ALOE STRIATA

Among the many indigenous aloes we enjoy in South Africa is the Aloe striata, which blooms for some time after the other showy aloes have their flowering season – from July until about October. It is widely distributed in the dry parts of the Eastern and Western Cape and, as you can see in the image below, it brightens up stony, arid areas of the veld.

This is a closer look at the unusually red flowers that have given rise to Coral Aloe as its common name in English.

On the other hand, the blue green leaves lined with a pink, spineless margin, have spawned the name Bloualwyn (Blue Aloe) in Afrikaans. The striata part of its scientific name refers to the longitudinal lines on the leaves.

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CRASSULA COCCINEA

Also known as Red Crassula or Keiserkroon, the Crassula coccinea is endemic to the Western Cape and occurs on sandstone outcrops. I was fortunate to come across this specimen as we were leaving Silvermine two years ago.

The plant has overlapping, oval-pointed, fleshy, hairy-edged leaves that are arranged symmetrically around the stem. These have a tendency to turn reddish during dry spells. As the plants get older the bottom of the stems turn brown and dry with the bright green, new leaves at the tips. The name Crassula comes from the Latin crassus (thick), a reference to the fleshy leaves, while the species name coccinea (scarlet) is derived from the Greek coccos, which is the berry of the scarlet oak used to make a red dye.

COMMON PINK SORREL

The Common Pink Sorrel (Oxalis semiloba) is widespread in grassland through eastern South Africa and in tropical Africa. As children we would often eat the rather tart tasting leaves – we called them yum-yums then – either on their own or sometimes even on a sandwich. These plants grow in gardens as well as in the veld.

PAINTED LADY

I was trying to photograph a False Gerbera (Haplocarpha scaposa) next to the road when this Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) alighted in front of my lens!

This is probably the most well-known and widespread butterfly in the world and occurs all over South Africa. I rather like the Afrikaans name for it, Sondagsrokkie, meaning Sunday’s Dress, a tribute to the pretty pattern of colours on the wings, which are a rich tawny colour with black markings and white spots.

The underside of the wings are mottled with yellow, white and brown.

The males and females are similar and can grow to between 40 and 50 mm. It has a characteristic flap-gliding flight pattern that draws one’s attention to it.

ALOE FEROX (2)

The main reason for our drive out of town yesterday was to admire some of the many aloes that are still blooming in the veld at this time of the year.

The most dominant of these are the beautiful Aloe ferox (also known as Bitter Aloe), some of which can grow up to five meters. In the picture below you can see younger plants in the foreground with older ones behind – easily recognised not only by their height, but by the dry leaves that remain on the stem as the aloe grows.

This one has the beginning of a potentially large termite mound developing at its base.

Although their spiky leaves are usually a dullish green, they can turn a reddish colour during drought conditions.

Seen close up, one can appreciate how beautiful their flowers are.

Aloe ferox are widely distributed throughout the drier parts of South Africa and provide an abundant source of food for insects and birds during the colder months of the year. We saw Black-eyed Bulbuls and Streaky-headed Seedeaters feeding on them next to the road, as well as these bees.

A DRIVE OUT

It is such a beautifully sunny day that we drove along the Bathurst road this morning and returned via the Belmont Valley road. Here is a very different view of Grahamstown from the one from our side of town. The CBD is on the left and Makana’s Kop is on the right.

The narrow tar road that wends its way along the Rietberg Mountains exposes layers of underlying rock in places, showing evidence of the stresses involved in shaping our landscape.

For most of the way there are no clear shoulders, instead the grass verges grow right to the edge of the tar. During summer, the grass is generally taller than this.

Here the road is about to wind down the very steep Blaauwkrantz Pass.

The reason for our drive was to look at some of the many beautiful aloes that are still in bloom in the veld.

The dirt road that winds through the Belmont Valley passes productive farmland, much of it under drip irrigation. Near the end of our drive along this road, we had to stop and wait for this to move aside for us.

CRASSULA OVATA

The densely-leaved robust succulent shrubs, Crassula ovata, thrive in the sunnier spots of our garden and provide a good screen around part of our swimming pool. Their stout, gnarled stems soon give the impression that mature plants are very old. The flowers in this picture are past their prime and have turned brown.

Note the smaller, self-seeded plants growing at the base, which illustrate how well these plants propagate from broken off branches, or even leaves, stuck into the ground. The ball-shaped clusters of star-shaped flowers look attractive both from a distance and from close up.

They attract a variety of insects such as bees, wasps, flies, beetles and butterflies.

The flowers develop into small capsules, each holding many tiny seeds, which are dispersed by the wind. Bryan, the angulate tortoise that has found a home in our garden, sometimes munches on the lower leaves, which are edged with red, as these plants grow in full sun – ones in more shady areas do not.

For newer readers, here is a picture of Bryan, the angulate tortoise which has been living in our garden for some years now.

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