AMUSING SIGN

The sign below is attached to a long branch of a Milkwood tree hanging low over a pathway:

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ERYTHROS

Erythros is the Greek word for red. The genus Erythrina is derived from this word – an allusion to the colour of the flowers, such as this Erythrina lysistemon, photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

I have often mentioned the Erythrina caffra that towers over our back garden. Collectively, Erythrinas are known as coral trees these days, although some also refer to them as ‘lucky bean trees’. This is a reference to the bright red seeds that split from the black pods. These can be found scattered on the ground below the trees and are often collected simply to look pretty in jars, or to be made into necklaces or bracelets.

Combine erythros with phobia to form erythrophobia and you have the word to describe an extreme fear of blushing, or a hypersensitivity to the colour red. My dictionary also gives me erythrocyte, which is a blood cell of vertebrates that transports oxygen and carbon dioxide combined with haemoglobin.

Given all this information, could we then (just for fun) describe a particularly red sunset as an ‘erythrostic’ sunset? I present two examples, both taken in the Kruger National Park, for you to look at while you decide.

HERALDING AUTUMN

There is no dramatic recolouring of the landscape here. Instead, autumn in our garden is heralded by the subtle fullness of the Natal figs:

These attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings by the dozen:

The aloes are swelling in readiness for their winter blooming:

Black-eyed Susan creepers twine around other plants to provide bright colour:

Other splashes of colour come from the plumbago:

Canary creepers and Cape Honeysuckle:

While self-sown butternuts ripen on their vines.

In these years of severe water shortages, I bless the indigenous plants that simply ‘get on with it’ and do their best.

OAK TREES

Although oak trees, many of them English Oak, can be found in a number of South African towns, they are not indigenous to this country but originate from the early European settlers, who tended to plant what they were familiar with. It is believed that many of the oaks in parts of the Western Cape probably originate from trees imported by the Dutch East India Company as a source of wood for the manufacture of wine casks.

Under the right climatic circumstances, oaks have a life expectancy of between 300 – 600 years and so it is not surprising to find mature oaks still growing in a number of the older towns and cities in this country. Our little town, established as a military post in 1812, still has a number of streets lined with oak trees – what stories they could tell of the changes that have taken place over the past two centuries!

Here a group of schoolgirls is inspecting a relatively young oak tree growing next to the tennis courts on their campus.

Not all of the oak trees are old – saplings abound, many of which have been left to grow into mature trees. There are even the odd oak trees growing next to the roads, possibly remnants of deliberately planted trees or ‘escapees’ that found favour in the soil. We are used to the presence of oaks and love them for what they are.

The Urban Herd, which regular readers will be familiar with by now, continue to wander through the suburbs at will – munching on the grass verges, as well as any flowers, shrubs or leafy plants they can reach. I watched some of them doing just that and was surprised by the odd loud crunching noises, until I realised they were eating the acorns that had fallen onto the pavement! A little further on, I spotted this bull – which we have dubbed ‘The New Year Bull’ – reaching up to pull clusters of acorns from the trees.

PORTRAIT OF A KNYSNA TURACO

The name Knysna Loerie trips off the tongue and I suppose the new moniker Knysna Turaco (Tauraco corythaix) will too – in time – after all, Shakespeare told us long ago that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. This truly beautiful bird is found only in South Africa and parts of Swaziland. It regularly appears on my monthly list of birds seen in our garden, yet I seldom show pictures of it as they flit through the treetops so silently and ‘disappear’ into the foliage in the wink of an eye. We mainly see them hopping about from branch to branch in the canopy of the Natal Fig and are always thrilled to see the red wing flashes when they fly across the garden from one tree to another.

Apart from the figs, there is plenty of other food for them in our garden including the fruits of the White Stinkwood (Celtis africana), Cotoneaster berries,

Crossberry, (Grewia occidentalis),

Wild Plum (Harpephyllum caffrum) and the Wild Peach (Kiggelaria africana). Although they cannot always be seen in the dense foliage, we can generally hear their rasping kow-kow-kow calls.

This week I was treated to a wonderful view of one preening itself after a light shower of rain.

CAPE FIG

I often mention the large Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis) that grows in our garden, but have failed to mention the much smaller Cape Fig (Ficus sur) or Broom-cluster Fig. The sur part of the name comes from an area in Ethiopia named Sur. The fruit of the Cape Fig is a draw-card for a variety of birds such as Olive Thrushes, Cape White-eyes, African Green Pigeons, Redwinged Starlings, Streakyheaded Seedeeaters, Blackcollared Barbets and Speckled Mousebirds.

This tree, though not as tall as one might expect, produces a prolific number of figs from about September to March. They appear in large clusters low down on the trunk and even at ground level.

The plump figs are often carried some distances by Redwinged Starlings. Cape White-eyes, Speckled Mousebirds and others tend to feed on or under the tree, for there is always plenty of fruit on the ground.

Fruit bats are particularly fond of the figs too and we often hear their ‘pings’ in the evenings – though have yet to find where they roost during the day – as they gather to feed greedily on the sweet bounty. We have found evidence of several ‘feeding stations’ where the bats leave their seed-laden droppings. This is one of them, next to our swimming pool.

Postscript: We have discovered that Bryan, the Angulate Tortoise, also enjoys munching the figs!