Tag Archives: South Africa

Torrid days and windy nights on the mountain

The Western Cape sat under a torrid heatwave last week and over the weekend.  I watched the new plants in the garden anxiously, hoping they wouldn’t give up the ghost on us but with plenty of watering they seem to have survived the worst.  It suddenly cooled on Monday, still sunny but a good 10 degrees cooler – 28 is very different from 38.  And cool and damp in the evening, enough to need a sweater.  With the cooler weather came the wind, howling and screaming around the mountain, stronger at night, trying to get the roof off, blow the trees down and blasting the autumn leaves off the trees.

Yesterday I had an early start dropping Peter to the airport, so I couldn’t run and by the time I got home in the evening after a day of meetings and errands I’d taken a pill for an incoming migraine, which also precludes running.  So the dogs and I went walking instead.  The wind howled around us, but the mountain was beautiful, glorious even, with the sun setting in the western sky.  I sometimes wonder why I don’t take crisper photos, and last night was a good reminder of the answer to that.  I defy anyone to take a perfectly crisp photo when the subject is leaping, dancing or even merely quivering in the wind.  Still, with a lot of patience we captured a few flowers in between the gusts.  This time of year is exciting with lots of new growth and even flowering bulbs starting to push their way above the ground.  Some of the flowers we won’t see until August are already sending forth their shoots and it’s fun to recognize them as old friends.

An old friend from one of my earliest blogs is this, very common, plant.  Last year I incorrectly identified it as a Crassula but I know better now.  There is a resemblance to the Metalasia family, in part because of the rolled leaves with tufts of smaller leaves in the axis.  But the the flowers don’t fit.  Another for the unidentified file though it is irritating when the species is so common.

Unidentified and very common

Unidentified and very common

 

The same flower in close up - impossible to get a perfect shot in the howling wind

The same flower in close up – impossible to get a perfect shot in the howling wind

 

The evening light in the olive groves was stunning

The evening light in the olive groves was stunning

Even at the end of the summer there is still plenty of water coming down the fall

Even at the end of the summer there is still plenty of water coming down the fall

The wind took out our wifi connection, so this is written and sent in an early morning hurry from Cape Town International.  We are off to the bush for Easter.

The Bartinney Angel

This blog is all about the wildflowers that I come across when I’m out running on the farm, and in almost a year of blogging I have never felt the need to deviate from that.  Even as the profusion of flowering dies back there is so much to describe on a run, the air, the light, the dogs, the water, the weather, and always a flower or two to talk about.  Indeed I have a new blog almost written and ready to publish.

Yet I am going deviate.   Because on Saturday I saw the most extraordinary sight, too ephemeral and too gorgeous not to share.  We were at a party in the Kylemore valley, about 30 KM from here, along the Helshoogte Pass.  It was a perfect day, pure blue sky, not a cloud and for once not too hot.   We were enjoying cold wine and delicious braai in a friend’s garden. Liz, another friend who lives in this lovely Kylemore valley, came over to me and said “there’s something I want to show you.” We went around to the back of the house and she pointed up into the mountain.  There, carved out in a meadow full of shining grasses, is an angel, the Bartinney Angel.

Bartinney wines have an angel on the label, based on a sculpture by Dylan Lewis.  Now they have carved their angel into a meadow of the lovely shining grasses.  Breathtaking.

The Bartinney Angel

The Bartinney Angel

Christmas Fynbos

Travel at Christmas is always fraught with risk. We left for a short trip to Ireland to spend the weekend before Christmas with a very dear friend, celebrating his 50th birthday. Thereby infuriating a whole series of family members, who believed that if we were in Ireland that close to Christmas, we should see them, not friends. Sorry. We then braved a lot of stormy flooding roads and wild bouncing skies, along with a Heathrow made worse than ever by the despairing passengers whose flights were cancelled two days before Christmas. Our plane, thank goodness, slipped through the weather and flung itself southwards and even managed to land in Cape Town without crashing, unlike another flight at O R Tambo in Johannesburg which walloped its wing by crashing into a building on the ground causing a mighty row between air traffic control and the British Airways pilot. You can imagine. No-one got hurt.

