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.

LAST SPLASHES OF COLOUR

There has been no soft introduction to spring this year. Even the peach blossoms shrivelled within a day or two before disappearing in the dry wind. For two or three days I thought the jasmine flowers would fill the garden with their scent after each hot day – they too shrivelled and died without ceremony. There are not even single flowers to herald the spring in my garden – and not many in the veld either! I think anything that pops its head above ground in the latter gets grazed by wild and domestic animals eager for moisture and the taste of anything other than short, dusty grass.

At least indigenous trees know how to survive in this heat (we have already experienced 41°C without reaching the official summer) and dry weather. Most sport green leaves in different hues, even though some remain bare and skeletal looking. The last vibrant splashes of winter colour come from the Erythrina trees.

The Erythrina caffra in our back garden has been flowering for weeks and is only now beginning to cover itself with green leaves.

Several Erythrina lysistemon trees grow in the suburbs and their scarlet flowers are balm for the soul.

TRAVELLING IS ENRICHING

Travelling is enriching, enlightening and broadens our understanding of the world we live in. We tend to equate travel with seeing spectacular views, interesting birds and buildings, or unusual animals; what about this large ant seen along the path while I was walking in the Hottentot-Holland Mountains in the Western Cape?

Look at the angle at which this tree is growing, bent by the prevailing winds along the Western Cape coast.

It is from the Adam’s Krantz viewpoint in the Great Fish River Nature Reserve in the Eastern Cape that one gets a spectacular view of the Fish River way below.

A brick-lined oven can still be seen in the scant remains of Fort Willshire in the Amathole District of the Eastern Cape.

On a private farm about 40km from Grahamstown, one can find the site known as the Clay Pits, a source of red, yellow and white clay that used to be used by isiXhosa-speaking clans on both sides of the Fish River for cosmetic, decorative and ritual uses.

There are always interesting things to discover without necessarily travelling very far.