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For twenty years I have been stomping around the foothills around my farm in the western Overberg looking at flowers. Throughout this time I have continuously being astounded by one thing……..DIVERSITY.
The more you look, the more you see. And the more you see, the more you realize how diverse and incredible nature is. Each season brings its own unique floral composition, the tapestry is interwoven with subtle habitat variations that each produce their own unique symphony of colour and life.
This was brought home to me this spring when, while riding my mountain bike one morning I came across a patch of fynbos surrounded by ploughed farmlands just a few kilometres from home. I had ridden past this patch a few times before and not given it much attention but something had changed, it had burnt earlier this year and was now full of all sorts of flowering gems. I discarded the bike, climbed the fence and was consumed by diversity and life. All around me new species I had never seen, or bothered to take the time to really notice. Here I was, supposedly a knowledgeable local botanist with twenty years of field experience in the region, seven kilometres from home awash in unbridled, unknown floral wonderment. How lucky can a flower fan be?
Lying down amongst the flowers in the middle of this patch of critically endangered Elim fynbos was one of the most amazing nature experiences of my life. The local farmers must of thought me completely mad; bicycle discarded, helmet and gloves still firmly attached lying prostrate in the middle of this field of joys. I was immediately aware of life all around me. When I closed my eyes and just listened I could hear the bees, the flies and a multitude of other insects carrying out their daily chores, they were everywhere, busy working, feeding, pollinating. Looking around me into the flowers I could see multitudes of monkey beetles busy arm wrestling over the daisy pollen. Looking up the brightly coloured sunbirds, with their long delicate beaks were sipping nectar from the Watsonias and two jackel buzzard were gliding in stealth mode high up in the heavens. It did not take long and a few pugnacious ants started working their way up my sweaty arms. This patch of veld was simply oozing diversity and the more a I looked and listened the more I saw and heard.
Eventually it was time to head home. I carefully brushed off my ant friends, stood up and headed across the patch towards the neighbours boundary to see whether there were any more flowering treasures waiting to be discovered. Like all the land around this patch, the neighbour has ploughed his lands and planted lucerne for his cattle. Climbing the fence and taking a few steps into this agricultural landscape and the World goes silent. Only the wind in the green, green tasty grasses, nothing else.
I have subsequently got to know the owner of my favourite flora patch quite well. I asked him how come, while all around his neighbours have cleared their fynbos for pasture and beef patties, he has hung onto this delightful patch of paradise. He said quite simply because his oupa (grandfather) loved the flowers and so does he. Perhaps, many years ago his oupa laid down in this field in the spring after a fire and experienced Diversity.
This magnificent Gladiolus is flowering at the moment on the hills above Walker Bay. It has a narrow distribution range from Houw Hoek and the Kogelberg to Bredasdorp. The Caledon Bluebell grows in stony sandstone-derived soils and occasionally on limestone outcrops, in low fynbos vegetation.
It is assumed that the flowers are adapted for pollination by long-tongued bees, as are those of other species of Gladiolus with bell shaped, short tubed flowers.
One of the most beautiful flowering bulbs along the coast in the Walker Bay region is Ferraria crispa. I took these photos in August on the Danger Point Peninsula. It can be found growing mostly on coastal sands, but also in sandstone and granite derived soils from Lamberts Bay to Mossel Bay and into the Little Karoo.
With its beautiful showy flowers its quite a surprise to the senses when you draw closer and give it a sniff! While many of our flowering bulbs are characterised by sweet scented flowers this beauty really pongs and attracts a variety of flies including carrion flies and houseflies. The flies are the chief pollinators being attracted to its nectar by the moldy or somewhat spicy scent and dull, mottled colours of the flowers.
A walk through a recently burnt fynbos landscape is always lots of fun and full of exciting flowering finds.
I recently visited an area burnt just five months ago at the end of summer in the Waterford section of the Agulhas National Park. At first glance from the road the surrounding burnt out landscape looked barren and botanically uninteresting. However once I took the effort to hop out my bakkie and look a bit closer amongst the rocks I found some flowering gems.
What quickly became apparent was that the plants found flourishing amongst the rocky outcrops were different from those growing in the open ground between the rocky areas.
These species must require the sheltering effects of the rocky outcrops to provide them with a degree of protection during fires.
I have noticed during previous fynbos meanders that the mountain dahlia (Liparia splendens) is restricted to rocky areas and is often only found on hill tops and in exposed rocky areas. Liparia splendens is a resprouting species. When a fire sweeps through a population, the above ground parts are killed but it has a large underground rootstock, known as a lignotuber, which survives and sends out vigorous new growth soon after the fire. The images to the left and below shows this beauty tucked away amongst some sandstone outcrops. It would appear that these rocky outcrops are providing a degree of protection, reducing the intensity of the fire on the lignotuber and providing the ideal habitat for the plants survival in fires.
Another fynbos species flowering in the first winter following the fire and found sheltering in the rocky outcrops was the delicate painted lady (Gladiolus debilis). This member of the iris family has a distribution from Bains Kloof to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards to Bredasdorp. The white unscented flowers, with their strongly contrasting dark red markings and straight flower tubes, are thought to be pollinated by long-tongued flies.
In the open areas between the rocky outcrops the Berg palmiet (Tetraria thermalis) is resprouting from underground rhizomes and producing a rapid and spectacular recovery following fire.
Also making a spectacular recovery in the open areas is the fire heath (Erica cerinthoides).
