened, underground, water-storing, tuberous stem, which helps the plant to survive during drought periods. This means that I must find an even larger pot for it! Although I had consulted the site Dries recommends in the comments, I was put off by the pale colour of the flowers illustrated there. The name he gave me, however, led me back to my Field Guide to Succulents in South Africa by Smith, Crouch and Figueiredo: the flower in that book is the same colour as mine – they apparently vary from white to crimson.

These plants are endemic to South Africa and naturally occur in stony grassland and along rocky ridges in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape as well as in the western Free State. Do look at http://pza.sanbi.org/pachypodium-succulentum for a host of very interesting information about this plant.

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PODALYRIA CALYPTRATA

My focus of late had been on flowers that emit a delightful fragrance. Although these ones do not occur naturally around here, but are indigenous to the Western Cape, the Podalyria calyptrate, also known as Sweetpea fits into this category.

It is fast growing and bears masses of pretty pink, sweetly scented flowers that show a close resemblance to the sweetpeas grown in gardens all over the world. The flowering period is usually from about September until December.

The plant has velvety silvery leaves which adds to the attractiveness of this plant.

Naturally, the flowers attract bees, butterflies and birds – a good reason for planting some of these bushes in one’s garden if one lives in the right area, for their natural habitat includes sandstone slopes, coastal streams and damp places.

 

AGAPANTHUS II

Among the many beautiful indigenous blooms this spring is the showy Agapanthus, which many of you will be familiar with either from your own, or at least in public, gardens all over the world.  In their natural habitat they are widely distributed along the eastern parts of South Africa, although there is a patch of them indigenous to the south-western Cape. As you can tell from the photograph below, they are easily distinguished by their size – their blooms sticking up well above the surrounding plants.

These geophytes have thick tuberous rhizomes, which helps them to store water and energy. This means that these plants are fairly tolerant of drought conditions. Even when they are not blooming, the shiny, fleshy strap-like leaves look attractive.

They have a long flowering season – I saw the first ones blooming in the veld during November and there are still a lot about. The pale to dark blue flowers are borne in a dense cluster on a long slender stalk. I find the different hues of blue very attractive.

They attract a variety of insects as well as sunbirds.

APTENIA CORDIFOLIA

Commonly known as strawberry mesem, the Aptenia cordifolia is a soil-hugging creeper that can form dense mats of stems. It is an indigenous succulent that occurs naturally in my garden – and very welcome it is too as it covers the ground that would otherwise be left bare during the drought periods and in this way helps to bind the soil.

The glossy succulent leaves are heart-shaped and vary in colour from pale to dark green. Water cells are scattered on the leaf surface and shine in the sunlight.

Neither my camera nor my cell phone can accurately capture the colour of the bright magenta pink flowers that occur at intervals along the stems.

The flowers attract butterflies, bees, flies, and other insects.

The fruit is a capsule with four lidless chambers, each of which contains a single large black-brown seed with a rough surface.

These plants occur throughout the eastern coastal parts of South Africa, but are so popular in gardens that they are grown all over the country.

References:

Smith Gideon F., Crouch Neil R. Figueiredo Eastrela. Field Guide to Succulents in Southern Africa. Struik Nature. Cape Town 2020.

http://pza.sanbi.org/aptenia-cordifolia

 

RED IS THE COLOUR OF THE FESTIVE SEASON

Let us start off in the right direction and enjoy some reddish bougainvillea along our way:

We stop in to see some beautiful flowers in remembrance of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice:

Just around the corner from my home are these Erythrina lysistemon:

Some food is required, so visit a fish market along the coast:

As tea is welcome at any time of the day, I regard this as one of the most perfect Advent calendars I have ever seen:

Finally, a stained glass window to remind us of one of the many layers of this festive season:

Wishing all of my readers happiness, cheerful company, good food and a pleasant festive season.