We arrived home on the 24th, back to the farm, the dogs and our gorgeous friends who came for Christmas. The fabulous David in Paarl did all the catering for us, so we had a wonderful self-indulgent break. Hubert sat beside me at dinner and explained that he doesn’t really love this blog because it’s too academic for him. He’s one of the cleverest people I know, so I think that, as a friend who lives most of the year far away, he’d rather more gossip and fewer flowers. Those last two paragraphs were for you, Hubert.

Meanwhile out on the mountain the dogs and I have been running regularly and loving it. Summer runs take in lots of water breaks. You hear of big dogs dehydrating so I’m careful about that and make sure the dogs are always in sight so that I can spot if anyone gets distressed.

Seamus and Maebh enjoying the water at Fox Pan

Seamus and Maebh enjoying the water at Fox Pan on a very dry sunny windy morning

Lots of things enjoy the summer weather and the Christmas collection includes a snake nearly trodden on by Noella, who was remarkably calm about it. Also a red lipped tortoise, charming creatures and we see them quite often. This morning a scorpion ran across our path, minding his own business. I love seeing these things, but it’s another good reason to keep the dogs in sight, just in case they get too inquisitive about something nasty.

The flowers may not be profuse, but there are still plenty of things out there to interest us. Some choose to flower in the hottest driest of weather, like the helichrysum that covers the mountain.

Helichrysum

Helichrysum

There are plenty of Pelargoniums that don’t mind the heat and choose the hottest months for their flowering. I’ve taken a lesson from the mountain and planted lots more of these in the garden.

One of the many subspecies of wild Pelargonium that grows on the mountain

One of the many subspecies of wild Pelargonium that grows on the mountain

I have only seen these orange spikes in one particularly damp spot on the road that leads up to the pine forest. They are known as wild dagga and the dried leaves traditionally have been used medicinally but are not a narcotic or tobacco substitute, contrary to what some of the local residents have told me.

Wild dagga, Leonotus leonurus

Wild dagga, Leonotus leonurus

I love this Selago corymbosa which flowers only in the dry months on it’s long softly spiking stems.

Selago corymbosa

Selago corymbosa

There are 35 fynbos lobelias and they are really stunning, especially in close up. I’m going to suggest that this one is Lobelia pinifolia because many of them have hairless flowers while this one is quite clearly hairy.

Lobelia pinifolia

Lobelia pinifolia

This is known as the blue pea and is most likely Psoralea restioloides, choosing to flower late in its season near the stream that marks our boundary with the nature reserve at the top of the farm.

Psorolea restioloides, the blue pea

Psorolea restioloides, the blue pea

This, oddly, is known as the Christmasberry, although it flowers at Christmas and the spectacular red berries appear in the autumn. It is a common shrub, with a distribution along the coasts and a good way inland from Namaqualand on the West Coast of South Africa all the way to KwaZulu-Natal on the Eastern Coast. Perhaps among all those different habitats there is one in which the berries appear at Christmas.

Christmas berry, Chironia baccifera

Christmas berry, Chironia baccifera

I love these protea cones though I can’t remember which member of the protea family this shrub belongs to.

Protea cone

Protea cone

This time of year brings the most magnificent sunsets and with friends staying we often take a sunset walk with the dogs. We’ve had tremendous winds this spring and suddenly over Christmas they’ve dropped and the weather has been perfect, sunny but not too hot. The air is amazing, a light breeze, slight damp dew falling as the sun goes down. Fewer flowers perhaps but the valley below us is a theatre of glorious changing light.

The evening light in the olive groves above the house

The evening light in the olive groves above the house

Sunset on Christmas Day

Sunset on Christmas Day

Gloomy northern skies and dreams of fynbos flowers

Sitting in an office in Stockholm on a gloomy day it is hard to imagine the glories of Saturday morning’s run.  The light, the warmth, the howling wind.  Seamus and Meabh stand face on, heads up, loving the feel of the wind ruffling their coats.  As ever there is something new to see – this gorgeous Tritonia undulata which has emerged in quite a few places.  It’s very distinctive and very lovely, what a treasure to find on a Sunday morning.

