The genus Erythrina contains over a hundred species in different regions of the world. Six of these are indigenous to South Africa and two of them are common in the part of the Eastern Cape where I live. During our recent trip to the Western Cape and back, I was struck by the number of Erythrinas that are still in bloom. The smaller Erythrina lysistemon is probably the most widespread and was commonly seen at various places along our journey. This tree is growing next to the N1 just outside of Grahamstown:
These trees flower prolifically during the winter and early spring and brighten up the countryside:
The scarlet flowers are very eye-catching with their relatively long petals that enclose the stamens:
Growing next to this was an example of the other fairly common species, the Erythrina caffra. Its flowers are more open and have an orange hue. Note the backward curving petals and exposed stamens:
Three of these trees grow in my back garden, their pretty blossoms also appearing during winter and into the spring:
The flowers of both these trees attract a variety of insects and birds, providing much-needed sustenance during these ‘lean’ seasons of the year.
I have often noticed the tubular flowers of the Cape honeysuckle lying on the ground as if something had deliberately cut them off – well, that ‘something’ has generally proved to be one or other of the weavers that frequent our garden! Keen to get to the store of nectar at the base – and having beaks far too short to reach inside – the weavers simply nip off the base of the flowers for their prize snack.
During July and into early August, I have observed the stalks of the Aloe ferox growing outside our lounge have increasingly been stripped too. This time I caught a pair of Streakyheaded Seedeaters in the act. Apart from probing the base of the flowers to get to the nectar, they also eat the buds, anthers and stamens – this picture was taken through the window:
Other birds enjoying the rich source of nectar from aloes – only they have the long curved beaks to poke into the flowers – are the Green Woodhoopoes that chuckle and cackle their way through our garden every now and then:
The tall Erythrina caffra tree in the back garden hosts a wide variety of birds throughout its fairly long flowering season. Cape Weavers appear to be very partial to nectar and are considered to be among the more important pollinators of aloes. This one is snacking on one of the Erythrina caffra flowers:
A Blackheaded Oriole takes a turn to feast on the flowers too:
To celebrate the changing nature of the sky, we will begin with a beautiful sunrise:
Then move on to the early morning mist filling the hollows of the countryside:
As the sun rises higher, we can enjoy a beautifully clear blue sky set off by the scarlet flowers of Erythrina caffra:
In this dry land, the sight of clouds gathering is always a hopeful one:
So are beams of sunlight shining through the cloud cover after a storm:
Whenever a Berg Wind whips up dust, or there have been veld fires in the area, we get to enjoy particularly spectacular sunsets:
How blessed we are to have indigenous flowers blooming in our garden during the middle of winter! Even though the aloes are nearly over, they still attract interesting visitors such as Green Woodhoopoes:
The hedge of Crassula ovata at one end of the swimming pool is covered with flowers that are abuzz with bees and other insects:
I look forward to this time of the year when the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina caffra provide a beautiful contrast against the brilliant blue sky. Birds visiting them include Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Southern Masked Weavers, Cape White-eyes, Common Starlings, Redwinged Starlings, Greyheaded Sparrows, African Hoopoes, African Green Pigeons, Black-headed Orioles, and even Cape Crows:
The Canary Creepers continue to provide the odd splash of bright yellow:
While the orange Cape Honeysuckle is beginning to make a show too:
Summer is over and, in spite of the continuing high temperatures during the day as well as uncomfortably warm temperatures at night, the sun rises much later now and sets far earlier than we would like. The oppressive heat and impressive build-up of clouds late this afternoon – which included a few very loud rumbles of thunder – yielded 1mm rain. So, autumn is here: far from being a “season of fruitfulness” in terms of harvesting vegetables [thank you drought] it is nonetheless a season of seeds. Here is a selection from my garden today:
These fluffy seeds come from a weed I have still to identify. This particular one grew over six feet tall – I was so awed by its height that I left it to grow in a crack outside the kitchen door.
The beautiful flowers of the Gladiolus dalenii have left these seed pods behind.
Then there are the Cape Gooseberries that have seeded themselves around the garden. Their sun-kissed golden fruit make a welcome addition to a fruit salad. Sadly, there have been so few of them so I wasn’t able to make jam this year.
A dwarf marigold has laid down its head, ready for the autumnal sleep. Its vibrantly coloured petals will continue to fade before falling off to reveal the short black seeds at its base. I hope they will fall on fertile ground next summer.
The pretty pink blossoms of the pompon trees shrivel to look like miniature paint brushes before they finally let go and drop to the ground. Many of these trees growing in our garden have grown from seed.
The scarlet seeds from the Erythrina caffra are beginning to litter our driveway – always showing up brightly against the piles of dry leaves swirling about in the breeze.