PATTERNS IN NATURE: STRANGLER FIGS

These pictures were all taken in the Rest Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park:

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COMMON CORAL TREE

At this time of the year the brilliant scarlet flowers of the coral trees are giving way to the bright green of new leaves. Soon black pods will form that will, in time, pop open to reveal the hard scarlet seeds. The trees in our garden are all Erythrina caffra, which has a fairly limited distribution along the coastal regions of the Eastern Cape and Kwa Zulu Natal – which is why it is sometimes called the Coast Coral Tree. Their vermillion flowers are the most common variety, which you can see in combination with the new leaves in our back garden.

Some trees bear flowers that are more orange and others cream-coloured flowers, such as this specimen photographed in Port Elizabeth.

The tree I grew up with in Mpumalanga, is the widely distributed Erythrina lysistemon. Because it grows over much of the country, it is known as the Common Coral Tree. It is a particularly spectacular tree as the flowers are usually a bright scarlet. They produce abundant nectar that attracts many birds and insects.

Several of these trees have been blooming in and around Grahamstown.

 

FIG TREES AND BUILDINGS

Historical buildings, commercial buildings and private homes alike need constant maintenance. One of the threats to look out for are fig trees establishing themselves in the tiniest of cracks. If you look carefully at the picture below, you will see a fig tree growing on the wall of a commercial building in Port Elizabeth.

This one is growing at the base of the Martello Tower in Fort Beaufort.

An innocuous looking plant such as this one, growing next to a cannon on the walls of Fort Frederick in Port Elizabeth, has already established a long network of roots by the time it is noticed.

Before long it will look like this

Look at the roots emanating from this specimen growing on another wall of Fort Frederick.

Note the damage being caused to the roof of the former officer’s quarters at Post Retief.

This is how those threads of roots can swell with time to push brickwork asunder.

Here is an example of how a tiny seedling, such as we saw in the first photograph, can destroy a building unless something is done to curb its rampant growth.

ARBOUR WEEK

The theme for this year’s Arbour Week is Forests and Sustainable Cities. My garden is a microcosm of this and could be termed Forests and Sustainable Gardens. Early readers will know that we inherited a rather barren garden and set about planting as many indigenous trees as we could soon after our arrival. The initial hard work has paid off: we may not have a prize-winning looking garden, but the intention has always been to provide a haven for birds and other small creatures – including snakes that find their way here – such as at least one tortoise and a Brown Mongoose.

One of the highlighted trees of the year is the Boscia albitrunca, otherwise known as the Shepherd’s Tree. We do not have one in our garden, but see them growing in the wild around here. A lovely example is this one growing in the Great Fish Nature Reserve.

I often mention the trees in our garden and the birds that use them for either food or shelter. This is the enormous Natal Fig that dominates the ‘wild’ section of our garden. It must be at least seventy years old, having been planted soon after the end of the Second World War when our house was built. It is looking a little bare at the moment, yet will soon be covered with thick foliage.

A flock of Hadeda Ibises roost in it every night and a variety of birds feed off the tiny fruits. These include African Green Pigeons, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Cape White-eyes, Blackcollared Barbets, Blackheaded Orioles, Greyheaded Sparrows, Olive Thrushes, Knysna Turacos and many more!

This Cussonia spicata (Cabbage Tree) was grown from seed by a friend. As you can see, it has had to bend away from the encroaching ‘jungle’ to reach the light. Keeping that ‘jungle’ in check is an ongoing battle – which I am nowhere near winning, yet it provides a perfect haven for nesting Cape Robin-chats, Cape White-eyes, Fork-tailed Drongos – and is where we have seen several snakes.

Whenever I mention the Erythrina caffra trees in our back garden, I tend to show you what its magnificent flowers look like.

Here you can see the base of one of these trees. They are enormous and are also very old. Near the top of the picture you can see where some of the branches have shrivelled with age and fallen off.

I will leave you with a partial view of our front garden.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

FREE STATE SPRING

The veld grass is still a palette of browns and yellows at this time of the year. The weather is cold and the feeling of hibernation still prevails for the air is fresh and biting. Winter still has a grip on the countryside … or so one thinks until coming across one of the many isolated peach trees blossoming along the road.

As the majority of these trees grow close to the road, I can only imagine they originated from peach pips being tossed from passing traffic. Nonetheless, they make a beautiful mark and provide the comforting signs that spring is on its way!

SNEEZEWOOD POSTS

There must have been swathes of Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) trees growing in the Eastern Cape at one time for they have been used extensively as fence posts and even as railway sleepers. There are not many mature specimens left in the veld today. The wood is so hard and durable that many of these fence posts are still in use today!

This is a good example of a Sneezewood post that is still in use.

This particular fence is known to have been erected in 1878.

Note the modern game fence in the background.

A remnant of a Sneezewood fence in a nature reserve that no longer requires fences.