CRASSULA MULTICAVA

I seem to mentioning the drought rather frequently still – odd this, when parts of the country have already experienced flooding and hailstorms. We have rejoiced in the little rain that has come our way in the Eastern Cape: mostly in the form of drizzle so light that one wouldn’t bother to reach for an umbrella, yet enough to green up the grass and to encourage the trees to put out leaves. Our landscape has been transformed by the different hues of green as well as a few wild flowers here and there. One of our main water storage dams is completely empty; another I drive past regularly probably only has enough water to fill an average home swimming pool; while an aerial view of yet another shows only a thin stream of water. The latter dam used to be so full that the local rowers would use it for regattas! Alas, no more …

Hence the joy I take in drought-resistant blossoms that either grow in my garden or in the veld within easy walking distance. Our garden has always been blessed with a generous sprinkling of Crassula multicava, also known as Fairy Crassula. It was many years before I discovered what it was called: even though it can be found in many gardens in this town, no-one seemed to have a name for it. A common response I would get is “I don’t know, it seems to grow wild here.”

A ‘wild’ plant it is too for it grows all over the garden and forms a good ground cover even in the deep shade, whilst appearing to be equally happy in the sunshine. Their leaves are flat and roundish. If you look closely you might notice the tiny spots on them. These are what might have given rise to another common name for this plant, Pitted Crassula.

The colour of the leaves vary from light to dark green depending on whether the plants are growing in the sun or the shade. They contain hydathodes (which are water-secreting pores), which serve for rapid absorption of water from the leaf surface – making them ideal ‘drought’ plants. Dainty white, or pale pink, star-shaped flowers appear in sparse clusters from about May to November.

These are best appreciated when seen in a mass and attract a variety of insects, including bees and butterflies.

Crassula multicava occurs naturally from the southern Cape, through the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, into Mpumalanga. They multiply rapidly – if they can do that in my drought-stricken garden, then imagine what they can do under ideal conditions. This is because, apart from the expected dispersal of seeds, these plants root easily and spread from leaves that fall or break off from the mother plant. Another form of self-propagation is that the Crassula multicava produces plantlets on the flower-head that drop off and develop into independent plants.

They seem to have all bases covered!

WILD GARLIC

All indigenous species of wild garlic in South Africa are named after Ryk Tulbagh, the Dutch governor of the Cape from 1751 to 1771. How I marvel at the enterprise of the early explorers, artists, writers, botanists, and administrators whose insatiable curiosity and meticulous record-keeping have formed the basis of so much of what we know about our flora. Tulbagh sent numerous South African plants to the legendary Carl Linnaeus for classification. Wild Garlic was among these.

The general appearance of both the plant and flowers of Wild Garlic resembles that of an onion. Tulbaghia violacea is the best known of the indigenous species as it is has become a popular garden plant both here and internationally. The flowers are very attractive.

Particularly useful as far as I am concerned, is that Wild Garlic tolerates prolonged drought conditions, although it obviously thrives when well-watered. This evergreen perennial with long, narrow, strap-like, slightly fleshy leaves bears pinkish-mauve tubular flowers on long stems. The leaves smell strongly of garlic when bruised, as do the flowers when they are picked.

The flowers bloom in the summer, usually from about January until April. I have read a recommendation that crushing some of the leaves while one is sitting outside in the evening might help to deter the annoying presence of mosquitoes – I have not tested this theory yet, but if it works I will be very pleased as I am not partial to using commercial sprays or creams to keep mosquitoes at bay. The other aspect I have not yet tried out is using either the leaves or flowers in salads.

Wild Garlic grows throughout the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and in Limpopo. It multiplies by making offsets that develop into clumps and the flowers are pollinated by butterflies and bees.

This is an interesting article about Wild Garlic which you might enjoy reading:

https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/archive/wild-garlic-a-lingering-allure/

BULBINE NARCISSIFOLIA

The description of a particular grassland plant being common on overgrazed range-land made me realise I had hit the jackpot in identifying these canary-yellow flowers growing on a neglected triangle of ground – where the once regularly mowed lawn has long since been replaced by wild grass, on the overgrazed patch of lawn below our house, and along neglected pavements in the suburbs.

The Bulbine narcissifolia is also known as the Strap-leaved Bulbine, doubtless after its loosely twisted, strap-like grey-green leaves. As you can tell from the photograph below, flowers are star-shaped with bearded stamens and mature from the bottom of the inflorescence. The open flowers are pollinated by insects.

The stalks reach up to 500mm, making the flowers conspicuous during their summer flowering season. Fortunately, they are drought tolerant and so bring joy during these dry times!

AGAPANTHUS

Every time I visit Cape Town, I am struck by the banks of Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox) that line so many of the roads there. Agapanthus are grown in private gardens and public parks all over the country. It is a hardy evergreen plant, so their glossy strap-shaped leaves provide a good cover. When they are in bloom en masse, the sight is breath-taking – yet so many people take them for granted and drive on without a second glance. They really are beautiful flowers! The name ‘Agapanthus’ is derived from the Greek agapé (= love) and anthos (= flower). It would be interesting to know why it would be called a ‘flower of love’. John Manning, the author of Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa, suggests this might be an allusion to their beauty.

When you come across Agapanthus blooming in their natural habitat you might be surprised to find they do not sport the large clusters of funnel-shaped flowers you might be more familiar with.

The buds emerge once the calyx has split and the colour intensifies as the buds swell before opening.

This cluster is a mixture of swollen buds and open flowers.

Even their seed-heads look attractive.

It is interesting that this plant that grows on rocky slopes on the coastal mountains of the south-western Cape, along the banks of streams and the thickets of the south-eastern part of the country, and on montane grasslands in the eastern parts of South Africa, has become an international garden denizen. Of course they have become hybridised into a variety of forms and colours.

You will find a really interesting and far more detailed article about these flowers at:

https://naturebackin.com/2019/02/28/agapanthus-a-true-blue-summer-flowerer/

A PINK BEAUTY

An immediate attraction on our arrival at the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park was this showy member of the Hibiscus family growing on a bank separating the camping area from the chalets on a level above it.

The Anisodonta cabrosis grows along the coast of the south-western Cape as far as KwaZulu-Natal.

The bush was covered with these beautiful pink flowers.

A true ‘pink beauty’, it is also known as an African Mallow.