Gladiolus maculatus (the brown Afrikaner) grows on clay slopes, mainly in renosterveld from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Cape. As I had never seen it previously in the Walker Bay region and it is generally restricted to richer clay soils, it was quite surprising to find this beauty on a sandstone mountain slope on Flower Valley farm.
The Flower Valley staff have removed an old blue gum forest on the western slopes of the Valley as part of their alien clearing and fynbos rehabilitation program. The gums, which would have originally been planted as a woodlot, are clearly visible in the 1938 aerial photograph of the Valley, and had probably been planted around 100 years ago. They were felled and burnt and once the smoke cleared an old ruined cottage appeared out of the ashes. These early settlers had a good idea of where the best agricultural lands were. Perhaps the brown Afrikaner was one of there indicator plants for richer soils? Not only is there a natural spring within a few hundred meters, but just in this area (in the middle of a typical sandstone slope covered in acid-loving mountain fynbos), the soil is suddenly richer and more fertile. This clay/ferricrete patch would have provided a much better substrate for the typical subsistance agriculture of the time than surrounding sandstone slopes. However, with time the farm was deserted and the agricultural lands and house were smothered by the gums. And now, following Flower Valley’s clearing of the gums and the trigger of fire, these beautiful Gladiolus maculatus once again have the opportunity to stretch out towards the sun, flower for the first time in decades and provide us a clue as to the fertility of the soils.