Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
– John Keats
Seeds of the Erythrina caffra
These are not the kind of fruits Keats would have had in mind when he penned his ode To Autumn, but as we do not have well-defined seasons in the Eastern Cape, a definite sign of autumn comes in the form of the dry, rustling leaves of the Erythrina caffra settling on the ground, followed by the black seed pods that burst open to reveal the scarlet seeds – often called lucky beans – within.
It has rained a little in the Eastern Cape – enough to transform the countryside into a verdant green dotted with some magnificent wild flowers. During a recent trip to Fort Beaufort and Post Retief, I couldn’t resist the beauty of these Common Gazanias growing next to the road:
The Gazania krebsiana has an attractive centre pattern:
These pretty white flowers are blooming all over the veld – I haven’t been able to identify them:
Purple patches of Wild Verbena (Pentanisia prunelloides) hug the road verges and are scattered throughout the veld.
This Plumbago is growing against the shoulder of Victoria Bridge in Fort Beaufort:
Lastly, the lovely Acacia karroo (now known as Vachellia karroo) or sweethorn brightens the countryside with its yellow puffball-like flowers.
Jacaranda trees have been growing in South Africa for so long that most people regard them as being indigenous. That they are not, although the Jacaranda has been a beloved naturalised plant citizen, from the time it was introduced from South America in the early nineteenth century. Jacarandas (Jacaranda mimosifolia) have been planted by municipalities all over the country since then, thanks to their beautiful mauve flowers that more than meet the criteria for ornamental purposes. The most prolific plantings are surely in Pretoria, where it has been estimated that over 70 000 Jacarandas are growing – no wonder it is known throughout the country as Jacaranda City!
A number of these trees grew on the campus of the then University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, covering the lawns and paths with a mauve carpet when I was a student. The trees flower from September to November – the periods differ slightly in different parts of the country. Certainly it was an urban myth in my student days that if you had not started preparing for the end-of-year examinations by the time the Jacarandas blossomed, your chances of getting a good pass were diminished. On the other hand … if a blossom fell on your head, you were bound to be fortunate in one way or another! The flowering season starts later in the Eastern Cape and so that myth would hold no water for the Rhodes University students in Grahamstown, for example.
Why then would this beautiful tree fall foul of the alien audit of my garden? Some years ago the government listed the Jacaranda as an invasive species that required eradication – can you imagine the uproar that resulted in places such as Pretoria? This is because they tend to invade river banks, rocky ridges and gorges in some parts of the country such as Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Mpumalanga. The classification is in line with a countrywide decision to get rid of invasive aliens (this includes some species of eucalyptus as well as black wattle) in order to improve the natural supply of water from rivers and other wetlands.
A compromise was reached: although Jacarandas are still regarded as invaders, existing ones do not have to be eradicated. No further trees may be planted though and so they are no longer available at nurseries. We have some Jacaranda trees growing on the verge and in all the years we have lived here I have not found a single seedling growing in my garden. I commented last month on the exquisite carpet of mauve flowers covering the pavements and streets in the early morning. The reprieve on total eradication is appreciated.
A short walk through the Newlands Forest was one of the highlights of my visit to Cape Town over the weekend.
It was interesting to look at the environment afresh from the perspective of my (nearly) three-year-old grandson:
Such tall trees:
The contrasts between the green:
And the dry:
This morning a blanket of thick grey cloud casts a pall over our town, brightened only by the determination of the sun to backlight it. A strong, cool breeze has set the summer greenery aflutter in the garden while the persistent ‘pot, pot, pot’ refrain of the Red-fronted Tinkerbird echoes in competition with the cheerful calls of the weavers and the rather plaintive ‘I’m so sick’ complaint of a Black Cuckoo deeply hidden among the foliage of the trees nearby. On such a dull morning it was an uncommon delight to see three Knysna Louries (Turacos) growling as they chased each other through the spreading limbs of the Tipuana clearly visible from my study window.
Croissants and the Sunday paper called. On the drive to secure these and ingredients for a lunch befitting the early start to the festive season, two other surprises awaited me. The first was the totally unexpected view of a large fresh-water crab crossing the road. With no camera at hand, I used my Samsung cell phone to record this bizarre sight.
I assure you, it looked rather scary from the front as it reared up to face me, all its defensive senses alert. Unfortunately, it scuttled off sideways each time I bent closer to capture it on screen, until only its beady eyes-on-stalks peered at me suspiciously from behind the cover of the damp grass fringing the road.
The next surprise is the overwhelming beauty of the Jacarandas in full bloom all over town. Not only are the trees so attractive at this time of the year, but they cover the lawns and pavements beneath them with an exquisite mauve carpet, still unsullied by road- or foot traffic so early on a Sunday morning!