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.

A PRECIOUS MILK JUG

As fine china goes, this is not precious at all – good old Continental China it is – but to me this little milk jug is one of my most treasured possessions.

Barberton Milk Jug

It features the indigenous sub-tropical Gerbera jamesonii which is commonly known as the Barberton Daisy. In their natural state, these flowers are at home in the eroded sandy granite soil around the town of Barberton – near which I grew up – hence its name.

What makes this jug special is that it was given to me by my late father as something to remember my roots by – as if I could ever forget growing up in that wonderful part of the country! I have often used it, although these days tend to keep it for special occasions for it is irreplaceable in terms of its sentimental value.

The Barberton Daisy is also featured on the cover of a book my father wrote about the history of the area, Golden Memories of Barberton – a very special place and a most wonderful person!

Goldenmemoriesofbarberton

PROTEAN

The beautiful varieties of Protea spp. In the Western Cape, South Africa, are a joy to see.

Protea bud

I was reminded of this during a recent visit to Cape Town, where many of these flowers are for sale by the bucketful at the moment.

It is the versatility of the protea genus that led Carl Linnaeus to name it after the Greek god, Proteus, in 1735. Proteus had the ability to change his shape at will. His name is also linked to the word PROTEAN, which means either to display considerable variety or diversity, or refers to a person or thing that readily assumes different shapes or forms.

King Protea

I wonder if clouds can be described as being protean.

clouds

Shape-changers / shape-shifters are not only common in mythology and folklore, but in modern cartoons too. I was watching some of the latter on television with an eight-year-old and was struck by her unquestioning acceptance of the various characters’ abilities to change their shape or form to suit the action required of them. Granted, some of us grew up with Superman (Clark Kent nonetheless had to divest himself of his outer clothing in a telephone booth before soaring off) and Batman.

Then there is the diet of shape-shifters who use their protean abilities to change from a human form to an animal form or the other way round. We learn about them from our mothers’ knee: an innocent example comes to mind of the princess kissing the frog!

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