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All about Ericas

An interesting question came from a follower of this blog:  where does the inspiration come from?  How do I sit down and write 500 – 100 words every week or so?  I’ve never thought about it – the inspiration comes from the run, the beauty of the place, sometimes, wild, sometimes spiritual, always theatrical.  Every time it’s the same story, I took my dogs, we went for a run on our farm, we saw flowers.  Like Heraclites’s river it’s always the same and always different and there is another tale to tell.  I do my best thinking on the run.  I don’t listen to music and my mind is free to wander and ponder.  Mostly I think about work or about what I’m going to put in the blog.  The thought about Heraclites and his river, fished out from the bubbling spring of knowledge that was my first philosophy lecture at Trinity, came to mind on a run.  By the time I actually sit down and write, the words are clamouring to be put on the page and it’s only a matter of deciding how to present it.  The titles are another matter – I read somewhere that titles matter a lot when you blog, so I have to consider my theme and find an elegant arrangement of words that will capture the reader’s interest and make them want to read further.

At this time of year the sheer volume of flowers on the mountain is overwhelming.  We went for a run on Saturday evening; the air was calm and still and the run was about 60% photos and 40% run.  Luckily by Sunday morning a wind had picked up and I’ve learned there’s no point in trying to photograph flowers when their long stems are being blown by the wind; much better for my fitness!  I took just one photo, of Seamus  loving the feeling of the wind in his coat.

Seamus enjoying the wind as he trots up the mountain with Paarl visible in the valley below

Seamus lets the wind stream through his coat with Paarl visible in the valley below

Last year some readers complained that bacame a bit obssessive about the flowers and they missed the bit of chat that goes with the blog.  So this year I shall do some frequent posts and place the flowers in groups, starting with the Ericas.  I’ve mentioned before that one of the interesting things about the Cape Floral Kingdom is that it is the most diverse in the world, accounting for the hundred of species growing on our small farm.  And Ericas are the most diverse of all, with around 860 subspecies and 660 of those are fynbos.  So it’s not a surprise that they are not always easy to identify. I’ve included here some Erica’s that we haven’t posted yet – there are many many more in flower and I will try and add an Erica page when I have time to do some cataloguing.

One particular favourite grows at the top of the waterfall, on the other side of the stream.  If you look closely you can just see it at the top of the fall.  In reality it’s a vibrant splash of pink.  It’s quite far from the road; I risked a soaking and my still recovering ankle to bring you these photos of the perfectly named Erica multumbellifera in full bloom.

Erica abietina comes in many colours: yellow, orange, red or magenta.  Those on our farm are all this fabulous scarlet, quite often hard to photograph because the shiny flowers reflect the light intensely.

Erica Abietina

Erica Abietina

Another charming pink Erica has emerged higher up at the very top of the farm where the damp and little used road encourages lots of fynbos growth.  This one has little pinky-white bells.  There are lots of subspecies with little pink bells which makes them hard to identify – even in the book the descriptions are almost exactly the same.  The flowers are almost too tiny to be seen with the naked eye, the iphone camera does a great job of enlarging them.

Even smaller is this white-flowering rambling Erica.  Seamus helpfully stood beside the plant so that you can get an idea of just how very tiny the flowers are.  Then I used the iphone camera with a microlens to get a decent image of the flowers which are very white with little teeth on the edges.  When this shrub finds a place it likes it spreads and spreads and swarthes of land are covered in it in sections.

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