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)

 

BLACK-EYED SUSAN

The Black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) is a vine that occurs naturally from tropical East Africa to eastern South Africa. It grows on forest margins and is attractive to both bees and butterflies. I have a self-sown one growing next to our swimming pool.

These flowers have also featured on South African postage stamps, which are illustrated below:

I have only now noticed – 17 years later – that the Black-eyed Susan is referred to on the stamps as Black eyed Susy (a name I am not familiar with)! These stamps were first issued in 2000 and reissued in 2003 as part of the standard postage series, which continued for a long time afterwards. In the image you can see them featured alongside a giant girdle-tailed lizard (a 5c stamp issued in 2000) and a much older stamp in a series that featured wild animals of South Africa, this one being a blue wildebeest, issued in 1998.

T IS FOR TECOMA CAPENSIS

Commonly known as Cape Honeysuckle and formerly named Tecomaria capensis, this plant was recommended to us by a nursery as an ornamental screen for our garden in a newly established suburb in Pietermaritzburg. Years later, we purchased some plants at considerable expense at a nursery in Lichtenburg for our fledging garden in Mafikeng – and nurtured it. Imagine our surprise to find it indigenous to this part of the Eastern Cape, where we now live.

It grows rampantly in our garden: wherever a bit of its stem touches the ground it forms new roots and another shoot of vigorous growth clambers through the trees or weaves it way through the undergrowth. Over years it forms a hard woody stem that is difficult to cut. I prune it abundantly, yet never stem the tide. This makes it sound like a monster. It is far from that.

The flowers of the Tecoma capensis provide bright colouring during the change of season from warm to cold (we do not have clearly defined seasons here) and attract a variety of birds such as the Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Cape white-eyes, Black-eyed Bulbuls, and Bar-throated Apalis. The tubular flowers also attract bees and butterflies.

S IS FOR STRELITZIA REGINAE

The Strelitzia reginae is commonly known as the Crane Flower and I have heard it called the Bird of Paradise Flower (what a cumbersome name that is!). I prefer Crane Flower as, from a distance in the veld, they bear a strong resemblance to the Crowned Cranes – which we do not see often enough in the wild.

These flowers occur naturally in our part of the Eastern Cape. The picture above was taken in the Ecca Pass Nature Reserve near Grahamstown. A lovely clump of them grow on a bank opposite our driveway and I derive a lot of pleasure from seeing them in bloom.

How interesting it must have been to name plants as they were found, examined and identified. The Strelitzia part of the name of this plant honours Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of George III, from the house of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. She was apparently a keen amateur botanist who became involved with the development of the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens.

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

SUNDAY SURPPRISES

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.

crab

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!

jacaranda1

jacaranda2

jacaranda3

ADDO IN NOVEMBER

It was a perfect day for visiting the Addo Elephant National Park on Tuesday: overcast with the temperature rising to a pleasant 26°C during the course of the day. A light breeze was blowing when we entered the Matyholweni Gate in the southern section of the park, which later strengthened to whip up clouds of dust in the latter part of the afternoon. The green trees and the good grass cover was a stark contrast to the drought conditions I have described in the Kruger National Park, although we soon realised the northern section is a lot drier and large areas look barren. May good summer rains fall soon!

The Ndlovu lookout point was our first port of call. One can get out there – at your own risk – to admire the splendid view, which includes the well-worn animal tracks at the bottom of the valley.

Ndlovulookoutpoint

One can also get a closer look at plants such as the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra). Not only is this plant sometimes appropriately referred to as Elephant Food, forming as it does up to 80% of the diet of the elephants at Addo, but it has developed a reputation for its incredible ability to absorb carbon. I have read that one hectare of Spekboom can remove up to 4.2 tonnes of CO2 per year! The leaves that fall to the ground provide food for tortoises.

spekboom

The Park was dominated by blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) which, despite having been browsed almost to ground level in places, is putting out new shoots and leaves as well as flowers.

plumbago

Pink trailing pelargoniums (Pelargonium alchemilloides) make a show too as they sprawl against rocks and other plants.

pelargonium spp

We were met with a sea of yellow when we got out to stretch our legs at the Algoa Bay lookout point. If anyone can identify these flowers, please let me know.

Algoa Bay Lookoutpoint

yellowflowers

There were also small patches of this purple flower that looks like a verbena. Again, if you can identify it I would love to know.

verbena

The enormous donga near the Ngulube Waterhole is showing signs of rehabilitating itself: trees and shrubs are beginning to grow within the deep scars of erosion. There is clearly a long way to go still.

donga

Where would we be without waterholes, especially after such a long dry period? Both Rooidam and the Arizona Dam were empty, but others contained sufficient water to attract animals. At the Peasland Waterhole elephant bulls grudgingly shared the water with a group of warthogs.

Peasland waterhole

We came across a spectacular scene at the Ngulube Waterhole of elephants, zebra, warthogs and buffalo.

Ngulube waterhole

It is unfortunate that reeds / bulrushes are encroaching on both the Hapoor and Domkrag waterholes. Not only are they absorbing a lot of water, but there is less open water available for birds and animals. On that note, it is pleasing to see that the tangled growth of reeds have been cut down in front of the bird hide at the Main Camp.