Category Archives: Wildflowers

Aliens and Ericas

This storm was promised; the weather forecasting in this part of the world is so good that they predicted the first drops of rain almost to the minute.  And here it is, cold, wet, miserable weather so that when I look out of the window I can’t even see the dam, never mind the lights of Paarl in the valley below.  We are holed up in the study, watching 24 with Jemima Chew curled up before the fire snuffling and squeaking and hunting in her dreams.

I am getting carried away again and the point of tonight’s blog is to catch up with some flowers that I haven’t posted yet.  First of all two different Ericas.  I’m not sure which ones they are – both have tiny tiny flowers, several would fit on my little fingernail.

 

The next is the gorgeous Moraea tripetala.  These little Iris-like flowers grow on the driveway and are a joy to see when they emerge each year.  Typical bulbs, one day there is nothing and the next, stunning flowers emerge in their full glory.

Moraea tripetala

Moraea tripetala

After the floods of rain last week we went out on a dark damp evening for fresh air and an evening run.  After so much rain a lot of flowers were ravaged and new ones hadn’t yet emerged but this rain-soaked Protea nerifolia glowed a rich red-pink in the gloom.

Protea nerifolia

Protea nerifolia

The driveway is one of the most prolific areas on the farm, or at least the one that I see the most.  Another shrub in flower at the moment is this Felicia filifolia.

Aliens!

We spend a lot of time and money taking out aliens.  Some are pines from the forest next door and here is one in flower – they might be aliens but these are pretty flowers all the same.

Another is this elegant tree.  It is a type of wattle I think – but far prettier than most.  The leaves are silvery grey and in summer I use them in flower arrangements and to decorate the house at Christmas.  At the moment it is in full flower and makes an elegant flowering tree.

Finally I can’t resist posting this particularly splendid sunset from last week.

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Roaring waters

We had some turbulent weather last week and I lay in bed morning after morning listening to the rain battering the roof and feeling no desire whatsoever to leave my warm, wolfhound laden bed to go running in the wet coldness outside. Thus is the road to perdition paved with good intentions. Night after night I go to bed and promise myself a morning run. Morning after morning I lie in the snug warmth and don’t go anywhere. Paths go untrodden, flowers unphotographed, dogs unexercised

On Saturday the rain stopped and in the evening we finally ran up the soaking wet mountain in poor light with little to see and charming only to us. We ran via the waterfall, roaring white in the dull evening light.

Today dawned grey once more, but no rain. We were taking the young horse to a show, so there was no chance of a morning run, but after a happy day of showjumping at Noordhoek, I came home to glorious sunshine and enthusiastic dogs. The only possible answer was to go out on the mountain. I’m not sure it could entirely be described as a run. I walked most of the uphill and we made several detours into wilder bits of fynbos to examine and inspect. The dogs were delirious with happiness, noses a-quiver and constantly dashing off into the bush after wild things, real or imaginary.

There was a lot to see: first the pounding waterfall, white with pounding roaring water.

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We stopped at the weir for a drink (for the dogs, not me) and I took a series of strangely beautiful photos of Seamus. The sun was shining through the trees and catching his coat, confusing the camera. He lay in front of the magnificent Ilex Mitus, the Cape Holly with its gleaming silvery green trunk.

 

Higher up the mountain we ran into fynbos as the light became ever more golden. The pink Protea burchellii and the first Protea nitida of the year. We had to bash through some bush to get to Protea nitida. This colony scatters an area of the mountain on top of the farm and they tend to flower quite late. This is the first of these graceful silver trees to flower.

 

We took a little detour to the stream that leads off our land to the forest and came across some Microloma tenufolia. Never easy to capture, it somehow works well against the lime green leaves of the Lucadendron salignum and you can see the tenuous climber’s twisted stem quite clearly. The colour is amazing, always pinker in a photo than its more coral reality.

 

The Buchu that we grow commercially on the farm is in full flower and on the way down the mountain we stopped and in the perfect light just after sunset caught this flower-spangled shrub by the road.

 

Agthomsa crenulata

Agthomsa crenulata

We had wonderful weather before the rains this week and there is a backlog of blog photos to post, along with splendid tales of the morning light as it hits the Simonsberg, the Paarderberg and Paarl Mountain and of the evening sun as it catches the water in the dams below us and they gleam golden, pink or red and orange. But those are tales for another day.

