What’s flowering – The Caledon bluebell (Gladiolus bullatus)

Gladiolus bullatus
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.


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What’s flowering -Ferraria crispa

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.

IMG_1994With 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.



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Sheltering in the koppies

A walk through a recently burnt fynbos landscape is always lots of fun and full of exciting flowering finds.


Waterford – Agulhas National Park

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.


IMG_1869I 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.

Gladiolus debilis in Agulhas National Park

Gladiolus debilis in Agulhas National Park







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.


Tetraria thermalis (bergpalmiet) resprouting after fire on the Agulhas Plain


Erica cerinthoides (fire heath)



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……

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Gladiolus meridionalis shows its different colour forms

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.

gladiolus meridionalis bright pinkGladiolus meridionalis pinkgladiolus meridionalis red

Gladiolus meridionalis












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.

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What’s flowering – the spider orchid (Bartholina etheliae)

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.

spider orchidThis 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!

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Whats flowering – Gladiolus miniatus

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.

gladiolus miniatus on fynbos hub

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.


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Invitation to Bolus herbarium’s 150th anniversary celebration

Invitation to Bolus Herbarium and associated Library’s 150th

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


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Biological control of Acacia cyclops (rooikrans) and Acacia saligna (port jackson willow) in fynbos

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.

Acacia cyclops biocontrolA 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.

Gall rust fungus on Port Jackson willowThe 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.


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Environmental Social Scientist – Garden Route

Please see the below link to an advertisement for an Environmental Social Scientist – Garden Route.



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Red beauties that feed off other plants – Cytinus sanguineus and Hyobanche sanguineus

Two splashes of red in close proximity to each other on a recent coastal walk  turned out to be two magnificent parasitic plant species, both with red flowers.

Cytinus sanguineus on fynbos hub

Cytinus sanguineus is known as the aardroos (earth or ground rose), a very apt name for this beautiful bright red cupped flowering plant. It is dioecious meaning that the male and females are separate plants and is mostly parasitic on shrubby Asteraceae (daisy family).


Cytinus sanguineus on Fynbos TrailIt is pollinated by sunbirds which is quite unexpected given the location of the flowers at ground level and the absence of perches. Sunbirds generally do not like foraging on the ground. The birds transfer pollen on their beaks while drinking the nectar from the flowers. It flowers from July to December and is found in sandy soils from Namaqualand and the western Karoo to Mossel Bay.

The second parasitic plant was Hyobanche sanguinea which is also a root parasite with scale-like leaves. It has hooded crimson-red or pink, flowers which are very hairy. It flowers in spring and is widespread, growing from southern Namibia to Swaziland. Its common name the ‘Cat’s Claw’ refers to when its in full flower and the white stigmas curve out of the corolla tube looking somewhat like the claws of a cat. Another common name is ink flower. During colonial times, the flowers were dried and crushed to form a black powder which was then diluted to be used as ink.

Haemanthus sanguineus is a holoparasite meaning that it does not photosynthesise for food. Instead it attaches itself to the roots of other plants to draw water and nutrients from its hosts. In our area it appears to mostly parasitize Leucandron’s (cone bushes) and other members of the Protea family.


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