GLADIOLUS MORTONIUS

It was while driving around the outskirts of town that I came across two plants with beautiful pink flowers growing amidst the grass on the verge.

These look like a Gladiolus and have the typical sword-shaped leaves of that species, but I have never seen such a lovely pink version before. The blooms are salmon-coloured with attractive streaks of red – could they have come from someone’s garden, I wondered, even though we were far away from the nearest houses.

It appears from my Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa by John Manning that they might be Gladiolus mortonius, commonly known as the Small Salmon Gladiolus that grows in open stony grassland in the Eastern Cape. I saw these flowers two years ago and, although I often drive along this particular stretch of road, have not seen them since. I will keep a careful look out for them as they might bloom after the recent rain we have enjoyed.

TWO DROUGHT FLOWERS

I happened upon a ‘survivor’ in our local Currie Park. This Giant Candelabra Lily had miraculously missed being chomped by the Urban Herd that have eaten most of the saplings planted there over the years to provide shade.

The background to this lovely flower shows that between the cattle and the drought there is no lawn left; a brave Vachellia is valiantly putting out new leaves from what is left of its stem; and a ‘visiting card’ has been left on the right.

A real bonus for my drought-stricken garden has been the magnificent blooming of Spekboom for the second summer in a row!

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

SOUTH AFRICAN STAMPS: THE PROTEA SERIES

This first day cover features the Third Definitive Series of stamps for the Republic of South Africa that were issued on 27th May 1977. According to the Post Office, definitive stamps are issued here every five to seven years. These contain a set of designs in a full range of face values to provide for the country’s postal needs. This particular series is known as the Protea Series and depicts the wonderful variety of proteas that grow in South Africa.

The stamps were designed by Dick Findlay, who has done the protea family proud with these beautiful paintings.

Here is a list of the proteas:

1c: Protea repens – also known as the sugar bush. It was one of the first proteas described by the botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The common name alludes to the copious nectar it produces, which used to be used as a sugar substitute as well as for medical purposes. There is an interesting reference to how this was made (including a recipe) at http://africanaromatics.com/sugarbush-protea-repens-syrup/. There is also a lovely traditional Afrikaans song that features the sugar bush (suikerbossie):

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê

Wat sal jou mama daarvan sê

2c: Protea punctate

3c: Protea neriifolia

4c: Protea longifolia

5c: Protea cyneroides – also known as the King Protea because of its size. It was proclaimed the national flower in February 1976.

6c: Protea canaliculata

7c: Protea lorea

8c: Protea mundii – named after the 19th century German collector, Leopold Mund.

9c: Protea roupeliae – named after a flower painter of the 1840’s, Arabella Roupell. She is noted for an anonymous set of flower paintings published in 1849 under the title Specimens of the flora of South Africa by a Lady.

10c: Protea aristata – only discovered in 1928.

15c: Protea eximia

20c: Protea magnifica – also known as the Queen Protea.

25c: Protea grandiceps

30c: Protea amplexicaulis

50c: Leucospermum cordifolium – known as pincushion proteas.

R1: Paranomus reflexus

R2: Orothamus zeyheri – known as the Marsh Rose, it is a rare and endangered species.

Coil stamps:

1c: Leucadendron argenteum – known as the Silver Tree.

2c: Serruria florida – known as the Blushing Bride.

10c: Leucadendron sessile

The date stamp is appropriately marked Kirstenbosch, which is a world renowned botanical garden situated in Newlands, Cape Town.

NOTE: If you wish to have a clearer view of the stamps, click on the photograph and enlarge it.

FOUR HUNGRY BIRDS

The birds in our garden are regularly supplied with seeds and fruit, although there are a number of berries on indigenous trees at this time of the year as well as succulent flowers on the Erythrina caffra tree especially. Weavers and other smaller birds are provided with fine grass seeds in the hanging feeders and coarse seeds, such as crushed maize and millet are scattered on the ground for doves and pigeons. Well, that is the way it is supposed to work. Here is one of many Cape Weavers making the most of the abundance of Erythrina caffra flowers.

Amethyst sunbirds, Speckled Mousebirds, Common Starlings, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos, Laughing Doves, African Green Pigeons, Black-eyed Bulbuls and a variety of other birds visit these blossoms during the day. Laughing Doves, Red-eyed Doves and the Speckled Pigeons also gather below the hanging feeders to eat the seeds that fall to the ground. These Laughing Doves have decided to get to the source:

Not to be outdone, a Speckled Pigeon has usurped Morrigan’s feeder for a good meal:

There are a lot of berries and seeds around for the Speckled Mousebirds to feed on, but here they have homed in on an orange I put out on the feeding tray:

ALOE POLLINATORS

Several aloes are still blooming in different parts of the country as the winter stretches out. Their bright colours attract a variety of pollinators, of which these are only a few:

This female Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa caffra) is an efficient pollinator that visits the flowers for nectar and pollen. The males are completely covered in yellow hairs.

The silhouette of the sunbird below belongs to a Greater Double-collared Sunbird. I only know because I saw it beforehand.

Bees and hoverflies play a role in pollinating the aloes too.

One can tell how successful the season’s pollination has been by the swollen fruits that appear later.

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

ERYTHRINA HUMEANA

As we start peering towards the end of winter, it is appropriate to introduce the slender, rather graceful member of the Erythrina family in South Africa: the Erythrina humeana, commonly known  as the Dwarf Coral Tree. This specimen in Kew Gardens still retains the former name for it: Dwarf Kafferboom, a name now considered offensive in this country. I am nonetheless interested that they have used the Afrikaans spelling instead of the English form, Kaffirboom. Well, ‘boom’ is Afrikaans anyway (meaning ‘tree’), so why not.

This attractive plant grows from the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga into Swaziland and Mozambique. They flower in summer, bearing leaves at the same time – unlike Erythrina caffra and Erythrina lysistemon, for example. The latter two flower from winter to early spring, when the trees tend to be leafless. The beautiful scarlet flowers are long-lasting as they usually appear from about September to April. The specimen below grows on a pavement in a nearby suburb of our town.