The Polecat and the Porcupine

We were having dinner with my stepdaughter Robyn in Johannesburg earlier this week and she said “we can always tell when you are busy, Sarah, because you don’t write your blog.”  She’s right, it’s been a busy few weeks.  The runs continue but the blog has been neglected as I’ve travelled all over the place, and now a ton of reports need writing and people, horses and dogs have taken priority over the calm pursuit of blog writing.  So this blog is a bit of a mixed one, with several runs and bits of farm life all mixed up.

We share the mountain with many creatures that we never see, none more nocturnal and furtive than the African Striped Polecat.  Sadly we met one the other day, sad because she was deceased, Peter found her on the road and brought him home for a respectable burial.  I didn’t have the heart to take a photo of her, so I have taken this one from google images, with apologies to the photographer for the lack of a credit.  Of interest is that of all mammals, this is the stinkiest, stinkier even than a skunk.  Perhaps it’s a good thing that they are secretive and nocturnal.

 

African Striped Polecat

African Striped Polecat

We saw evidence as we ran up the mountain a week or so ago of another, less rare, nocturnal resident:  a porcupine quill on the road.  We quite often see the quills, and very occassionally the porcupines themselves and we love to think of them, snuffling around in the dark, happily digging up fynbos bulbs, of which we have plenty on the mountain.  Apparently this is the biggest porcupine in the world.  The photo of the quill is mine, the one of the porcupine also downloaded from google images.

Cape Porcupine

Cape Porcupine

 

Porcupine Quill

Porcupine Quill found on our morning run

The weather has been all over the place in the last few weeks.  We’ve had a wet but mild winter so far and now, suddenly, the temperature has dropped.  The water has been magnificent – as you can see from this photo: the mountain in the background is the Paarderberg and the full dams and the Berg River gleam in the last light of the setting sun.

The sun sets behind the Paaderberg

The sun sets behind the Paaderberg

On the same evening I went deeper into the thick fynbos above the house to see if there was anything new or exciting flowering   There was but I need to do a bit of research before I post it.  Meanwhile I took this charming evening view of the farm buildings.

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Another evening found us higher up the moutain and Jemima Chew is clearly enjoying being out on the mountain.

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Runs have also been early in the day when the light is poor, or at sunset.  I love how the Leucodendrum salignum glows in the gloom, a yellow-lime green colour, they shine on the mountain when nothing else stands out.

Leucadendron salignum Male

Leucadendron salignum Male

Leucadendron salignum Female, shining in the gloomy morning

Leucadendron salignum Female, shining in the gloomy morning

And the magnificant King Protea, Protea cynaroides, is in flower at the moment.  This is the South African national flower.

Protea cynaroides, The King Protea

Protea cynaroides, The King Protea

At the top of the farm, close to where we found the Gladiolus watsonius, is a flowering white shrub.  It looks like a Selago, but not any of the ones I find in my book, so identification is uncertain.

Selago

Selago

Finally a morning shot – with the Leucodendron salignum luminescent in the foreground, Paarl Mountain with the morning sun on it in the mid-distance and the Paaderberg in the background, covered in cloud.  This is a magical time of year in this part of the world, the soaking rain promises a great spring flowering season and good crops for us on the farm.  The light is magnificant, the days are getting longer and spring is getting closer.

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The Magnificent Gladiolus maculatus – Flower of the Day once again

Although I posted a couple of pictures of Gladiolus maculate, the Brown Afrikaner, the other day, I was not sure I had done full justice to this exquisite and delicate flower, with its lovely flowers perched atop a long stem and somehow withstanding the most violent wind and rain.  And although I’ve only ever seen one I thought it might be worth exploring if there were not more in the same area.  So on Friday the dogs and I walked up in the evening light to see if we could find them.  And we did, one other, a little less bedraggled looking.  I don’t know if these are rare but they are special indeed.

Gladiolus maculata in the evening light

Gladiolus maculatus in the evening light

Gladiolus maculata, two flowers atop a long, fine stem

Gladiolus maculatus, two flowers atop a long, fine stem

The setting sun shines through the petals of the Gladiolus maculate, the brown afrikaner

The setting sun shines through the petals of the Gladiolus maculatus, the brown afrikaner

Flower of the day: Gladiois Maculatus known as The Brown Africkaner

As I labored up the mountain preceded by faithful yet enthusiastic hounds this morning I thought ‘but surely if we’ve seen a Gladiolus watsonius, we should have seen a Gladiolus Maculatus by now’.  As we trotted past the precise place where we saw it last year I swiveled my head left and Lo!  There she was.  Upright and unravaged despite overnight rains verging on monsoon.  We will capture a better photo, I am sure; this one shows the indomitable nature of this winter flowering, sweetly scented gladiolus.

