SOME COWS

Part of the Urban Herd has been around our suburb lately. These are a few of them outside my back gate:

As you can see the aloes on our pavement have not had much of a chance to grow as they keep getting munched. The red flowers are from the Erythrina caffra, which is now beginning to show a more dense leave cover. The tall spreading tree on the right is a Syringa, which is currently covered with bunches of berries.

Near our front gate is this cow. We call it the New Year Cow’s Calf’s Calf. This is because we know its grandmother – the New Year Cow – as well as its mother, the New Year Cow’s Calf. Sometimes we see all three together. The broad leaves in the foreground come from the Natal Fig in our garden; the tree in the ‘park’ in the background is a Brazilian Pepper; Cradock Road – leading into town from the hinterland – is behind it. A large herd of cattle that often roams the bushy hill, we call the Forest Cows. They also frequent what used to be a golf course.

This is one of those Forest Cows grazing on the edge of the golf course that was abandoned several years ago in favour of a new one created in a very fertile valley on the other side of town. This particular herd is characterised by the number of white animals in it.

Another of the Forest Cows on the old golf course, which is now a favourite place for dog walkers. The white bird is a Cattle Egret that hurried off as soon as I lifted my camera. It might be difficult to imagine golf being played on this area of land that nature is now reclaiming for its own. As you can see, the spiny thorns do not deter this cow from enjoying the spring-fresh leaves.

ACACIA LONGIFOLIA

They look attractive both from afar and from close-up. These evergreen trees have long bright green, spear-shaped leaves and are covered with bright, finger-shaped, yellow flowering heads during the winter.

The Acacia longifolia (Long-leafed Wattle) is one of several species of wattle brought to this country from Australia well over a century ago to assist with the stabilisation of sand dunes near Cape Town. They have since spread to other parts of the country, being particularly invasive in both the Eastern and the Western Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and in parts of Mpumalanga. Such is the nature of introducing an alien species from one country to another, only to find that it not only flourishes to the detriment of indigenous vegetation but appears to have no natural predators in its new abode.

In some areas Acacia longifolia has also been planted as an ornamental shrub. Looking at the flowers, it is easy to see why.

These trees form dense, impenetrable thickets that threaten the existence of indigenous vegetation. Given that South Africa is a water-scarce country, it is concerning that the Acacia longifolia trees have spread so widely, both on hill slopes and along the country’s riparian zones. Seedlings grow very quickly – several others are visible behind the one in this photograph.

One of the methods employed to curb the rampant growth of the Acacia longifolia has been to release biological control agents, such as Trichilogaster acaciaelongifoliae, an Australian bud-galling wasp from the Chalcidoidea family that parasitizes these plants. This wasp species was introduced in 1982. They lay their eggs in the immature flower buds. Chemicals secreted by the young grubs induce bud galling. The larvae live and feed on the plant tissue inside these galls, which helps to reduce the reproductive potential of the wattle.

The Working for Water Project has made inroads by physically cutting down stands of wattle and applying herbicide to the stumps. Landowners, however, do not always seem to follow up on this initial clearing process and we can see the proliferation of these trees along the country roads we often drive along in this area.

I cannot help wondering about the future of this former grassland for these cattle to graze on.

SPRING EQUINOX 2021

Apparently the exact timing of the Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere was at 21:20 on 22nd September. Not willing to experience the changeover in the hours of darkness, we drove inland yesterday to experience some of the signs of spring in the Eastern Cape. What better way to start than with the bright new leaves and scarlet spikes of the indigenous Erythrina lysistemon as seen from the garage where we had our tyres checked.

At Baddaford Farm Stall, not far from Fort Beaufort, where we stopped to check on directions, the bougainvilleas were coming into bloom.

As we passed through the Mpofu (Eland) Nature Reserve in the Amatole district, we couldn’t help admiring the spring leaves of the various Vachellia (Acacia) trees that brighten the otherwise drab-looking grassland.

Near the exit gate of this reserve several peach trees are blooming – a wonderful sight to see in spring.