Tritonia undulata

Tritonia undulata

I stopped to try and capture a good picture of it of course, and as I trotted on up the hill I reflected on how much less fit I am than I was when I started this blog.  You would think that blogging what I see when I’m out on a run would get me out running more.  But the problem is that my runs are longer – I can never resist a new flower, especially as anything that is a bulb may be gone by tomorrow, and each picture takes a few minutes as I try to find the best angle and the best light.  Sometimes, perversely, that even puts me off from going out at all because I don’t have the time I need to do a proper run and photograph the flowers as well.  It will be an ongoing dilema and really, as with so many problems in one’s life could probably be solved if I got up earlier…

One of the flowers that inspired me to start the blog has suddenly emerged.  It’s known as the comb flower, Micranthus junceus, and is one of the first that I identified because of its distinctive shape and pretty blue flowers.

Micranthus junceus, the Combflower

Micranthus junceus, the Combflower

As I do the research and leaf through the books hunting for flowers, inevitably one passes stunning flowers in the book and thinks – “never seen that one, I wonder if it grows on this mountain.”  This Roella ciliata is such a flower with its gorgeous lilac-blue and inky collar.  I spotted it out of the corner of my eye as we ran down one of the paths in the forest and felt like an excited hunter who has finally found a screcretive and exclusive quarry.

Roella ciliata

Roella ciliata

Much more common is this butterfly lily, the splendidly named Wachendorphia paniculata I posted it not long ago, but can’t resist posting this lovely example which is growing along the drive and which looked particularly fine against the sandstone wall.

Wachendorfia paniculata

Wachendorfia paniculata

Finally a couple of flowering bulbs that I haven’t identified, one blue, one yellow.   The blue one has a twisting spike out of which the flowers grow and the yellow one grows tightly out of its stalk like a delphinium.  I haven’t been able to identify them in the general fynbos books and I really need a night in with the encyclopaedia of fynbos bulbs to see if I can identify these and a couple of others that we still have not named.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of a better photograph and all is revealed.  A good project for hot summer nights when the pressure of new flowers has eased and we will start a job of identifying and cataloging what we’ve found.

Unidentified blue flowering bulb which has a distinctive twisting flowerhead

Unidentified blue flowering bulb which has a distinctive twisting flowerhead

Unidentified yellow flowering bulb that is suddenly flowering all over the farm, particularly on damp roads

Unidentified yellow flowering bulb that is suddenly flowering all over the farm, particularly on damp roads

Summer

As spring turns into summer the intense proliferation of new flowers on the mountain is dying back and I don’t really expect to see new things as frequently. So far there has been something new on each of the 50 runs that I’ve done since I started the blog. That won’t continue when the summer sun sucks every last bit of moisture out of the ground, leaving it rock hard, dry and dusty.

Summer running has quite a different feel to winter running. The wind for a start; when it’s hot and dry the famous Cape Doctor, the southeaster, howls over the mountain, shredding all but the hardiest plants in the garden. Suddenly it is clear why so many fynbos plants have tough spikey or needlelike leaves. They need them to survive the wind and the summer drought.

We did some quick runs with no photo stops last week on a route that we run quite frequently and then on Friday morning the dogs and I decided to go for a proper blogging run to the highest point of the farm where there a shady damp road that always has something interesting to look at. When it gets hot like this we seek out the few shady groves, damp areas and streams to get a break from the relentless morning sun. Maebh as she often does, posed for the camera. Perhaps not the best ever photo of her but the colour of her coat is gorgeous in the dappled light.

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Just a little further on, caught in a pool of sunlight, stood this amazing flower. Although I can’t find it in the books, the slightly twisted sword like leaves tell me it is a kind of Gladioli and if I have some time I’ll hunt through the Fynbos Bulb Encyclopedia to see if any of the descriptions match this. I love this photo, the flowerhead in a pool of light against the dark shadow of the trees.