 

Gladiolus maculatus

Gladiolus maculatus

Running in between the flying

When I got home from Nairobi last week little Jemima Chew was not looking her usual self. She’s what the South African’s call a ‘pavement special’, an SPCA rescue dog who arrived in our lives shortly after Seamus. Although quieter than the attention seeking wolfhounds, she’s a lovely dog and often ends up a favourite with guests. She also gets bullied by Maebh as a result of which she now sleeps on our bed at night while the hounds sleep in the kitchen.  A perfect outcome from her point of view.

Jemima Chew (named for the Jimmy Choo boots she very nearly destroyed as a puppy) is always alert, always ready for action and always hungry. So when she was down in the dumps, refusing food and clearly off colour we were quite worried. Especially when Peter told me she’d been that way for a couple of days. She didn’t have a temperature, but in our part of the world you worry about biliary and I found a couple of ticks on her. We rushed her to the vet and although she didn’t have biliary she did end up on a drip for 24 hours. Poor girl, she’s so tough that in six years its’s the first time she’s ever had to go to the vet. By Sunday she was home, feeling much better, wagging her tail and demanding dinner.

Here she is in the misty afternoon light a week later. It poured with rain all last weekend but stopped early enough on Sunday afternoon for us to go for a quick run before I had to leave for the airport. This blog is being written on a plane between London and Frankfurt.

Jemima Chew, fully recovered

Jemima Chew, fully recovered

The light was fantastic and made the grove of Ilex Mitis by the weir look like a scene from The Hobbit. Seamus and Maebh put on their best performances for this photo.

Scene from The Hobbit, starring Seamus and Maebh

Scene from The Hobbit, starring Seamus and Maebh

The waterfall, which I posted only a few days ago, is now white with pounding water – we must have had 30mm of rain at least and the farm is soaking wet.

Water!

Water!

One lovely result of a few days of rain is all the bird activity when it stops, especially as this is the mating season for most of our birds. We took a different route through the fynbos today and saw lots of Cape Sugarbirds having battles over the girls. The iphone which I used for all my flower photos is much less good at caputuring fauna but I did manage to get one image of the sugarbird inspecting his territory from the top of a Protea repens.

If you look closely you can see the Cape Sugarbird with his long tail

If you look closely you can see the Cape Sugarbird with his long tail

Not so many flowers on this run – the rain, followed by some sun, means there should be some new things to see next weekend when I get home. This is a new protea gleaming in the soft winter light.  I have promised myself I will be stricter on identity this year, but I’m not sure what this subspecies is.

Unidentified pink Protea

Unidentified pink Protea

No problem identifying Chasmanthe aethiopica which we have posted before.  This group grows higher on the mountain on a different part of the farm – a damp shady area just below the weir. Such a lovely flowering bulb and reliably reminds me of the damp sweet smelling Irish spring where it grows wild on the verges and in the hedgerows.

Chasmathe Aethiopica

Chasmathe aethiopica

Another shot of the graceful and beautifully coloured Chasmanthe Aetheopica

Another shot of the graceful and beautifully coloured Chasmanthe aetheopica

A good fire and some snoring wolfhounds

We woke up full of good running intentions this morning and the first sound was the pattering rain on the roof. News from Cape Town to the west of us that the rain is pouring down and a look at yr.no (the excellent Norwegian weather service if there is anyone alive who still doesn’t know about it) confirmed our worst fears. If we can’t run, we can at least blog about running.

I spend the hot months of summer thinking how much I like the Cape Winter – yes it rains but it never, in my imagination at least, gets truly cold. And it is true that here on the mountain the temperature very rarely slips below 5 degrees. This was a rare week. It was freezing, almost literally, and 4 degrees on Wednesday morning and reminded me exactly why I like living in warm countries. Being the Cape it was a short snap and on Thursday a benign sun smiled on us. Now it’s raining hard but still mild.

Deilighted to be reunited the dogs and I had some splendid runs. I’m travelling too much to keep a proper level of fitness, but even at a plod there is nothing more joyous than time spent on the mountain with the dogs.

The first Erica plukenetii has come into flower and will continue flowering all over the farm from now until December. They come in many colours and well post lots of them. I love the way the evening sun gleams on the clustered pink tubes.

 

Erica plukenetii

Erica plukenetii

 

The Protea nerifolia is one of the most magnificent shrubs on the farm and the bannerhead of The Fynbos Blog. Most commonly seen in pink, sometimes the flowers are cream or white and the soft velvety lushness is irresistible, to me as a photographer and apparently also to the tiny beetles you can see on the petals.

