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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.

SUNBIRD HEAVEN

At this time of the year, when the bitingly cold weather sets in, aloes become a magnet for sunbirds. Here a Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris afer) shows off his best side before getting down to the business of extracting nectar from this aloe flowerhead.

This pose is the best for showing off his fine livery.

By now, feeling a little camera-shy, he turns his back on us – the glorious metallic sheen shines in the weak sunlight.

ALOE FEROX

This iconic Aloe ferox grows on its own in our front garden. The leaves are broad and dull green, while the dry leaves remain on the lower parts of the stem.

The bright orange-red flowers provide a cheery sight in the winter garden.

As you can see, they open from the bottom up.

They are a magnet for bees.

HERALDING AUTUMN

There is no dramatic recolouring of the landscape here. Instead, autumn in our garden is heralded by the subtle fullness of the Natal figs:

These attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings by the dozen:

The aloes are swelling in readiness for their winter blooming:

Black-eyed Susan creepers twine around other plants to provide bright colour:

Other splashes of colour come from the plumbago:

Canary creepers and Cape Honeysuckle:

While self-sown butternuts ripen on their vines.

In these years of severe water shortages, I bless the indigenous plants that simply ‘get on with it’ and do their best.