Tag Archives: buchu plant

Windy Mountain

Spring is turning into summer on the mountain and the wind is howling at night and most of the day.  There is an afternoon lull but already, at 7 o’clock in the evening, I can hear it picking up outside the office and later it will whip around the house and rattle the roof.

I spent the weekend in George, along the famous Garden Route at a Horse Trials, the Western Province Championships.  We had fun, didn’t win any big prizes, but spent the weekend with our friends and got to gallop fast over solid fences which is the most fun you can have on a horse.

On Friday morning I went for a run in the suburbs of George and enjoyed sightings of fynbos flowers that have adapted to the urban environment.  Here on the farm I know only of one place where the Gladiolus maculatus blooms and that’s in July.  Looking at the book I see they are winter flowering but I saw them, or something very similar, in a spot of suburban wasteland as I ran past.  Perhaps I should have taken a closer look.

When I don’t take them running often enough the dogs get bored and take themselves off for their own runs.  Sometimes they are gone for hours and we get increasingly worried about them until they come home, panting and joyful, terribly pleased with themselves and usually soaking wet as they’ve stopped for a cooldown in the dam on the way back to the house.  Several dogs have disappeared on the mountain that we know of and we worry and worry when they are gone, we go looking for them and calling them for hours and never see a sign.  Last time I checked there was no tracker available that would work here in South Africa but recently I heard of one, so I searched again and found it in Germany.  It arrived today and has now been attached to Maebh.  She and Jemima Chew often go for a quick hunt in the evening, and sometimes Maebh and Seamus go off together, but for some reason, never the three together.  If Maebh has a tracker, we’ll know where to find them.

I know better than to think I will get any photos in this wild wind, but I’ll see what’s there and where to go when the wind drops.  They say in Cape Town that if you don’t like the weather today, don’t worry because it will be different tomorrow and the change in weather is heralded by the wind dropping to that incredible stillness on the mountain that I’ve so often written about.  When that happens we will pick a moment of good light to catch the latest spring flowers. In the meantime there is much to catch up on.  Last year I failed to name this blue flower so I posted it on ispot.  The experts suggest it might be Aspalathus cephalotes subspecies obscuriflora.

Another pretty thing I couldn’t identify is this white “flower” which is tiny and turns out to be the seedhead of Ursinia anthemoides which I photographed in August but hadn’t posted, much more interesting to post the two together now.

I love these fluffy heads that must be Stilbe, I think vestita.

The other fluffy flowers that I photographed some time ago and never posted are the wild buchu plants that grow on the farm.  Our crop is buchu, Agathomsa crenulata and hybrids thereof, and Agathomsa betulina.  These are used medicinally and in the food flavouring and perfume industries because of the powerful essential oils that have an intense note of blackcurrant.  I occassionally post photos of the buchu we farm which is indigenous to the area.  This is a genuinely wild buchu, probably either Agathomsa imbricata or capensis.

As I was running down one of the roads I noticed that it was bordered by shrubs of Salvia africana all in flower and would make a wonderful photo.  Being in a hurry I put it off only to find when I returned that a spring wind had blown the flowers to shreds.  They are tough and they flower all year but the best display is in a wet spring.  They are stalwart friends on the mountain with an exceptional colour and fortunately enough remained for me to capture some of the flowers.

Summer is Helichrysum season and it begins with this Helichrysum patulum.  We have several subspecies of this wonderful and resilient plant on the farm and they deserve a page of their own.

Helichrysum patulum

Helichrysum patulum

Along the drive the Crassula fascicularis has come into flower.

Crassula fascicularis

Crassula fascicularis

Finally, one of my top favourite flowers has emerged, the lovely spikes of Aristea capitata, unmistakable and one of the first flowers I identified when we bought the farm and I started running here.  These are prolific in damp areas and I hope they will be spectacular this year after the wet winter.  We’ll have more photos of them over the next month.

Philosophical musings, buchu and wild rosemary

I don’t remember all that much about my schooldays, more important things have happened since.  But I clearly remember one lesson.  Mr Clifford, the science teacher, was explaining the structure of an atom.  Someone asked the inevitable question “but if we can’t see it, how do we know it is there?”  “Ah”, said Mr Clifford tapping the table in front of him, “but how do we know anything is there, how do we know this table is here?  But”, he said, “that’s philosphy.”
That question really caught my imagination, and years later when I was studying philosophy at Trinity College Dublin, I read Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosphy where that question about the table comes under discussion.  As does another question: that of truth and knowledge.  Simply put, I know all bachelors are men because that lies within the very meaning of the word men “bachelor”.  Similarly, can I know that all swans are white?  No, I have to keep seeing swans and noting their whiteness.  One day I’ll go to Australia, or the zoo, and see a black swan.  Whiteness is not a defining factor of swans; that was Russell’s point.

It was buchu that led to these musings as the dogs and I ran this morning.  We grow buchu commercially and I always have the notion that buchu flowers are white.  As we peaked at the highest point of the run and headed down the moutain (always a very happy moment in the morning run) I suddenly saw this flash of lilac.

Buchu - in this case a hybrid of Agthomsa Crenulata, with an unusual mauve coloured flower

Buchu – in this case a hybrid of Agthomsa Crenulata, with an unusual mauve coloured flower

I stopped at once, and low and behold it was a little buchu plant, a hybrid from the farm, with lilac coloured flowers.  They were hard to photograph in the dim morning light – I can’t wait for the days to lengthen so that photography becomes easier in the early mornings when I run.  Where did this purple come from?

In referring to the books, buchu, or Agthomsa as it is properly known, can indeed flower in mauve.  Rather like a swan can be black.
The buchu harvested on our farm is mostly a hybrid.  The oils are distilled from the leaves and is used in the European food flavouring and perfume industry, mostly for its strong blackcurrent flavour and smell.  Here in South Africa it is used medicinally, it is one of the oldest medicinal flowers in the Cape, indeed in the world.  Personally I believe in its natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and I love its aniseed, fennel like flavour and drink a cup or two most days.
Agthomsa crenulata hypbrid: this plant is farmed here and harvested for its essential oils

Agthomsa crenulata hypbrid: this plant is farmed here and harvested for its essential oils

The other highly aromatic plant on the farm at this time of year is the wild rosemary.  This grey scrubby bush used to irritate me, but no longer.  Running my hand down the leaves and smelling the rosemary scent, seeing the lands full of shrubs and this exquisite, delicate flower has become a winter joy.
Eriocephalus africanus or wild rosemary

Eriocephalus africanus or wild rosemary

 

Wild rosemary has taken over this land on the lower slopes of the farm

Wild rosemary has taken over this land on the lower slopes of the farm

 

We are enjoying a mid-winter break at the moment.  Winters in the Cape can be long and stormy and sometimes quite cold.  This year we are enjoying a warm July.  Here in Africa the temperatures are as warm as an Irish summer – over 25 degrees during the day.  It’s a bit confusing for the poor plants though and I’m sure we’ll see some strange flowering dates as a result.
The mornings are clear and lovely.  As we ran we saw the first rays of sun over the Simmonsberg to the South West.  A joyous morning.
The first rays of sun on the Simonsberg

The first rays of sun on the Simonsberg