PEANUT BUTTER CASSIA

I first became aware of the Peanut Butter Cassia (Senna didymobotrya) while I was living in KwaZulu-Natal. It is a very attractive bush which easily stands out thanks to its erect bright yellow flowers. I first identified it from a delightful book, The Wild Flowers of Southern Africa: Natal. A Rambler’s Pocket Guide by Dr. Winnifred G. Wright, which is filled with detailed black-and-white sketches. I used to colour them in once I had identified a plant and so it is that I see that I first noted the Peanut Butter Cassia in the suburb of Lincoln Meade in Pietermaritzburg in April 1973 and  growing along the beach at Uvongo in October a year later. In July 2019 it was growing prolifically along the Transkei coast.

The scientific name has an interesting origin: Senna stems from the Arabic sana , a name covering species with leaves and pods that have both cathartic and laxative properties. Then comes didymobotrya which is made up of didymo (in pairs) and botrya (cluster). The common name (one among several) of Peanut Butter Cassia relates to the fact that when crushed, the leaves smell akin to peanut butter.

In those days I had no idea that it has been classified as an invader plant, the origins of which lie in tropical East and Central Africa, from the Congo east to Ethiopia and south to Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Given its beauty, it was inevitably imported for ornamental use. The trouble is that the leaves are toxic to both humans and livestock. Given its prolific load of seed pods, it is quick to invade roadsides, wastelands, disturbed areas, urban open space, grasslands, savannas, woodlands and riparian vegetation.

Several of these evergreen shrubs are growing in some wasteland next to one of the schools in town. As pretty as they are:

It would make sense for the municipality to remove them, especially as they fall into the Category 1 section of invasive aliens in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.

Further useful information can be read at:

http://invasives.org.za/plants/plants-a-z/item/344-peanut-butter-cassia-senna-didymobotrya

http://publish.plantnet-project.org/project/plantinvasivekruger/collection/collection/synthese/details/CASDI

 

SOME SCENIC VIEWS

These are some of the views I enjoy while driving along the Highlands road in the Lothians area not far from town:

It is along this road that we sometimes see a variety of wild animals as well as cattle, horses and sheep. It is a tranquil place to be: the area is filled with birdsong, butterflies, insects and spider webs. It is a place to forget about COVID-19 and to relish living in this beautiful country.

BROUHAHA ABOUT DONKEYS

I often refer to what I call the Urban Herd, a term loosely used to cover the numerous head of cattle that wander through the suburbs of our town to graze in open parks, on unmown grass verges as well as browsing the street trees. Woe betide you if they manage to get into your garden, for not much will be left after their visit!

Not all that many years ago it was unusual to see donkeys roaming around town. There are now, however, an increasing number of donkeys seen either on their own or in groups of between three and eight. As with the cattle, these all have owners and are collected now and then to pull a cart.

Mostly though they are left to fend for themselves. They manage for their natural diet is a varied one, consisting of grass, shrubs and leaves. Sadly, a number of donkeys have also learned to raid rubbish bins in the street and gather in large numbers on the set rubbish collection days when residents place their black bags on the pavements in the suburbs.

Recently there were several donkeys grazing in an open park.

It is natural that during this prolonged drought period, many residents have become concerned about the plight of these donkeys that are largely left to their own devices. All over town are people who place buckets or large basins of water outside their gates so that the donkeys can have access to water. A lot of people feed them carrots or apples and have taken to stroking or patting them if they can. Most donkeys are docile and respond well to this kind treatment.

According to our local Ratepayers Association, these resourceful animals are quick to identify where they are likely to find food and are prepared to walk a long distance to such locations. I met a woman battling to close her garden gate early one morning as two donkeys were doing their best to get into her garden. “I give them bunches of carrots every morning,” she told me. “They come here every morning to get carrots from me.” It is not surprising then that these particular donkeys make their way to where she lives.