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I’m never 100% sure that I have identified this flower correctly – there are 52 fynbos subspecies in the Metalasia family and the photos in the books are not great. I’ve published photos of them before and I couldn’t resist this one with its spectacular pink flower. I believe it’s Metalasia divergens.

20131126-085104.jpg

20131126-085113.jpg

Glorious Sunday Fynbos Flowers

After a golden day on Saturday when we were out all day with no time to run on the farm, we finally set off late on Sunday morning, the dogs and I.  Just as we left the house a light drizzle began to fall and I went back, wisely as it turned out, for a rain jacket.  It was only drizzling as we ran down the drive and then started to climb, but by the time we got high on the farm the weather had closed in.  Somehow this line of pines with the dams below always seems a little Japanese to me – is that an odd thought here in the uplands of Paarl?  Perhaps it is.

The landscape Japaned by the mist and the light

The landscape Japaned by the mist and the light

Luckily the weather hadn’t deterred us and some flowers glow and seem to photograph even better in the rain.  Take this Cyphia volubilis, the delicate white creeper.  There is one on the drive that is climbing all the way up this unidentified and rather plain shrub.

Cyphia volubis

Cyphia volubis

A close up reveals the charm and beauty of this delicate flower, notice the tiny pink spots at the centre, and of course the drops of rain, proof of our damp run.

Cyphia volubilis - detail

Cyphia volubilis – detail

All over the farm these yellow shrubs are flowering profusely, it is Hermannia grossularifolia I believe; there are as many as 60 fynbos subspecies but this one looks right, it belongs on these sandstone slopes and is flowering at exactly the right time of year.

Hermannia grossularifolia

Hermannia grossularifolia

Another flowering shrub is this one that I’ve posted before, unidentified until a friend pointed out that it is the common Tickberry (thank you Gilly), which used to be called Chrysanthemoides monilifera but is now correctly identified as Osteospermum moniliferum.  This shrub, although included as fynbos, is not unique to the fynbos region but grows happily, wild and in gardens, all the way up to tropical Africa.

Osteospermum moniliferum

Osteospermum moniliferum

An oft-posted winter flower was the wild rosemary, Eriocephalus africanus and I though it would be interesting to post it now that it has gone to seed.  With so many seedheads one can understand why it is so prolific on the mountain.

Eriocephalus africana - gone to seed

Eriocephalus africana – gone to seed

The light lent itself perfectly to capturing the magnificent white Erica which I believe to be the plukenetii.  It could be the coccinea, but the book says that particular subspecies does not exist in white and this is most definitely white.  Magnificent with its protruding anthers.  This is a common Erica and occurs all over the farm in many colours.

Erica plukenetii (?)

Erica plukenetii (?)

At this time of year the lands are full of flowers among the buchu.  The overall effect can be hard to photograph although this field of senecio high up in the lands gives a good sense of the colour and effect even on a dark day.

The lands full of flowers, primarily Senecio

The lands full of flowers, primarily Senecio

Saving the best for last.  One of the loveliest sights on the farm occurs at this time of year when this particular Leucadendron turns coral coloured. One of the interesting things about the Leucadendron family is that although less flashy than the protea to which it is related, it tends to be highly localised, fussy and choosy about where any particular subspecies will grow.  This appears to be Leucadendron tinctum, the name giving away the remarkable change in colour at this time of year.  The shrubs are everywhere in the higher parts of the farm and the effect is magnificent, one of our all time favourites.

The magnificent Leucadendron tinctum

The magnificent Leucadendron tinctum

 

I hsd planned a long run covering most of the farm, but by the time we reached what we call the look out it was raining heavily, I was tired slow and a bit sore after a lot of travel and show jumping on Saturday. The dogs were soaked and had been very patient as I took photos on the way up, not that they care, they happily sniff and hunt although Seamus, who misses us when we are gone, never left my side. So we put away thoughts of fynbos and plodded a little wearily down the hill to lunch, a fire and an afternoon in front of the TV.