Despite the dry and dusty conditions, there were bright patches of yellow – as well as individual flowers peeking through the grass – Common Gazania (Gazania krebsiana) growing along the road verges.

I couldn’t resist the delightful aroma from the clusters of violet blooms covering the many wisteria plants in the garden of Waylands Country House in the Katberg.

There are also beautiful stands of lavender.

The white arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) look beautiful in still moist patches everywhere we travelled.

Lastly, here is another bright red flower – which looks like the Indigofera heterophylla in my flower guide – growing in the otherwise barren carpark outside the St John the Evangelist Church in the Winterberg. This church dates back to 1858 and is still used occasionally.

THERE IS GREEN – EVEN IN A DROUGHT

I sometimes look at photographs from bloggers in other parts of the world and marvel at the bright colours and beautiful greenery – which I haven’t been able to reciprocate with even during our summers. So, here are some glimpses of green in this drought-stricken part of the country. First up are the freesia buds growing in a pot so that they could be nurtured:

The flowers are over now, but for a few weeks I could enjoy their pretty white blossoms as well as a few pink ones. One of the hardiest plants I have is this asparagus fern growing next to our front steps. It appears to need very little in the way of water.

We live on the side of a hill overlooking our town. This is a view half way up.

A little further afield is this view of the Rietberg on the opposite side from the view we get of these hills from town.

And lastly, a view of the Lothian area – my regular country drives usually follow the road that runs along the escarpment of this valley.

So, our world is not all brown, dry and dusty. The greens in the veld are hardy and delight the eye. Once the rain comes the wild grasses will green – as will our lawn – and soften the landscape once more.

MEANINGFUL TREES: CAPE ROUGH-SKINNED LEMON

Of course there is no photograph of the large rough-skinned lemon tree that grew on a lower terrace of the garden of my childhood home on Sheba Gold Mine. Why would anyone photograph an old lemon tree? Even if they had, the small black-and-white photographs of the 1950s could never have done justice to this stately old tree that proved to be such a delightful refuge for the very young me.

Cape Rough Skinned Lemons (Citrus Jambhiriis) come from the earliest varieties of lemons imported to South Africa. Although it is a native of northern India, history tells us that the first of these trees planted here came from St. Helena during the 17th century, when Jan van Riebeeck – then the administrator of the Dutch colony – planted them in Cape Town.

‘My’ tree must have been a very mature specimen for it boasted a sturdy trunk from which branches spread wide to hold its bounty of bright yellow rough-skinned fruit. It is the thick, bumpy, rough peel that is responsible for its common name.

Several of the branches were thick enough and sturdy enough to support a young girl who loved to spend hours within that magical tree world. It was an easy tree to climb and my favourite branch wore smooth from my frequent visits to sit among the dense foliage of glossy green leaves. This is where I could let my imagination flow freely; where I could watch birds; keep an eye on people walking past on the dirt road below me; read to my heart’s content; and eat lemons – skin and all! The thick, rough peels come off easily – rather as a naartjie (tangerine) skin does – and the fruit is sweeter than most lemon varieties.

That lemon tree was a haven to me: I began climbing it when I was three years old, not long after my youngest brother was born. My mother often told me of her panic at my unexplained disappearances until she discovered my hide-out. She knew how much I enjoyed being enfolded by the lemon tree and let me be.

It was a wonderfully peaceful place to read! The dappled sunlight caressed the pages; the leafy solitude allowed me free rein to engage with the characters; and there was the delicious feeling of being free to cry as the narrative unfolded without being at the mercy of my brothers’ teasing.

I probably last climbed into the comforting bosom of that tree when I turned thirteen. The reason for my unhappiness is no longer clear, only that it was centred on friendship issues. I can still recall feeling the smooth bark, crushing leaves between my fingers, and breathing in their tangy aroma. My mother was a wise woman and left me there for as long as I needed to be there. I know I felt a lot better later when I climbed down to accept her invitation to join her for tea.

While I was searching for a picture of the fruit on the internet, I came across this interesting snippet of information: During the Anglo-Boer War, Cape rough-skinned lemons were planted as street trees in the town of Kimberley to help the citizens to combat scurvy!

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6169141