In between these fast growing resprouting species, the first seedlings of a host of fynbos plants that are killed in fire a making their first appearance after the winter rains. But that’s another story……
Using flower colour for identifying plants can be quite confusing. I recently found four different colour variations of Gladiolus meridionalis within a few kilometres of each other and all on the same soil type.
This beautiful autumn flowering species has an unusual distribution. It grows in stony sandstone soils in low fynbos on mountain slopes and flats between the villages of Gansbaai and Elim in the Overberg region of the Western Cape with an outlying population many hundreds of kilometres to the east near Port Elizabeth.
This beauty is flowering at the moment on Grootbos Nature Reserve (www.grootbos.com) and the Fynbos Trail (www.fynbostrail.co.za). Its not that easy to find as it stands just 10 to 15cm above the ground on a thin hairy stem in relatively dense fynbos. Knowing where to look really helps so each November I like to head up into the hills to look for theses magnificent floral gems. I spotted a few this year, but the photo below was taken by Fynbos Trail guide, Christoff Longland on Grootbos.
This dainty ground orchid has a single, rounded, hairy leaf pressed to the ground. It bears a solitary white flower that has lobed lips with spoon-shaped tips making it look like a spider and is found from Southern Namibia to the Eastern Cape as solitary plants or in scattered populations.
Well spotted Christoff – and thanks for sharing your great pic – I love it!
I have just returned from some awesome botanising in the limestone hills between Pearly Beach and Baardskeedersbos. Even though it is quite late in the season I found some beautiful plants in full flower on the limestone ridges. This area burnt in a wild fire on a very hot day, earlier this year in March.
One of the most spectacular finds was a large population of Gladiolus miniatus in full flower.
This species is restricted to limestone outcrops from Hermanus to Cape Agulhas where it flowers from October to December. It is classified as vulnerable in the latest Red Data list of South African plants. It is probably extinct at three of 13 historically recorded locations due to urban development. Six locations are threatened by severe alien plant invasion, three are threatened by urban development and three fall within conservation areas. It is estimated that it is now found in only about 10 different locations. I have seen it before in the area but not as prolifically as now after the late summer fire.
Unfortunately the area where these plants are flowering is also showing signs of massive regeneration of Port Jackson Willow (Acacia saligna). We are working with the landowner to tackle the regrowth of this exotic tree and conserve these, and the other beautiful limestone fynbos species on the property.
From its humble beginnings in Graaff-Reinet in 1865, the Bolus Herbarium, together with its excellent botanical library, today forms a unique teaching and research facility at UCT. With over 350,000 specimens, which includes over 11,500 type specimens, it provides superb coverage of the diversity of the Cape Flora.
You are warmly invited to join the Bolus Herbarium in celebrating our 150th Anniversary with a seminar day on Tuesday 8th December, filled with fascinating research topics, the theme being “Collections based science” and “Cape botany”, culminating in two popular lectures by renowned botanists in the evening:
6-6.45 pm Professor Ben-Erik van Wyk, Dept. of Botany and Biotechnology,
University of Johannesburg – “Cape Botany: maximizing the scientific, cultural and socio-economic opportunities presented in a unique flora”
7-7.45 pm: Professor Peter Linder, Institute for Systematic Botany, University of Zurich – “Botanists and herbaria: how we found out how rich the Cape Flora is”
Day-time schedule: am session – 9.00- 1pm, lunch 1-2pm, pm session 2-5
Venue: John Day Building, Department of Biological Sciences,University Avenue, Upper Campus, University of Cape Town.
Booking by 5th Dec. is essential. Email Charlene.Christians@uct.ac.za or Tel: 021 6503773
A total of 13 species of Australian acacias (Mimosaceae) have become naturalized in South Africa and are now declared invasive weeds. Two of the most successful invasive plant species in the fynbos are Acacia cyclops (rooikrans) and Acacia saligna (Port Jackson willow). Both these species were introduced originally to stabilise coastal sand dunes and have proven exceptionally well adapted to local conditions, thriving on the nutrient poor soils of the Cape and proliferating after the regular fires typical of fynbos landscapes.
Port Jackson thrives on acidic mountain soils while rooikrans is most at home on alkaline coastal soils.
A few years ago a multivoltine midge (Dasineura dielsi) that induces galls on the ovary of its host , was introduced from Australia for the biological control of Acacia cyclops in South Africa. It spread extremely rapidly and now colonizes virtually all mature Acacia cyclops in the region. By inducing the gall it stops the flower from forming and hence drastically reduces the seeds produced. Extensive studies are undertaken prior to the release of biological control agents in South Africa and all indications are that D. dielsi will be of no significance on any species other than A. cyclops.
Acacia saligna or the Port Jackson willow is a very adaptable and fast growing species, native to Western Australia. It has become one of the most widespread and destructive invasive species in the fynbos region. It is a very difficult species to manage as it is able to resprout from its roots after being cut down and creates massive, long-lived seed banks. The difficulty and cost of eradicating this fast spreading species led to it being targeted for biological control measures.
The gall forming rust fungus Uromycladium tepperianum has proven very successful at controlling reproduction and seed set in Port Jackson. Through wind dispersal this rust fungus is now found wherever Port Jackson is growing in fynbos and it has been found to lower population densities by at least 80% in the absence of fire. The rust fungus reduces the flowering and seed set on Port Jackson and often ends up killing the plants after a few years. It is thought that the rust fungus does not kill the plants by itself but death is rather the result of the high number of galls formed on the plant together with environmental stress such as drought.
These two biological control agents have proven very useful in the battle to control alien invasive species in the fynbos.