A spring weekend

I have been away too much over the past few weeks and am overjoyed to be back on the farm for a few weeks before I have to do any serious travel again. The last post talked about the Bulbinia fragens, the harbinger of spring. Spring here does not arrive over many weeks as it does in Europe. Within one unseasonably warm week I have returned to find the farm full of new flowers. This is building up to the height of the flowering season for Fynbos and the next few months are going to see an explosion of life. I’m already struggling to keep up – this blog will be quite long and I’ll be trying to keep regular posts so that we capture as much as possible of what’s happening on the mountain.

I’ve been looking out for this flower – it’s a dear friend, one of the first that made me realise the special nature of our fynbos bulbs. This photo is quite deceptive as this is a tiny iris-like flower – each petal not much bigger than my fingernail. This is Moraea tripelata and it has started to flower all over the farm. I spotted it first thing when I went running with the dogs on Saturday morning.

Moraea tripetala

Moraea tripetala

Peter then took us up to see the work he’s been doing clearing alien vegetation, especially the Port Jackson trees that choke the river. Every winter when the planting on the farm is done he attached this for a few weeks. Two winters ago we cleared around the waterfall and what was a chocked up watercourse that you couldn’t see is now full of vibrant fynbos life. He has just opened up this area, so dense with trees that you couldn’t get into it and has found the spot where the two rivers that run through the farm meet, before tumbling down the mountain to add their waters to the mighty Berg River that runs through the Paarl valley below us.

Clearing alien trees along the river

Clearing alien trees along the river

The place where the two rivers meet

The place where the two rivers meet

In the late afternoon I took some guests on our first “Flower safari” of the year. All we did was walk down the front drive and we were enchanted with the profusion of flowers we came across, many old friends that we have posted before, and quite a few new ones.

First of all we came across this tiny white gladiolus. I first saw it at the top of the bank, which gives an idea of scale.

Unknown gladiolus

Unknown gladiolus

Then I realised they are growing along the side of the road. I cannot find this one in my book at all – not even in the bulb encyclopedia. I’ve done this before, failed to identify a flower and then realised I’m not looking properly at the description, so if I do realise what it is, I’ll post it. It is quite enchanting, with a delicate fragrance, like so many of the gladioli.

Gladiolus unidentified

Gladiolus unidentified

Then we came across another example of the bell like pink Erica that I posted last week, this time a lot closer to home.

Erica with pink bells

Erica with pink bells

There are masses of these on the drive, and masses of what I guess to be Erica daphniflora, in colours of green, white, red and a particularly vibrant pink.

Erica, probably daphniflora

Erica, probably daphniflora

Erica, probably daphniflora

Erica, probably daphniflora

The Oxalis are still flowering away, these ones in white and pink profuse along the bank and the lands still covered in the yellow ones.

Oxalis

Oxalis

The next new find was this Erica – you can see it’s quite distinctive in the way it grow and flowers and the little white bells have the brown anthers exposed at the end. This was very attractive in the late evening light.

Erica, unidentified

Erica, unidentified

Another new find is this flowering shrub which is common all over the farm. I have always assumed it to be Cape Confetti, but with my evolving botannical eye I think it is more likely to be Adenandra villas, possily . I’m sure I will have many more occassions to photograph this stunning shrub.

Cape confetti - coleonem album or adenandra villas?

Cape confetti – coleonem album or adenandra villas?

As I was showing our guests one of the Protea nerifolias along the road we saw this little bud. We were delighted as it means these glorious proteas are going to continue to flower for some time.

The bud of a Protea nerifolia

The bud of a Protea nerifolia

The Felicia is such a wonderful flower. This is the first one I have seen this year and it will flower from now until the summer, along with the Lobostemum it is one of our commonest shrubs. That makes the first sighting of these pretty lilac flowers with their yellow centres no less exciting, both for their own sake and the promise of more spring flowers to come.

Felicia filifolia

Felicia filifolia

This warm weather won’t be with us for long, with temperatures expected to plummet during the week. Luckily up here on the mountain we almost never go below 5 degrees, so the flowers will be safe. In the valley below it can freeze, but the moutain seems to hold the heat of summer and protects us from the coldest weather.

We are coming into the best season for sunsets. Yet another amazing sunset this evening as I was finishing some more traditional gardening and the mountains behind turned a glorious orangey-pink.

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