Humans are not the only ones to use spikes of one kind or another for protection:
Another flower that is flourishing in the neglected historical cemetery in Grahamstown is the Vinca (Catharanthus roseus).
Apparently originating from Madagascar, these tough plants seem to flourish sans care in our hot and dry conditions. Thus it is no surprise that it is known as Kanniedood (cannot die) in Afrikaans. Its toughness and ability to seed itself and flourish anywhere has also earned it the moniker of ‘graveyard flower’ in some parts of the country. Another common name is Rosy periwinkle.
These flowers were most likely introduced as a useful ornamental plant – who would turn down flowers that bloom in the drought – but, like so many ‘imports’, has escaped beyond garden borders to become particularly invasive in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. So widespread is this flower that it has become naturalised in practically all tropical countries.
I clearly recall these flowers growing ‘wild’ in our garden in Mpumalanga when I was a child. It was one of the few flowers my mother did not mind me picking to decorate the various fairy gardens I created in between the roots of some of the trees.
The flowers are pollinated by butterflies and moths. Seeds tend to be dispersed by ants, wind and water.
What a mouthful! Balloon Milkweed or Balloon Wild Cotton fall more easily from my tongue at least. There was a plethora of these interesting plants growing in the Grahamstown Historical Cemetery I featured recently – the tall plants to the left of the cross.
Looked at from closer quarters, you can clearly see the distinctive yellowish-green tones of the inflated fruits are tinged with purple.
Each fruit is covered in hair-like structures. One can see why these plants are popular in large flower arrangements.
Like all balloons, the fruits become deflated over time.
Long before the first light shows behind the hills, the nightjars have fallen silent to make way for the morning sounds to begin. It pleases me to listen to the gradual awakening of the birds as they each add a gentle layer to the growing dawn chorus. Cape white-eyes chatter excitedly; African green pigeons chuckle quietly; while a Cape robin-chat defends its territory with low grunts.
While the sky is still a blank canvas of brightening soft grey suffused with pink, the Hadeda ibises begin fidgeting in the fig tree. The rustling sound of their feathers works its way through the branches until one ibis calls out reluctantly … a faraway reply can be heard giving the signal for the raucous calls to break the morning peace – along with the first vehicles passing by. A vivid smudge of orange intensifies above the horizon followed by fingers of light glowing low through the trees. The hadedas fan out across the valley, calling loud greetings as they go. Close by a Red-eyed dove persistently tells me it’s the ‘better get started’ time and a crow calls gruffly from a treetop. It is in the high branches and on the telephone cable where the Laughing doves meet to catch the warming rays of the rising sun.
As it rises higher, the sun highlights the yellow blossoms of the canary creeper.
Another day has begun.