Protea nerifolia

Protea nerifolia

The Oxalis are out now, studding the lands like tiny jewels. I worry when it rains for days on end – the flowers only open in the sunlight, so how can they survive without it? But survive they do. There are dozens of varieties, these three are found everywhere on the farm. Oxalis veriscolor is particularly exquisite with it’s shrublike form and tiny pink edged white flowers.

Oxalis veriscolor

Oxalis veriscolor

Oxalis purpurea in pale lilac

Oxalis purpurea in pale lilac

Oxalis purpurea in bright pink

Oxalis purpurea in bright pink

 

Yellow daisy like flowers can be hard to identify and I was happy to see this Haplocapha lanata again. When I started the blog it was one of the first that I did manage to name and if you look closely at this photo you can just see the pink edges on the petals that indicate the distinguishing red undersides.

Haplocapha lanata

Haplocapha lanata

The water is pouring down the rivers and streams and our waterfall is back to its full glory.

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This tiny flower grows on a shrub that looks like Chaenostoma hispidum or Sutera hispida (both the same, a victim of renaming again). We are right on the edge of its territory but it does look right.

Chaenostoma hispidum

Chaenostoma hispidum

Seamus absolutely loves this cooler weather. He is exceptionally fit and well at the moment and bounds all over the farm with us. Here he is in one of his favourite poses, he’s just had a drink and a lie down in Fox Pan and now he’s letting the breeze ruffle through his coat as he looks out over the mountains and waits for me to catch up.

Seamus enjoying a sunny afternoon

Seamus enjoying a sunny afternoon

One last flower that I have been meaning to post. It flowers very briefly and I missed it last year although we have lots of these pretty green shrubs on the farm. I caught one in the act a few weeks ago. The common name is wild asparagus, Asparagus rubicundus.

Asaparagus rubicundus

Asaparagus rubicundus

Jemima Chew and the francolin

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog and I think I may be struggling with a little writer’s block. There has been so much travel, work, report writing, negotiating still more work, over the last few weeks, to say nothing of trying to keep a semblance of normal life, that the runs and the flowers have faded to the background. Back on a plane now, headed to Nairobi, not a destination that’s particularly attractive at the moment, Time to write a blog. The lovely thing about this time of year is that every day is so different.

Unlike most of the continent we do have four proper seasons and now we are headed from autumn to winter. I’ve talked before about how our autumn is more like spring in the Irish world I come from. Here it is the relentless heat that stifles growth and shrivels the landscape. So once the rains fall and the temperature is mild, the landscape becomes green, birds start courting and building nests and though winter is cold and damp, it is also fecund and bears the promise of life to come.

One silly Cape Francolin (a partridge-like bird) decided to build her nest on the shores of the dam, where the undergrowth is thick and a willow tree grows overhead. Jemima Chew found her, of course, and she flew into the willow tree and refused to budge; presumably reluctant to leave her eggs (it is a little too early for chicks). Jemima spent the entire day barking at her, running around the willow tree, ferreting in the damp waters and generally causing havoc. The bird still didn’t budge. At one point, when Peter and I went to inspect the cause of all this commotion, Jemima Chew had actually managed to climb onto the lower branches of this willow tree, defying both gravity and the limitations of her portly figure. I had left my iphone in the house so we have no evidence of this unlikely event.  Luckily night brought the irresistible temptations of a warm fire and a good dinner and the by next morning the francolin had learned some sense and was gone. Birds are not stupid.

While we were there we saw the first arum lilies of the season. These lovely lilies are indigenous here and will grow all winter long anywhere damp, the wetter the better. Roadside verges are covered in them, a joy to behold. The gleaming whiteness is quite hard to photograph, but these are the first.

The first Aurm Lily of the year

The first Aurm Lily of the year

Another fynbos bulb that likes damp places is Chasmanthe floribunda. I grew up knowing this as Montbrecia – it grows wild in the hedgerows of Ireland (a damp, mild climate if ever there was one). Oddly in Ireland it also flowers in May and June, justifying my claim that the Cape autumn is a kind of spring. Botannical names get changed to bring more global consistency and perhaps this is one that has been changed.  When I look up Montbrecia it shows up as Crocosmia and looks exactly the same, so I’m a bit confused.  Not an uncommon feeling when it comes to naming fynbos with pinpoint accuracy.

