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.

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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.

WANING ALOES

Among the joys we can look forward to in autumn and winter is the blooming of aloes all over South Africa. Their beautiful flowers appear at a time when other food might have become scarce and so they provide an excellent source of nectar in particular. Certainly, the aloes in our garden regularly host bees, wasps, and a variety of birds including weavers, sunbirds, starlings, hoopoes and the Black-headed Orioles. As our garden has become increasingly shady as the trees mature, the flowering period of our resident aloes has shortened. Sadly, it is already time to bid them farewell.

The flowers open from the bottom and in the image below you can see there are still a few at the top waiting to share their booty of nectar. Lower down, the flowers have either withered or fallen off the stem, or have been eaten by some of the birds mentioned above.

Peeping between these two ageing aloe flowers is a pink Pompon tree flower that usually only blooms from about November.

Once the flowering period is over, aloes continue to please. If you look closely at these young leaves, you might notice a wisp of spider web near the top. Aloes provide shelter for spiders, beetles, ants as well as lizards and geckos.

In time these leaves too will wither, harden and turn brown.

There are patterns and shapes in this image that remind me of, among other things, the eye of a jackal; the snout of an aardvark; a caterpillar; a frog; and the mouth and ear of some mystical creature. I wonder what you can see.

Here is a reminder of the beauty of aloes as seen along some of our roads:

 

SPIDER-HUNTING WASP

Three or four spider-hunting wasps (belonging to the family Pompilidae) have been daily tea-time companions for a couple of weeks. They have been difficult to photograph as they hover above or go in and out of the potted plants on the patio. I have at last captured one on a Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and am showing off its brilliant colours as highlighted by the sun in these three photographs:

NOTE: Click on a photograph should you wish to see a larger view.

THE BEE’S KNEES

When we describe someone as being the bee’s knees we are paying them a compliment because this phrase means of ‘excellent quality’. Some sources point to the origin relating to the pollen collected by bees as they flit from flower to flower – and we all know the end result will be honey, which is good.

So, someone who is admired for having certain qualities or for having achieved something significant may be referred to as the bee’s knees. This is the meaning that has been in use since the 1920s.

Funnily enough, when the bee’s knees was first recorded in the late 18th century, it meant ‘something very small and insignificant’. Well, bees may be small but we have all been made aware of how very significant they are in our lives!

NOTE: Click on a photograph of you wish to see a larger view.