SPRING: ERYTHRINA CAFFRA

There are no beautiful bulbs peeping through the ground and, so far, no pastel pinks of peach blossoms or the delicate white of flowers on the plum tree. The prolonged drought has meant that once again the arrival of spring has not been heralded by an array of pretty flowers appearing among the last of the winter grass. These will all have to wait until we finally receive a soaking spring rain. Not all is lost though, for at the end of winter and well into spring we are blessed with the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina caffra.

This is a relatively young tree growing just around the corner from where we live. If one walks to the top of Hill 60 and looks down on the town stretching out below, there are spots of red all over as these trees bloom profusely before putting out their new leaves. We have ancient, giant trees, in our garden that are far too large to fit into a photograph. The best I can do is use the opportunity to show you a closer view of these blossoms that brighten the post-winter landscape.

These flowers are low down on the tree and can easily be seen from our back gate.

I also have a delightful view of the tree in our neighbour’s garden and can observe the birds visiting it every day: Black-eyed blackcaps, Olive thrushes, Black-headed orioles, Common starlings, Red-winged starlings, Cape Weavers, Village weavers, Greater double-collared sunbirds, Amethyst sunbirds, Laughing doves, Red-eyed doves, Speckled pigeons, Fork-tailed drongos … and so many more.

PATTERNS IN NATURE: ERYTHRINA BARK

This is the time of the year when the enormous Erythrina caffra trees in our back garden start to lose their leaves. The strong wind brings cascades of them raining down to the ground. It is a ragged time for them and yet, before long, they will be covered with beautiful scarlet blossoms that will attract ants, bees, beetles, and a wide variety of birds. Erythrinas are a long-lived species. The ones in our garden were probably planted soon after the end of the Second World War and now, apart from being tall, they each sport a wide girth.

I find the smooth, pastel-grey bark interesting to look at with its rough texture, longitudinal fissures and these short thorny knobs. The prickles have faded with age, although new branches still have them. Many of the trees in our garden are covered with lichen – I am told this is a sign of the clean air in a town that lacks the water to support any but the lightest of industries. Healthy for us and healthy for the trees.

NEW GROWTH

We missed out on the joys of spring this year, thanks to the long drought which seemed to suck the marrow out of the earth. Now, in the autumn, there are pleasing signs of new growth to celebrate the renewal of life. First up is one of many lavender buds that hold the promise of colour and food for bees:

Around the bird feeder are some self-sown tomato plants – I have already picked one small ripe one – a bonus:

In the thick leaf litter in the back garden came an interesting surprise in the form of these two mushrooms:

In the same leaf litter – dry leaves falling off the Erythrina caffra – is the start of a new tree:

Soon the garden is going to be ablaze with the beautifully vibrant aloes, still tightly wrapped:

Then there is a single self-sown Californian Poppy in a pot:

Where there is new growth there is hope.

LAST SPLASHES OF COLOUR

There has been no soft introduction to spring this year. Even the peach blossoms shrivelled within a day or two before disappearing in the dry wind. For two or three days I thought the jasmine flowers would fill the garden with their scent after each hot day – they too shrivelled and died without ceremony. There are not even single flowers to herald the spring in my garden – and not many in the veld either! I think anything that pops its head above ground in the latter gets grazed by wild and domestic animals eager for moisture and the taste of anything other than short, dusty grass.

At least indigenous trees know how to survive in this heat (we have already experienced 41°C without reaching the official summer) and dry weather. Most sport green leaves in different hues, even though some remain bare and skeletal looking. The last vibrant splashes of winter colour come from the Erythrina trees.

The Erythrina caffra in our back garden has been flowering for weeks and is only now beginning to cover itself with green leaves.

Several Erythrina lysistemon trees grow in the suburbs and their scarlet flowers are balm for the soul.

FOUR HUNGRY BIRDS

The birds in our garden are regularly supplied with seeds and fruit, although there are a number of berries on indigenous trees at this time of the year as well as succulent flowers on the Erythrina caffra tree especially. Weavers and other smaller birds are provided with fine grass seeds in the hanging feeders and coarse seeds, such as crushed maize and millet are scattered on the ground for doves and pigeons. Well, that is the way it is supposed to work. Here is one of many Cape Weavers making the most of the abundance of Erythrina caffra flowers.

Amethyst sunbirds, Speckled Mousebirds, Common Starlings, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos, Laughing Doves, African Green Pigeons, Black-eyed Bulbuls and a variety of other birds visit these blossoms during the day. Laughing Doves, Red-eyed Doves and the Speckled Pigeons also gather below the hanging feeders to eat the seeds that fall to the ground. These Laughing Doves have decided to get to the source:

Not to be outdone, a Speckled Pigeon has usurped Morrigan’s feeder for a good meal:

There are a lot of berries and seeds around for the Speckled Mousebirds to feed on, but here they have homed in on an orange I put out on the feeding tray: