WILDFLOWERS FROM A CLIMATE CUSP

Recently (well not quite – it is a little scary to realise it was more than a month ago…)  I visited a favourite spot for finding wild flowers.

Looking into the drier hinterland

The mistbelt behind me

The Annie’s Fortune road rises steeply against the flanks of the Iron Crown, Limpopo Province’s highest mountain which forms the backdrop to our village. Then it crosses a saddle and drops into a valley. On the village side one is in the mist belt, a softly folding topography with high rainfall. On the opposite side one is in rugged African mountain terrain – dry, hot, dramatic. In a thin band along the ridge the two ecosystems meet, and there is in any season a wealth of fascinating plants to study here. This is where I plan to take you today. My car is parked facing this dry valley.(It is the ultimate practical MPV: a Malaysian designed Toyota 4×4 with a solid 3liter diesel engine, a no-frills but leather-clad interior which allows me anything from 2 to 7 seats, and big enough to take a double mattress in the back when we go camping – or a load of tallish plants when I’m working… but of course off the market and replaced with infinitely less practical and more expensive SUVs  ;( !)

fresh yellow flowers

This is the kind of place one should visit with a botanist. One who specialises in our local mountain flora… With our many many species and incredibly varied habitats, no matter how good one’s wildflower books –and I have 5 good ones of the area –  identifying many of the plants is a rather random business. The above flower is a case in point. Its spring-fresh yellow and lime-green umbel is in contrast to the windblown and rather tired setting. It is difficult to believe it is a late-summer flowerer. Had I had my books there, I might have had more luck. From only one photo and a month-old memory… sorry, no go.

Anemone caffra

This one was easier to identify. (Or was it?) It is definitely, unmistakeably an anemone. There were white ones, and these lovely pink edged ones. But can I be certain that they are Anemone caffra without an exhaustive checklist of other possible anemone species in the area? Sometimes I think I might have become a botanist – and my academic ivory tower would have been open to the sky…

IMG_4088 IMG_4090
IMG_4103 IMG_4086

 

Much of the beauty lies in the foliage – and it is this more than the flowers that makes me want to experiment with introducing these wild plants into the garden. South Africa might already have given the world a great part of its garden flower treasures – but I believe we’ve only scraped the surface when it comes to considering the general garden worthiness of masses of plants. One day (sigh) I will do something more constructive about this dream…

Helichrysum sp

As with this lovely yellow plate, many of the exquisite grey leaved plants are helichrysums; half of the +- 500 species occur in South Africa, and we have our fair share on the mountain!

I think alepidea sp

This is the plant that excited me most on my visit. The flowers are silver-grey and are carried a little like astrantia. However it is clearly a plant that can survive dry and hot conditions. I think it is  Alepidea amatymbica, known as the Tinsel Flower. I SHALL explore its garden worthiness!

Lobelia sp

This little Lobelia is one of those delightful bright but shy, colourful but minute flowers that I love chancing on on a walk. It really will not do in the cultivated garden, but in the wild its presence has the same effect as finding a butterfly. It is, I think, Lobelia corniculata and each flower is about 1cm long. The flower below, which I take a wild guess from my limited photographic information to be an Athrixia sp., is one of the great many members of the daisy family we find on the mountain.

Daisy-like flower

 

 

Another delightful member of the daisy family is the little yellow flowered shrub below, whose flowers seem to continue the shape and structure of its leaves. It is, I believe, Geigeria burkei, and goes by the charming common name of Vomiting Sickness Bush – apparently  some species of Geigeria are toxic to livestock, causing – you guessed it…

 

Geigeria sp Aloe lettyae

 

A little below the crest on my way home I stopped and clambered up the roadside embankment towards a sheet of bright orange shimmering through the long grasses. Research in two seminal works on South African aloes – Reynolds and Jeppe – confirmed that they are Aloe lettyae. How exciting! Besides being endemic to our area, they flower before the frosts and propagate easily from seed. And they are named after Cynthia Letty, one of South Africa’s most loved botanical illustrators. Reynolds has the following to say in his summary on A.lettyae: “(her) coloured plates in Flowering Plants of South Africa are so well known. Miss Letty has figured over 400 species of various genera, and over 50 species of Aloe for this excellent publication, which has contributed considerably to the knowledge of South African flora.” (p 260, The Aloes of South Africa by Gilbert Westacott Reynolds)  Note, nearly two years later: thank you to Dawn who pointed out that her name was Cythna Letty, not Cynthia; you can read more about this amazing woman here!

Hmmm… I wonder what I’d have to pay for a copy of Flowering plants…

Aloe lettyae 2

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15 thoughts on “WILDFLOWERS FROM A CLIMATE CUSP

    • Sometimes, Diana, I fantasize about owning little more than a campervan, and touring round the country peering at wild flowers with the randomness of movement (and singularity of purpose?) of a honeybee…

  1. Another example of just how similar we, our flora and fauna are–and that we used to be one giant continent. If that’s not a powerful image for world peace and gardening harmony, I don’t know what is.

    • Benjamin your response reminds me of my reaction when I stepped off the plane in Zurich Switserland at the age of 18, my first ever visit overseas: I thought “OMG the grass is green here, nothing is different!” Heaven knows how I might have reacted if the grass was purple!

    • Jean, that is a possibility I’d love to pursue. And though the flights are long and therefor expensive, the dollar is still mighty in Africa!

  2. Pingback: Yet more wildflowers whilst scaling our highest mountain « Sequoia Gardens Blog

  3. Just stunning … what a lovely variety and how lucky you are to be able to see these in their natural state. Thanks for sharing these beauties.

  4. How lovely. I hope you can try them all out in your garden. You’re right – we don’t use a fraction of everything we could.

  5. Pingback: WILD FLOWER OBSESSION « Sequoia Gardens Blog

  6. Pingback: I DON’T WANT MUCH, I JUST WANT MORE « Sequoia Gardens Blog

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