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.

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BRAZILIAN PEPPER TREE

In its wisdom, our local municipality planted a row of Brazilian Pepper trees (Schinus terebinthifoliu) along the street that runs in front of our home. I say ‘in its wisdom’ – although, to be fair, this knowledge might not have been readily available forty odd years ago – because not only are their bright red, slightly fleshy fruits poisonous, but the sap of these trees is a skin irritant and affects the respiratory tract! How wonderful to have these as our street trees.

They were probably planted as ornamental trees because they are evergreen with wide-spreading, horizontal branches and the bountiful crop of fruits look attractive. Each of the fruits contain a single seed, most of which are dispersed by birds and animals.

The interesting thing is that this attractive tree is a Category One invasive alien, which means it is illegal to grow it in one’s garden – yet, here is a whole row of them in the street! The Brazilian pepper-tree is native to south eastern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay. It is now classified as a highly invasive species that has proved to be a serious weed in South Africa. Any chance they will be removed by the municipality? Don’t bet on it.

NOTE: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

ERYTHRINA SEEDS

The Erythrina caffra trees in our back garden epitomise the strange weather patterns that have characterised the past year: they are sporting green leaves and yellow leaves, are shedding brown leaves and have clusters of open seedpods clinging to them in the gusty wind, exposing their scarlet seeds.

This is one of many pods that have been detached and scattered by the wind.

AUTUMN LEAVES

The seasons appear to be a bit topsy-turvy at the moment. Nonetheless, I heard it mentioned on the radio this morning that if we divide the seasons strictly according to the months of the year then the 1st June will herald the ‘official’ start of winter.

William Shakespeare described autumn as:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

In South Africa, we do not experience the spectacular changes of leaf colours in autumn as some northern hemisphere countries do. In fact, most of the trees in our garden are evergreens, so I had to look hard for evidence that the shortening length of the day triggers some deciduous trees to stop growing. When this happens, the tree forms a layer of waxy, corky cells at the base of each leaf – called an abscission layer. This slows and finally halts the flow of sap to the leaves; they lose chlorophyll, which is responsible for the green colour, and reveal other pigments created by carotenoid – present all the time – in the form of yellow or red or brown before the leaves finally fall to the ground.

You can see this progression in these leaves from the Ironwood:

As well as the Erythrina caffra:

These leaves have already turned brown and fallen from the tree. The red object in the photograph is a tiny seed that has already been dislodged from a pod:

Emily Brontë wrote of autumn:

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

Ordinarily, the flowers would be ‘away’, except that the Dais cotonifolia trees all over our garden are sporting blooms as if it were spring!

Some of their leaves are beginning to change to yellow.

So are those of the Acacia spp. The seed pods are forming too:

The most spectacular show of autumn leaves in our garden come from the Virginia creeper – which is not indigenous.

NOTE: Click on a photograph for 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.

THE TEASING TURACOS

We hear the rasping korr-korr-korr call of Knysna Turacos (Loerie) in our garden almost daily, so we know they are there – somewhere in the foliage. These fairly large birds move soundlessly between the branches and from tree to tree, which means that we hear them more frequently than we see them. Sometimes a flash of red will catch my eye as one flies across the garden; only a flash mind you and then the bird ‘disappears’. Imagine then how delighted I was when a pair of Knysna Turacos appeared in the Dogwood tree and gradually made their way down through the branches towards the bird bath situated not far from where I was sitting, camera in hand.

They were tantalizingly close, yet so difficult to photograph! One looked at me obligingly while sitting absolutely still for several minutes.

After I had been watching them for half an hour one of the pair disappeared in the direction of the fig tree. One moment it was there and the next it was gone. I thought the other had too, until it reappeared in the Dogwood, from where it kept an eye on me for another twenty minutes or so. What a handsome bird!

Soon after, the other member of the pair appeared on my neighbour’s windowsill, where it spent some time looking at its reflection in the window.

Note: Click on the photographs if you wish to see a larger view.