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.
Now that is a mouthful to use as a heading isn’t it? I wondered for years what these rather attractive white flowers are called until I happened to come across a reference to them in Common Weeds in South Africa by Mayda Henderson and Johan G. Anderson. This book, published by the Department of Agricultural Technical Services in 1966, has proved to be a boon to me so often. According to the authors, Nothoscordum inodorum is a native of North America and is commonly known as Fragrant False Garlic in English and as Basterknoffel in Afrikaans. Other sources claim the plant originated in South America. It is also known as Nothoscordum borbonicum.
Another common name for the plant is Onion Weed, which I was to discover soon after our arrival in the Eastern Cape. These plants had seeded themselves all over our garden and I was taken aback when an elderly man, visiting us for the first time, exclaimed “Onion weed! What a pest!” as he began vigorously pulling them out of a narrow bed next to our front steps. Here some have taken over a flower pot.
What cannot be disputed is that this is an upright herb with a main underground bulb with many small bulbs attached to it – making these plants very difficult to remove ‘cleanly’ for some of these tiny bulbs tend to get left behind in the soil. The leaves grow from the base and are linear, long, strap-like, smooth, and are mid- to dark green and glossy.
The long cylindrical flower stalks grow from the centre of the plant.
Here is a flower about to open.
The bell-like flowers appear in a small cluster at the tip of each stalk.
As I have discovered, it is a common weed around here, seen in gardens, along footpaths, in disturbed sites, as well as growing along roadsides. During this long drought period, I am pleased to have anything growing in my garden and simply don’t have the heart to set about trying to eradicate these – at least while they are flowering!
This fast-spreading ground cover appeared in our garden about fifteen years ago. I suspect it came from the neighbouring garden, for it first appeared on our side of the dividing wall between us. At first it spread through the shady part of that bed, then ‘jumped’ the path and continued its relentless journey onwards and outwards. Within only a year or two it had completely covered what I call my shady ‘secret garden’ and has since spread into nooks and crannies all over the garden.
Of course it is great to have a ground cover that does not seem too perturbed by either drought or very cold weather. One might argue that having the spiderwort, Tradescantia zebrina is better than leaving the ground bare. It is not unattractive either: The leaves have purple undersides and the upper side has light and dark green – even silvery – stripes.
This import, originally hailing from Mexico is named after John Tradescant (1608-1662), who served as gardener to Charles I of England and, I imagine, the zebrina relates to zebra stripes. The small flowers have a lavender-pinkish hue and bloom intermittently throughout the year, usually unfolding one at a time in the morning and closing during the afternoon.
Unfortunately, this invasive weed is a particular problem in the Eastern Cape, where it has a tendency to invade moist, shaded sites, disturbed forests and stream banks. In my garden it doesn’t seem to mind if the light is bright or dappled – or even deeply shaded. While one can more or less keep it under control in a drought-stricken garden such as mine, a real problem arises when these plants get a hold in natural forests or in the veld – I have seen some growing along the edge of town as a result of the indiscriminate tossing away of garden debris.
In places the dry winter veld shows up patches of the skeletal remains of the Datura plants that ripened during the autumn months. The spiky green fruits have since dried, split open and scattered their highly toxic seeds that will spawn new plants once the spring rains have arrived.
A widespread weed in South Africa, Datura, grows mainly in places where the soil has been disturbed, such as along roadsides, seasonal river courses, as well as in cultivated lands. We grew up knowing it by the Afrikaans name of Stinkblaar (Stinking Leaves) although I later discovered its English common name is Thorn Apple – at least two varieties commonly occur here: the Large Thorn Apple (Datura ferox) – also known as the Fierce Thorn Apple – and the Common Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium). I find it interesting that the Afrikaans name focuses on the leaves (which produce an unpleasant smell when crushed), while the English name points to the fruit. The genus name Datura comes from the Bengali name ‘dhatura’ for the plant, while the species name ferox means ‘strongly fortified’ and refers to the long spines on seed pods. The seeds of both are poisonous, so it was a plant we were warned from early on to avoid.
The spiny fruit houses the highly toxic kidney-shaped seeds. The photograph below shows the green fruit. This later hardens and dries to a dark brown before splitting open to reveal the black seeds. The Common Thorn Apple is also known colloquially in this country as malpitte (crazy seeds). All parts of Datura plants are poisonous and may prove fatal if ingested by humans as well as livestock and pets as they affect the central nervous system.
The white to creamy-coloured flowers are trumpet-shaped. The petals sometimes show a violet tinge.
This annual belongs to the Solanaceae – or deadly nightshade – family. Although these plants have become naturalised over most tropical and warm temperate regions, they are thought to have originated from the tropical regions of Central and South America. Datura stramonium is one of the world’s most widespread poisonous weeds and it competes aggressively with crops in the field and pasture. It is listed as a noxious weed in South Africa.