LEAVES IN MY GARDEN

While there is not much in the way of flowers in our wintry garden – and the temperature seems to drop by the day – there are a variety of interesting leaves. The first of these are the remnants of the Sword Ferns (Nephrolepsis exaltata), which I try to keep under control so that they do not overrun the garden. Here they are caught in the dappled afternoon light:

Next are the beautifully shaped leaves of the Delicious Monster (known in some quarters as the Swiss cheese plant), which outgrew its pot years ago and now has the freedom to expand in the shadiest part of the garden:

There are not many leaves left on the Frangipani (Plumeria) tree, as most of them have fallen off and lie wrinkled and brown on what should be a lawn beneath it:

Having looked at the exotic plants, let us turn to some of the many indigenous trees and shrubs. The first of these is the Ginger Bush (Tetradenia riparia), which is in bloom now while putting out a new lot of leaves, which is why they are still so small:

Almost leafless is the Blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (Ziziphus mucronata) growing near the front door:

The beautiful shape of the leaves of a Cussonia (Cabbage) tree is silhouetted when I sit in its shade:

Lastly, these are the rather thin-looking, slightly shrivelled leaves of the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) that will flesh out once the rains come:

WORLD WILDLIFE DAY 2021

It is becoming increasingly important to be aware of, and to celebrate, the diversity of species of flora and fauna that inhabit our world. Expanding human populations with the consequent need for land, homes, factories and warehouses are making large inroads into sensitive habitats that support our diverse wildlife – in whatever form. I offer these photographs in celebration of World Wildlife Day:

The Erythrina humeana or Dwarf Lucky Bean tree occurs along the coastal belt and the midlands of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga into Mozambique. There is one growing on a pavement in one of the suburbs where I live.

Blue Cranes are South Africa’s national bird and prefer open grasslands, where they forage for food while walking. Their numbers have been decreasing in the Eastern Cape and so I was delighted to come across these birds not far from town.

Cabbage trees occur in the bushveld, along forest margins, in mixed deciduous woodlands and among rocky outcrops. This one is growing in my garden.

While the Leopard Tortoise – the largest tortoise in South Africa – is not considered a threatened species, predators of the juveniles include rock monitors, storks, crows and small carnivores. Veld fires and passing traffic are also a danger to them.

Black-collared Barbets occur widely across Africa and are always welcome visitors to our garden.

It is difficult to choose between the many flowers, birds, butterflies, reptiles, trees, grasses and so on that occur here and so I will leave you with this magnificent pair of Kudu walking through the bushveld.

ARBOREAL CUSSONIA

I photographed a cabbage tree (Cussonia spp) that had seeded itself in the trunk of a palm tree. It appeared to be healthy with a smaller one growing below it.

Five years later, both appear to be thriving.

You can clearly see how the top one has firmly anchored itself to the palm tree.

The roots of the lower one have also got a firm grip on the ‘host’ tree.

It is difficult to spot any roots actually making their way down to the soil at the base of the tree, yet there must be, for it is otherwise difficult to comprehend how else these trees would get the nutrients they need to survive.

ARBOUR WEEK

The theme for this year’s Arbour Week is Forests and Sustainable Cities. My garden is a microcosm of this and could be termed Forests and Sustainable Gardens. Early readers will know that we inherited a rather barren garden and set about planting as many indigenous trees as we could soon after our arrival. The initial hard work has paid off: we may not have a prize-winning looking garden, but the intention has always been to provide a haven for birds and other small creatures – including snakes that find their way here – such as at least one tortoise and a Brown Mongoose.

One of the highlighted trees of the year is the Boscia albitrunca, otherwise known as the Shepherd’s Tree. We do not have one in our garden, but see them growing in the wild around here. A lovely example is this one growing in the Great Fish Nature Reserve.

I often mention the trees in our garden and the birds that use them for either food or shelter. This is the enormous Natal Fig that dominates the ‘wild’ section of our garden. It must be at least seventy years old, having been planted soon after the end of the Second World War when our house was built. It is looking a little bare at the moment, yet will soon be covered with thick foliage.

A flock of Hadeda Ibises roost in it every night and a variety of birds feed off the tiny fruits. These include African Green Pigeons, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Cape White-eyes, Blackcollared Barbets, Blackheaded Orioles, Greyheaded Sparrows, Olive Thrushes, Knysna Turacos and many more!

This Cussonia spicata (Cabbage Tree) was grown from seed by a friend. As you can see, it has had to bend away from the encroaching ‘jungle’ to reach the light. Keeping that ‘jungle’ in check is an ongoing battle – which I am nowhere near winning, yet it provides a perfect haven for nesting Cape Robin-chats, Cape White-eyes, Fork-tailed Drongos – and is where we have seen several snakes.

Whenever I mention the Erythrina caffra trees in our back garden, I tend to show you what its magnificent flowers look like.

Here you can see the base of one of these trees. They are enormous and are also very old. Near the top of the picture you can see where some of the branches have shrivelled with age and fallen off.

I will leave you with a partial view of our front garden.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

Do you remember the story of The Emperor’s new clothes? That is the one about the king who was overly fond of fashionable clothing, which took precedence over even the affairs of state. So self-absorbed was he by the new clothes he could show off at every opportunity that he was easily swindled by a pair of weavers who promised they could weave him clothes of the finest cloth – that would be invisible to anyone who was either incompetent or stupid.
Would anyone admit they were incompetent or stupid? Thus it was that everyone involved in the checking process assured the king that all was well, even though they could see nothing on the loom. Well, of course they couldn’t see anything – there was nothing there! In this way the weavers stashed away piles of gold, silk and pots of money whilst pretending to be hard at work.

The silly king believed everyone who assured him of the great beauty of the new cloth and resolved to wear his new outfit at the next important procession. Could he see the beauty of the clothes as he held his arms out to be dressed? No, but then he would not admit this failure on his part in front of everyone else who seemed to be overwhelmed by the beauty of his new garments for that would be tantamount to admitting that he was both incompetent and stupid!

Today I met some hard-working emperors of a different breed: outwardly they give the impression of beings not to be messed with. Sleekly black and covered with rows of bright red spots and, even more menacingly, rows of white spikes that stand out in contrast to their black bodies, these imperial creatures appear to be armoured and ready to withstand the onslaught of anything coming close enough to even sniff at them.

Closer observation shows what looks like a large bright all-seeing eye, only it clearly isn’t the real eye that adds to the frightening appearance along with the suckered feet and sharp mandibles. If my hearing was more acute I would probably shiver in fear at the constant crunch, crunch, crunch, as they collectively chomped their way through leaf after leaf of the cabbage tree (Cussonia spicata).

That might give you a clue as to what these frightening looking emperors might be … Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth caterpillars, which will emerge in due course into the large, rather beautiful looking Common Emperor Moths (Bunaea alcinoe). These caterpillars can defoliate a cabbage tree within a week or two. The ones I saw today were making short work of the attractive green leaves as I watched them. Fortunately, the trees will recover and, hopefully, when the time is right, we will be able to see these emperors donning their new clothes and form.

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