MOUNTAIN DRIVE

The road up Mountain Drive is narrow and rocky.

In places it is very rocky.

Yet, it so worth the trip for the magnificent views across town from the top!

There were butterflies aplenty skimming the top of the grass, chasing each other, or landing briefly on flowers, trees or even on the stones – where I photographed this orange beauty.

Other insects were burrowed into some of the flowers waving in the wind.

Several termite mounds show signs of repair – note the different coloured mud.

The Cussonia spicata (Cabbage) trees are in bloom, their greenish-yellow terminal double umbels of 8-12 spikes per unit dominant on the skyline.

Other interesting flowers are the bright red Burchellia bubaline (Wild pomegranate)

As well as the beautiful orange of Leonatis leonurus (Wild dagga / Lion’s tail)

 

SNEEZEWOOD POST

National tree number 292, Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum), has been used as fence posts on farms all over the Eastern Cape for centuries. During that time they have survived the onslaught of sun, wind, decay, fungi and even termites and continue to hold up fences. This is a typical example of a Sneezewood fence post on a local farm.

Sneezewood has also been used for railway sleepers. It is believed that Sneezewood sawdust can be used as an insect repellent. With so many of the original farm fences having been uprooted over the years to make way for larger lands or for game reserves, Sneezewood fence posts have been collected to make benches, for garden steps and to make decorative fences around homes and lodges. The weathered patterns of the wood – and its longevity – suggest a knowledge of the many changes that have taken place where they have stood steadfastly through time.

TREES TAKE A LONG TIME TO GROW

Trees take a long time to grow.

I remember being astonished when neighbours, who had purchased a house nearby, announced that they had at last had the tall trees in their garden cut down because they ‘were sick and tired of the weavers building their nests there and making a mess.’ It wasn’t long after that they complained of the heat from the sun that shone into their living room all afternoon during the summer months!

Trees take a long time to grow.

A few years later a friend lamented that their new neighbours had removed the large Erythrina tree from their garden to deter the Hadeda Ibises from roosting in it at night and  ‘making such a noise’ which woke them ‘so early in the mornings.’ We had a good laugh, for she later reported that the Hadedas had simply moved to perch in another tree across the road!

Mary Lisle’s poem springs to mind:

They have cut down the pines where they stood;

The wind will miss them – the rain,

When its silver blind is down.

Not only do trees take a long time to grow, but they support and shelter a variety of life forms as well as being intrinsically beautiful. I have often mentioned the myriad birds visiting the Natal Fig in our garden and how pleasant it is to sit in the forested shade on our lawn.

Trees take a long time to grow.

A matter of only weeks ago I visited a site close to the CBD to observe Sacred Ibises and Cattle Egrets coming to roost in three tall trees growing next to a block of flats at the end of the day. Some of the latter had fledglings in their nests, while others were flapping their wings whilst firmly gripping the slim branches in the afternoon breeze.

Letters of complaint have appeared in the local press from time to time about the noise these birds make. The number of Cattle Egrets have probably increased with the influx of cattle grazing all over town – I passed seven of them sleeping on the pavement outside one of the schools this evening.

Gerard Manley Hopkins decried the loss of the avenue of Binsey Poplars:

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,

Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,

All felled, felled, are all felled.

Trees take a long time to grow to maturity; to extend their branches; to put out their leaves, their flowers and their fruit.

I drove past that roosting site a few days ago. A single Sacred Ibis was perched atop the skeletal remains of a single tree. Someone had cut down the other two and prepared the third for removal!

Trees take a long time to grow; yet as Hopkins points out, it only takes

Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve

Strokes of havoc [to] unselve

The sweet especial scene.

All three trees have now been felled – I hope the residents of those flats roast once summer returns!

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.  – William Blake

AUTUMN

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.

 

FLOWERS AFTER THE RAIN

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:

common gazania

The Gazania krebsiana has an attractive centre pattern:

Gazania krebsiana

These pretty white flowers are blooming all over the veld – I haven’t been able to identify them:

white flowers

Purple patches of Wild Verbena (Pentanisia prunelloides) hug the road verges and are scattered throughout the veld.

wild verbena

This Plumbago is growing against the shoulder of Victoria Bridge in Fort Beaufort:

plumbago

Lastly, the lovely Acacia karroo (now known as Vachellia karroo) or sweethorn brightens the countryside with its yellow puffball-like flowers.

Cachellia karroo

ALIEN AUDIT (2): JACARANDA

Jacaranda

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.

Jacaranda blossom

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 WALK IN NEWLANDS FOREST

A short walk through the Newlands Forest was one of the highlights of my visit to Cape Town over the weekend.

Newlands Forest

It was interesting to look at the environment afresh from the perspective of my (nearly) three-year-old grandson:

Newlands Forest

Such tall trees:

Newlands Forest

Dry leaves:

Newlands Forest

Trickling water:

Newlands Forest

The contrasts between the green:

Newlands Forest

And the dry:

Newlands Forest