It is at this time of the year that the Cape Honeysuckle puts on a fine show of cheerful bright orange flowers so beloved by sunbirds, weavers, Cape White-eyes, bees and butterflies.

Aloes vie for space among the crassulas plants edging our swimming pool. They too provide cheer and attract the Greater Double-collared sunbirds, weavers, Black-headed orioles, and Black-eyed Bulbuls as well as bees and ants.

The Spekboom growing in various places in the garden does not mind either the icy weather or the drought.

A large flock of Red-winged Starlings visit the fig tree daily and often perch in the top branches of the Erythrina caffra to catch the early morning sun. These trees are now devoid of all but the hardiest of leaves and are covered in clusters of black seed pods that have split open to reveal the scarlet ‘lucky beans’ inside. Flower buds are making their spiky appearance, so before long the trees will look resplendent in their scarlet blooms.

A Black-headed Oriole perches in one of the many Pompon trees that are rapidly losing their leaves. The formerly beautiful pink blossoms now look like miniature floor mops that have been hung out to dry.

A male Garden Inspector / Garden Commodore (Precis archesia archesia) sees what the Canary Creeper flowers have to offer. We have seen very few butterflies in our garden so far.


As one drives from Grahamstown towards Fort Beaufort on the R67, one passes over the Ecca Pass, which takes its name from the Ecca River, a tributary of the Great Fish River. The pass has considerable geological, historical and botanical value, with several interesting things of note. One is that the road over the pass is one of several military roads originally built by Andrew Geddes Bain in the 1800s. This was known as the Queen’s Road.

Another is that Bain became so interested in the rocks uncovered during the construction of the road that he worked out the stratigraphy of what we now know as the Karoo System and named the rock type at the foot of the pass the ‘Ecca Group’. This comprises approximately 250-million-year-old sedimentary blue shales and mudstones. Most exciting is that he found several fossil reptiles.  Yet another interesting aspect of this area is that it is one of the few protected areas of the Albany thicket, which is a dense, spiny shrub land abundant in succulents. Among these are some very prickly euphorbias, such as this one, which might be Euphorbia heptagona (Bokmelkbos).

The Ecca Nature Reserve was proclaimed in 1985. Although trails were initially laid out and marked, these are now difficult to locate. Sadly, the bronze plaque on a cairn at the top of the Ecca Pass that was erected in 1964 by the Historical Monuments Commission in honour of Andrew Geddes Bain has since been removed by vandals. That aside, it is easy to see that one of the main plants in the Ecca Nature Reserve is Spekboom (Portulacaria afra).

Interesting flowering plants to see there include aloes.

The Strelitzia reginae (Crane flower) look particularly beautiful seen in their natural habitat.

Much lower, on the ground, one might see the very attractive flowers of the Common Gazania (Gazania krebsiana) peeping through the vegetation.

Post script: As not everyone reads the comments when coming across an older post, I am including a list of Bain’s construction works that I posted in one of the comments below. He was responsible for the following:

  1. Ouberg/Oudeberg Pass near Graaff-Reinet 1832
  2. Van Ryneveld Pass near Graaff-Reinet 1830s
  3. Ecca Pass from Grahamstown to Fort Beaufort (The Queen’s Road) 1837
  4. Michell’s Pass near Ceres through the Skurweberg, following the course of the Breede River 1846–48
  5. Bain’s Kloof Pass near Wellington 1848–52
  6. Gydo Pass due north of Ceres up the Skurweberg
  7. Houw Hoek Pass from Elgin to Botrivier
  8. Katberg Pass near Fort Beaufort 1860–64


Manning John 2009 Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa. Struik Nature.

Smith Gideon F, Crouch Neil R, Figueiredo Estrela 2017 Field Guide to Succulents in Southern Africa. Struik Nature.

Van Wyk Braam and van Wyk Piet 2013 Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Struik Nature.

The list of Bain’s construction projects comes from Wikipedia.


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:


I happened upon a ‘survivor’ in our local Currie Park. This Giant Candelabra Lily had miraculously missed being chomped by the Urban Herd that have eaten most of the saplings planted there over the years to provide shade.

The background to this lovely flower shows that between the cattle and the drought there is no lawn left; a brave Vachellia is valiantly putting out new leaves from what is left of its stem; and a ‘visiting card’ has been left on the right.

A real bonus for my drought-stricken garden has been the magnificent blooming of Spekboom for the second summer in a row!