A NEW BEGINNING

Our garden was dramatically transformed by the light rain received during December. One of the delights has been the prolific blooming of the Dais cotinifolia or Pompon trees, many of which are self-seeded. They are fast-growing indigenous trees that adorn not only our garden but many others in town. They have also been planted as street trees and are easily discernible in the wild, where the profusion of pink flowers stand out.

The blossoming of these trees will forever be associated with the annual visit to us by my late mother over the Christmas period – what a beautiful reminder they are of a truly beautiful woman whose visits we looked forward to enormously! Seeing them now, it is difficult to believe they were bare and skeletal looking the previous December.

The first sign of their recovery is the appearance of their smooth, simple leaves with their veins forming very clear patterns.

In the photograph of Klaas’s Cuckoo I featured recently you could see the round heads of the flower buds on the Dais cotinifolia.

In some you might just see the pink of the flowers in tight bunches inside. These heads pop open to reveal the beauty within.

The flowers attract butterflies, bees, as well as Cape White-eyes. The appearance of these pretty blossoms always signal a new beginning for me. They last for about three weeks and so are still looking pretty on this first morning of a new year.

AUTUMN LEAVES

The seasons appear to be a bit topsy-turvy at the moment. Nonetheless, I heard it mentioned on the radio this morning that if we divide the seasons strictly according to the months of the year then the 1st June will herald the ‘official’ start of winter.

William Shakespeare described autumn as:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

In South Africa, we do not experience the spectacular changes of leaf colours in autumn as some northern hemisphere countries do. In fact, most of the trees in our garden are evergreens, so I had to look hard for evidence that the shortening length of the day triggers some deciduous trees to stop growing. When this happens, the tree forms a layer of waxy, corky cells at the base of each leaf – called an abscission layer. This slows and finally halts the flow of sap to the leaves; they lose chlorophyll, which is responsible for the green colour, and reveal other pigments created by carotenoid – present all the time – in the form of yellow or red or brown before the leaves finally fall to the ground.

You can see this progression in these leaves from the Ironwood:

As well as the Erythrina caffra:

These leaves have already turned brown and fallen from the tree. The red object in the photograph is a tiny seed that has already been dislodged from a pod:

Emily Brontë wrote of autumn:

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

Ordinarily, the flowers would be ‘away’, except that the Dais cotonifolia trees all over our garden are sporting blooms as if it were spring!

Some of their leaves are beginning to change to yellow.

So are those of the Acacia spp. The seed pods are forming too:

The most spectacular show of autumn leaves in our garden come from the Virginia creeper – which is not indigenous.

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

PRETTY IN PINK

We are enjoying a wonderful display of pink blooms on the Dais cotinifolia (Pom-pon) trees dotted about our front garden. There was only one mature tree in our garden when we arrived 29 years ago – the rest are self-seeded and are doing well, growing as they do on the margin of our ‘forest’.

Linnaeus founded the genus Dais in 1764. Dais means a torch in Greek, and the genus got its name from the resemblance of the stalk and bracts holding the flowers to a torch about to be lit – a very apt description I think.

The national tree number for the Dais cotinifolia is 521. They are wonderfully low maintenance as they are indigenous to the area. These trees are fast-growing and fairly drought-resistant – I water them only when they look particularly stressed, which is not often.