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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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:

 

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.

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.