Today has been darkly overcast and dull with a very light shower clearing the air a short while ago. Having already looked at various hues of green on St. Patrick’s Day (interestingly the dead snake elicited the most responses!), as I walked around my garden this afternoon I was reminded of the various shapes of leaves we get in nature. First up is the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) which grows outside the side door leading to our swimming pool. The colour of the stalkless, succulent leaves tend to vary from bright green to pale grey. I planted this small tree as a broken off twig several years ago and it has already reached a height of nearly 4m. I prune it periodically and plant the cuttings elsewhere in the garden.

This Aloe ferox growing near our front door is well over thirty years old – well suited to this dry part of the Eastern Cape. Its beautiful flowers will appear sometime in May and continue through to the end of August. These broad leaves are showings signs of age yet still look attractive to me.

This Ziziphus mucronata, commonly known as buffalo thorn or blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie, seeded itself outside our lounge window. I enjoy the glossy green leaves, although remain wary of the thorns – one hooked and the other straight – that are difficult to extract oneself from. Despite the thorns, trees growing in the wild are browsed by both game and stock animals.

Gardens are all the sadder, I think, without nasturtiums growing somewhere. Not only do they produce blooms in a variety of colours, but their blossoms, leaves and immature green seed pods are edible.

According to the Agricultural Research Council “Sword fern is a category 1b declared invader in Limpopo, Mupumalanga, Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape, and a category 3 invader in Gauteng, Free State, North-West, and Northern Cape. It must be controlled or eradicated where possible, and may not be sold or distributed through commercial outlets.” Try as I might, I simply cannot get rid of these plants which grow faster than I can attack them!

Another exotic is the Cape gooseberry (Physalis edulis) which originates in South America. All the plants (the number of them wax or wane according to the weather) growing in my garden have seeded themselves – probably courtesy of the birds which adore the golden berries as much as I do. I generally leave them to grow wherever they please, unless they are really in the way.



Walk up the front garden path with me for a glimpse of our recently greened-up garden.

Next to the front door is a self-sown Zizyphus mucronata or Buffalo Thorn, known in Afrikaans as the blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (literally translated as a shining leaf wait-a-bit) tree because of their pattern of two thorns at the nodes, one of which faces backward.  Behind it is an Aloe ferox.

Dahlias – which come up only when the conditions are favourable – brighten one end of the front garden. They didn’t show themselves at all last summer.

Also self-sown are the cosmos that have bloomed for months now. The only difference since the first rain arrived is that the plants are growing taller!

This is one of several self-sown indigenous Senecio spp. which, I have discovered, make long lasting cut flowers – they look pretty in a vase mixed with cosmos.

Lastly, here is a colourful corner in the back garden – an indigenous mix other than a surviving nasturtium that must have grown from seeds dropped two summers ago. None grew last year for it was far too hot and dry for anything to survive.


The Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata) is more commonly known in South Africa as the Blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (shiny leaf wait-a-bit). A strange name for a tree, you might think, yet it is a very apt one. I find Afrikaans names tend to be so in their descriptiveness. The etymology of the scientific name for this tree is interesting, coming as it does from the ancient Greek zizyphon, which they got from the Arabic zizouf, which – of all things – was a name for the mythical lotus! It became known as zizyphum in Latin. The species name mucronata is also Latin, the meaning ‘pointed’ doubtless referring to the thorns.

Speaking of thorns: these trees are not to be tangled with as the two thorns at the nodes make extricating yourself from it rather tricky – you can easily become entangled in passing if you are not looking where you are going – as one thorn faces backward and the other faces forward. Look at this photograph and you will have a clearer understanding of why you will probably have to wag-‘n-bietjie (wait-a-bit) before getting free. One thorn is straight, while the other is slightly hooked and, although they are fairly small, I assure you that these thorns can be vicious enough to tear into your flesh if you are not careful!

The blinkblaar (shiny leaf) part of the name is easy. You can tell from the photographs above and below how shiny the leaves are. Both photographs are of young trees that have self-seeded themselves in my garden.

The minute golden-green flower clusters are borne in tight clusters above each leaf and are rich in nectar that attract birds and bees. I can only imagine the buffalo part of the English common name is derived from a thought that only a buffalo could walk through a thicket of these trees unscathed.