A TRIO OF TREASURES

Littonia modesta I am half a week late for Wildflower Wednesday, and two days late for looking at what is blooming in the garden this week – but here I am, anyway, with my report. I have three plants to tell you of, each in its way exciting. My favourite, and first up, is possibly the least exciting. It goes by the name of Littonia modesta and it is indeed modest, a gentle scrambler with leaf-tips that are adapted to twine. At this time of year it carries a few flowers at a time – I’ve never seen more than four – of the softest orange; shy nodding bells no more than 3 cm long, and only once they flower do you notice the little scrambler in amongst the shrubs and grasses. Like shooting stars they are something to look out for, easily missed but thrilling when seen. I’ve often wondered if they are tameable. Their charm I think lies in the unexpectedness with which one encounters them, and I would like to surprise visitors in the garden…

Thunbergia pondoensis Here is yet another rather modest twiner… so modest in fact that I did not know of its existence until I came across it last week on my cousin’s farm, along the stream that flows from our gardens. I immediately identified it as a Thunbergia by the calyx, a relative of the perennial T. natalensis and T. elata, the similarly twining Black-eyed Susan that I wrote of here. It is so pale a cream as to be almost white, with just a touch of yellow on the inside of the tube. Over quite a large area there were several flowering in the scrubby undergrowth… I am certain they will grow from both seed and cuttings, so I plan to welcome them here! When I got home, I identified it as T. pondoensis – a charming touch in the naming of the two species, as Pondoland (where Nelson Mandela comes from) lies just south of Natal, and these two plants occur all along the Drakensburg escarpment over a distance of more than 700 km.

Baboons at work Baboon damage

Yesterday I was aware that the baboons were in the arboretum. I thought of the orchid I had been meaning to photograph, and early this morning – our second sunny one in a row – set off to do so. Along the way – listening all the time for any possible sound of the baboons and keeping the dogs close by –  I found plenty of signs that they had been about: hydrangea flowers broken off and, no doubt, sampled. Luckily found to be not to their liking and discarded. I’d hate them to take to hydrangea flowers… An ant-nest that had been scratched open (top left) and then… the orchid (top right)… Plundered.

Picked stalks However it meant I could bring the two discarded flower-stalks home to study them. My orchid will recover, I have no doubt. Soon after I first discovered it, it survived heavy machinery driving across it as the (then) pine forest was cut down, before a massive pile of branches and twigs was piled on top of it. But some 7 years later I found it again, proudly flowering on 2m stalks. Besides – one of the stalks has roots attached. I will pot it up, and treat the rest as cuttings. Who knows?!

Moved to a vase The next step was to cut the tips that still contained flowers off and photograph them. It is called Eulophia streptopetala (and in Zulu very musically ‘amabelejongosi’ – I’d love to know what that means!) It grows up to 2.3m tall (Elsa Pooley tells me in her book A field guide to Wild Flowers Kwazulu-Natal and the Easter Region, which I very often refer to) and grows in thickets and forest margins. It is used by the Zulus as a protective love charm and ‘is easily grown in semi-shade’. Here goes!

close-up I must admit: despite having a great deal of fun photographing them (I mounted a single flower on a tiny wire loop for the final shots) I could not get too excited about the flowers. But then I have never been a fan of most orchids. They intrigue my mind, they impress my eye, but they very seldom touch my heart in the way the simplest hawkweed or the most complex rose can touch it.

detail from front

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8 thoughts on “A TRIO OF TREASURES

  1. How lovely to find you via Blotanical. As a Brit in Paris, it is magical to read of a flower being plundered by baboons. But probably just a nuisance for you! I like your photo of the littona flower very much. And thanks for your comment on my blog.

    • Thank you, Louisette! It is so nice to have another gardening friend in Belgium! I visited a friend who lives near Waterloo and she and I went to Kalmthout Arboretum together. What a wonderful experience!

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