AN INDIGENOUS MYSTERY PLANT: SOLVED!

It is many years since I walked through the Burnt Kraal area on the fringe of Grahamstown, revelling in the trees, grasses, flowers – and of course the birds. On our way back to the vehicles, I picked up a small fleshy branch lying on the path; it had obviously been broken off – although the parent plant wasn’t obvious in the grassy area. I brought it home and stuck it in a pot to see what it might turn out to be.

Every year this dry-looking stick would sprout green leaves and occasionally a pink flower would appear. The plant has been re-potted three times already and has begun to branch out, producing more flowers every year.

Long thorny spines also appear on the branches.

The tubular flowers are a pretty pink with darker stripes leading to the centres.

As you can tell from these photographs, the leaves are still on the plants when the flowers appear.

The nearest plants to it that I can find in my guide books – and searching through Google images – are the Adenium spp. such as the Impala lily (found in the dry Lowveld vegetation – especially seen in the Kruger National Park) and the Summer Impala lily, which is also restricted to the bushveld, and especially in Swaziland (now known as the Kingdom of Eswatini). Both of these places are very far from the veld where this plant was found.

If anyone has any bright ideas about the identification of this plant, I would love to be able to put a name to it.

Dries at DeWetsWild is the star: he has identified this plant as a Pachypodium succulentum, commonly known as Thickfoot, thanks to the massive underground caudex – a  thickened, underground, water-storing, tuberous stem, which helps the plant to survive during drought periods. This means that I must find an even larger pot for it! Although I had consulted the site Dries recommends in the comments, I was put off by the pale colour of the flowers illustrated there. The name he gave me, however, led me back to my Field Guide to Succulents in South Africa by Smith, Crouch and Figueiredo: the flower in that book is the same colour as mine – they apparently vary from white to crimson.

These plants are endemic to South Africa and naturally occur in stony grassland and along rocky ridges in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape as well as in the western Free State. Do look at http://pza.sanbi.org/pachypodium-succulentum for a host of very interesting information about this plant.

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NOVEMBER 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

November is a month that seems to have sped by. I have been on the road more than usual and we have had inconvenient time slots for power outages – all of which have contributed to the late posting of my monthly overview of the birds visiting our garden. The third of November heralded the blooming of the first Pompon tree flowers and now our garden is brightened with the trees covered in beautiful pink blossoms.

November is also the start of having pesky mosquitoes around and is the time from which I can expect ants, spiders and beetles to land on me from the shady branches I sit under whilst watching birds! The first bird to draw my attention was a Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul displaying the avian version of panting in the heat – called gular fluttering.

We have experienced temperatures of up to 36°C, so there has been need for all of us to pant a little! Red-eyed Doves are more sensible and generally remain within the shade of the trees and have seldom been seen in the open during the hottest parts of the day. The heat has meant that Cape White-eyes have been visiting the nectar feeder regularly – they have also been enjoying the apples and pears. The Bronze Manikins continue to delight as they fill the feeders with their little bodies.

While the Laughing Doves generally gather in the nearby trees for at least twenty minutes before coming down to feed, there are always a few of them that prefer to filch seed from the feeder rather than joining the masses on the ground. I found the antics of this one particularly amusing.

Southern Masked Weavers have been kept busy feeding their chicks. I enjoy watching them stuff their beaks with fruit to feed their chicks perched nearby. At one point this month the Cape Weavers appeared to be the dominant weaver in the garden. They have now been usurped by Village Weavers.

The Common Fiscals have also been taking food away for their chicks. Meneer still seems to prefer the titbits I offer in my hand rather than helping himself from the dish. While on the subject of feeding, it has been interesting to note that the Black-headed Orioles have shown a definite preference for meat over fruit, which makes me think they too might be feeding chicks hidden somewhere in the dense foliage.

To round off, the Hadeda Ibis chick has made the successful progress from being nest-bound to walking around the garden in the company of one or both parents.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-Shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pin-tailed Whydah
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

MORE EASTERN CAPE SCENERY

On this road trip we will stop along the Highlands road to look across the valley towards the Pumba Private Game Reserve.

Look at all that beautiful space covered with natural vegetation.

We stop further along the same road for a closer view of some of the indigenous forests which are, sadly, interspersed with pine trees and wattle.

Travelling south, towards the sea, it is always a pleasure to spend time driving through the Addo Elephant National Park. The natural vegetation was cleared many years ago for farms and has still not recovered, even though these farm lands have long since been incorporated into the park.

Should we decide to travel northwards, we might pass rocky outcrops such as these near Riebeeck East.

We might decide to stay over at the Mountain Zebra National Park so that we can enjoy the open vista of grassland interspersed with acacia trees.

As the day draws to a close we can appreciate the beauty of these mountains near Tarkastad.

Of course it would take more than a day to cover all of this ground, but it gives you an idea of the kind of scenery I call home.

OCTOBER 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

We are delighted to have received 43mm of very light rain during this month – albeit it in dribs and drabs of a few millimetres at a time. This is well below the annual average of 64mm, so we cannot help hoping that November will bring us a lot more rain. Every drop helps though and we have been blessed with a swathe of spring flowers in the veld and the trees in our garden have greened up almost miraculously. Speaking of green, the first bird to make it on my list this month was none other than a Green Woodhoopoe. Although they have been regular visitors, they are far from easy to photograph as they tend to call from within the foliage where they are looking for insects hiding under loose bark or poking their beaks into the dry leaves of the aloes to find food.

The two Common Fiscals continue to entertain us with their antics – both keep a wary eye out for each other before they collect food. Judging from their rapid back and forth movements, I suspect they are both feeding chicks. Their nests are far apart in different directions so they only meet at the feeding station. Bronze Manikins are also always entertaining the way they huddle together on the feeders. Southern Masked Weavers have been plentiful – I am intrigued by how quickly the females especially tuck into the minced meat I put out occasionally. The Cape Weavers have been more interested in the seeds as well as the nectar feeder.

Cape White-eyes are also regular visitors to the nectar feeders.

The Pin-tailed Whydahs have obviously staked their territory elsewhere: we occasionally see a male or two dancing around, but mostly catch sight of the females taking a respite from all the romance to feed quietly on seeds that have fallen to the ground from the hanging feeders.

I suspect the next door cats have made the Cape robin-chats a lot more wary than they used to be, so I was pleased to photograph this one even though the light was not that good.

‘Newcomers’ this month include a few visits from an African Harrier Hawk – the garden becomes absolutely silent when it comes by; a pair of Cape Wagtails have been bobbing around the edge of our swimming pool; Crowned Hornbills paid us a brief visit as they were perhaps passing through town; it is lovely hearing the Diederik Cuckoo and Knysna Turacos calling; a Spectacled Weaver called round for a few days in a row, as did a pair of Forest Canaries. My greatest delight was the arrival of the Lesser-striped Swallows and the White-rumped Swifts.

I regularly hear the calls of Black-collared Barbets and see them in the trees as well as the feeding tray now and then.

My bird list for this month:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
African Hoopoe
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-Shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Forest Canary
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pin-tailed Whydah
Pied Crow
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift