GLADIOLUS MORTONIUS

It was while driving around the outskirts of town that I came across two plants with beautiful pink flowers growing amidst the grass on the verge.

These look like a Gladiolus and have the typical sword-shaped leaves of that species, but I have never seen such a lovely pink version before. The blooms are salmon-coloured with attractive streaks of red – could they have come from someone’s garden, I wondered, even though we were far away from the nearest houses.

It appears from my Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa by John Manning that they might be Gladiolus mortonius, commonly known as the Small Salmon Gladiolus that grows in open stony grassland in the Eastern Cape. I saw these flowers two years ago and, although I often drive along this particular stretch of road, have not seen them since. I will keep a careful look out for them as they might bloom after the recent rain we have enjoyed.

TWO DROUGHT FLOWERS

I happened upon a ‘survivor’ in our local Currie Park. This Giant Candelabra Lily had miraculously missed being chomped by the Urban Herd that have eaten most of the saplings planted there over the years to provide shade.

The background to this lovely flower shows that between the cattle and the drought there is no lawn left; a brave Vachellia is valiantly putting out new leaves from what is left of its stem; and a ‘visiting card’ has been left on the right.

A real bonus for my drought-stricken garden has been the magnificent blooming of Spekboom for the second summer in a row!

THREE FLOWERING TREES

The drought may have robbed us of a fine display of wild spring and summer flowers in the veld, yet there are some indigenous trees that have defied all odds to produce beautiful blooms. The first are some lovely specimens of Virgilia oroboides, commonly known as the Keurboom (tree of choice). Several growing along the lower slopes of the hills around Grahamstown are covered with beautiful, sweetly scented, sweet-pea-like flowers in dense terminal sprays that are proving attractive to bees and butterflies in great numbers.

Although the Cape Chestnut (Calodendrum capense) in our garden is completely out of kilter with the seasons, there are some lovely specimens blooming along the street not far from where I live. Their pink canopies of flowers are a beautiful sight.

Further afield, in the Addo Elephant National Park, one’s attention is drawn away from the bare ground by the bright red flowers of the Huilboerboon trees (Schotia brachypetala).

Also known as a Tree Fuschia, these trees are sporting clusters of nectar-filled flowers that attract insects as well as birds. I have seen beautiful specimens of these trees growing in gardens. In the Addo Elephant National Park, however, they tend to be straggly and stunted with very gnarled trunks, thanks to being browsed by game.

WILD POMEGRANATE

One can find beauty even in the driest periods and a particularly beautiful evergreen shrub blooming in the veld at the moment is the Wild Pomegranate (Burchellia bubalina), which belongs to a part of the coffee family called Rubiaceae. These shrubs are found in forested habitats, as well as in montane grassland and scrub. This one is growing on a rocky outcrop on top of the Rietberg. Note the way the short main stem is twisted and multi-stemmed.

The bright orange to red flowers appear from early spring to mid-summer.

The copious nectar in these flowers attracts birds, butterflies and other insects.

The tree was named after W.J. Burchell (1782-1863), an early English explorer, naturalist and artist who worked at Kew Gardens. During his travels in South Africa in 1810 he is said to have collected about 50 000 specimens which he took back to the UK. Bubalina means buff-coloured in Latin which is possibly a reference to the yellowish hairs found on the young stems. The Afrikaans name for this shrub, Buffelshoring, refers to the buffalo-like horns of the old calyx lobes on the fruit.

Other interesting information can be read at:

http://pza.sanbi.org/burchellia-bubalina

http://growwild.co.za/trees/burchellia-bubalina

THE SCULPTED TREE

It is two years since I wrote about the beautiful Shepherd’s Bush tree (Boscia albitrunca) that stands out in the open veld, thanks to its whitish-grey trunk and the sculpted look of its round spreading crown that makes it look like a giant bonsai. I suspect it is this pale trunk that gives rise to its Afrikaans name, Witgat.  It grows in the more arid regions of the country and so some sources suggest the common name, Shepherd’s Bush, came about as they provided shade for shepherds to sit in whilst watching their flocks – who can really tell? This fine specimen grows in the Addo Elephant National Park.

What appeals to me is that they ‘stand out from the crowd’, almost like a sentinel in the bush. See how this one looks out across the valley. Although I have not been fortunate enough to see it flowering, I understand their berry-like blooms attract a variety of pollinators and the tree has proved to be a source of food for various mammals, birds and butterflies. The leaves are said to be particularly nutritious for browsing animals, which may account for its neat ‘clipped’ look.