This Association informs us that the owners of the donkeys – mostly from the poorer area of town – prefer their donkeys to graze on the commonage, an open grassland close to where they live. That is the official line anyway. It is difficult to believe that so many donkeys would willingly leave the natural pasture on the other side of town to wander through the suburbs where they congregate in the shade of trees. This seems like a pleasant pastoral scene you might think.

Even though most residents have learned to tolerate the periodic invasions from the Urban Herd – probably because there is no way of getting rid of the cattle – there are some who loathe the presence of donkeys. Some set their dogs on them, while others shout at them or go after them with garden rakes or brooms, sending the donkeys clip-clopping along the tarred streets until their pursuer gives up the chase. A local resident complained that donkeys had ‘devoured’ all his vegetables (did he leave his gate open?), while another complained that “donkeys also pee prodigiously”. To emphasise his point he commented that he was about to lodge a complaint about a blocked sewage pipe near his home “when I realised I was looking at, and smelling, a fresh donkey download streaming across the street.” At this another responded, “They seem ‘cute’ until they behave as if they were in the veld!” Excuse me, are donkeys meant to use discreet toilets in the suburbs?

The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about. A. A. Milne.

MENEER

The relatively tame Common Fiscal we have dubbed Meneer used to fly back and forth collecting food to feed a growing family. Competition was fierce for not only was there the long-established ringed Common Fiscal to contend with, but at one point a third one joined the fray. Meneer was in the pound seats though for he had early on established a relationship with me as a source of food. He began by perching on my toe, then on my knee, or he sometimes perched on the edge of my bowl of breakfast. Each time he would gently take a small titbit of food from my hand and fly off, to return again and again. He could thus afford to bypass the other two fiercely fighting fiscals and come straight to me. Then he stopped. The breeding season has tailed off and there is no longer an urgent need to fill frantically gaping mouths. I thought our relationship had ended until Meneer recently perched on the trunk of a cabbage tree, just above my head.

He looked at me quizzically as if to say “Where’s the food?” I was drinking tea. “Wait there,” I told him and rose to cut a piece of fish into tiny blocks.

I moved to the garden table and he followed. Instead of snatching the food from the shallow dish, Meneer remembered his manners and looked at me intently, waiting for me to place a piece of fish in my hand. He took it gently and flew into the tangle of branches nearby to eat it. He returned for another handout before flying off.

He still appears now and then and, if I do not have anything immediately at hand, waits until I fetch something for him. He never stays for long and usually only takes one offering. It is almost as if he is telling me not to forget him, for the time will come again when he will require my assistance once more.

SOUTHERN MASKED WEAVER

While they are commonly seen throughout southern Africa, Southern Masked Weavers (Ploceus velatus) have taken some years to become regular visitors to our garden. They are no strangers to this blog for during the past year or two they appear to have become the dominant weaver – outranking the Village Weavers that used to outnumber them by far. They are easily distinguished from Village Weaver by being slightly smaller and have a plain, rather than a blotchy, back.

Depending on the weather, their breeding season usually runs from September to January, although the peak of the season is in summer. During this time, breeding males sport a black face mask with a narrow black band on the forehead above the bill. During the non-breeding season they adopt a more drab appearance, akin to the females, other than the retention of their red eyes. Note their short, strong, conical bill.

The shape of its bill is eminently suited to it being mainly a seed-eater. They eat seeds both from the bird-feeders and from the ground. I have also observed them foraging through leaves and branches as well as fighting each other – and other birds – over any scraps of food I place on the tray. These birds have bent and broken the stems of the cosmos flowers – in search of insects or nectar?

When we had rain and I was able to grow African Marigolds, I would often see some of the Southern Masked Weavers ripping the petals apart.

Now is the time when the lovely orange blossoms of the Cape Honeysuckle come into bloom and the weavers waste no time in biting off the tubular flowers at the base to get at the nectar. They do the same to the Weeping Boer-bean, which is also blooming now. When our Erythrina caffra trees are in bloom, they join with a wide variety of birds doing much the same.

Lastly, these birds are not slow when it comes to feasting on the termites and flying ants that regularly appear in the garden!