Chasmanthe floribunda, or Montbrecia or Crocosmia

Chasmanthe floribunda, or Montbrecia or Crocosmia

 

There is a particular light we see here in winter that charms me most of all. It happens when the sun is setting in the West/North West and a mist comes off the river down in the Paarl valley on a perfectly still evening. At a certain moment the setting sunlight catches the mist and turns the whole valley into gold. I only ever see it once or twice a year and it is enthralling. Last week we had such an evening and this photo is taken from the balcony. Hard to catch the magical glimmering golden light in a photograph, yet there is something of it captured here.

A golden evening

A golden evening

The next morning greeted us with cool cloudy weather pierced by the odd shaft of sunlight and a double rainbow.

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As we ran up the mountain we saw the first wild rosemary – Eriocephalus africanus. This stunning herb grows commonly all over the farm and soon the air will be scented with its flowering. The tiny while flowers are a delight to behold and we’ll see many more of them in the months to come.

Eriocephalus africanus, wild african rosemary

Eriocephalus africanus, wild african rosemary

The Phylica is now in full flower everywhere and I noticed that the tiny flower heads have opened, each one a little flower in its own right. So pretty.

Phylica eriocoides

Phylica eriocoides

The Banting Wars

It’s been a busy time at work and most of the time I’ve been chugging back and forth to Europe instead of spending this marvellous month of May on the farm.  Last Saturday I took a day off and went with Liz to the Franschhoek Literary Festival where we saw a splendid debate between Prof Tim Noakes and Prof Lionel Opie, entertainly chaired by Dennis Davis.

South Africans will need no introduction to Prof Noakes but for the benefit of everyone else, he advocates a way of eating that is very low carb, medium protein and very high fat.  He’s written a couple of entertaining bestsellers; it is the hot topic here and the large hall was overflowing.   It was particularly fun to go with Liz as we sit firmly on opposite sits of the debate.  I don’t agree with that way of eating at all (a serial dieter I’ve been through all them all, Montingnac, Atkins, Dukan and many variations thereof) and none of them help me to lose weight.  I haven’t tried the “Banting” way, as Prof Noakes calls it, but as is the case with so many diets I don’t know anyone who has lost weight on it after the first couple of weeks or so.  Some people claim to feel marvellous on it though and it may be true that it is a good diet for people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic.   Perhaps also for people who eat seriously bad diets full of sugar and fast food in the first place.  Noakes is highly persuasive and passionate and Liz thought he won the debate.  I heard a lot of theories and a lot of conclusions but the facts didn’t seem to justify the conclusions.  Proof once more that you hear what you want to hear!  Noakes uses himself as an example all the time, so perhaps the only safe conclusion is that it may suit insulin resistance high performance atheletes like him.  Opie pointed out that the ONLY comparative research on the high fat approach that has been done was recently in Cambridge.  The conclusion was that a low-carb high-fat diet didn’t help the participants to lose weight, but in a group of talented Cambridge students, there was a noticable decrease in brain function, particularly memory.

So what has all this got to do with fynbos flowers?  Well the flowers and the run go together, and all that goes with a healthy lifestyle, hence our interest in the debate.  Liz and I followed all this talk of diet with a splendid lunch where she stuck to her Banting and I ate a smoked salmon rosti with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.  And we shared a divine bottle of Chenin Blanc.

On the way home the light was amazing and I stopped on the dirt road to take this photo of the shining grasses in the autumn vines which are at their most beautiful at this time of year.  A golden highway in the winelands.

The shining grasses in May

The shining grasses in May

Back on the farm I took the dogs for a long walk on the mountain as the sun started to set.  Maebh and Jemima Chew set about hunting every last gerbil, full of glee and joy as they bounced around the place.

Jemima Chew and Maebh enjoying the evening hunt

Jemima Chew and Maebh enjoying the evening hunt

We are moving in to the serious season for fynbos now that we’ve had good rain.  One is another tiny lobelia – I didn’t have room to fit my fynbos book in my bag on this trip, but it is different from the one we posted a couple of weeks ago.

Lobelia

Lobelia

The Protea nerifolia is now in flower all over the farm and will continue to flower for months now.  Quite a hairy chap, it’s always particularly handsome when it catches the light, as in this photo in the very last rays of the sun.

Protea nerifolia

Protea nerifolia

I can be silly in my joy when my favourites emerge and I see them for the first time in the season.  One of these is Microloma tenuifolia which has emerged winding its tentacles around a protea.  This tiny flower is as smaller or smaller than the nail on my little finger, little flashes of pinky coral in the lush green fynbos.

Microloma tenuifolia

Microloma tenuifolia

Rupert Koopman from Kirstenbosch kindly sent a comment to let me know that this daisy that I posted last week is Anthanasia trifurcata – thank you!

Anthanasia trifurcata

Anthanasia trifurcata

 

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