Returning home after some weeks away, the first order of the day is catching up on local events and life round the neighbourhood. These scenes at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, are of the area impacted by a ravaging fire in early March and are so devastatingly familiar. This is an area where we often cycle and part of the cycle track goes right through the middle of this desolation and we’re gripped both by a sense of loss and awe. That the fynbos vegetation which forms part of this extraordinary Cape Floral Kingdom, is sustained and flourishes in such nutrient poor soil is remarkable. Stripped of the green foliage, the revealed soil looks much like beach sand (from quartzite). Parts look like wastelands, but in some areas green shoots are already appearing attracting browsers like buck and zebra. The geophytes, such as the red Candelabra lilies (Brunsvigia orientalis) are flowering profusely and against the burned vegetation look quite stunning. With climate change affecting local weather patterns, predictions for Cape Town are that total rainfall will decrease by between 10% – 30% over the next 50 years. Fire frequency and intensity will undoubtedly increase, putting post fire vegetation reseeding under further pressure. We’re hoping this year that the seasonal rainfall over the winter months will break the current drought cycle.
Two different views comparing the barren landscape ravaged by fire with scenes showing the growth and colours of the regenerated vegetation.
Cape of Good Hope from Hoek van Bobbejaan.
A feeling of elation lingers as the soft rain which has fallen over the last two days, soaks into the parched earth and the raindrops glisten like jewels. The dam levels supplying Cape Town’s needs are still way below par but through this respite we can visibly see the vegetation greening up and the first signs of spring are emerging. Through my dining room window there’s a buzzing scene. Wagtails are in-coming carrying nesting material, while the sugarbirds and sunbirds flit about foraging for nectar. The protea pincushions (Leucospermum) are coming into bloom though i still put out the occasional bottle of sugar water (fructose/sucrose formula) for the sunbirds.
The ‘tweeting’ going on is full of robust conversation; the wagtail pair call constantly with urgency – “Where are you, where? Bring in the next twigs, need fluff, fluff?” While the sugarbirds have the gruff throaty voice of nightclub singers; deep and croaky. They have the least melodious of songs while the dainty sunbirds have ‘chirp’; full of small bird attitude. My guidebook describes their calls as a wheezy single “tsearp” or double “teer-turp”. And with that, a jubilant “hallelujah” from all of us here on the rainy shores of the Cape Peninsula.
I have to hand a most treasured item: a definitive illustrated guide to the southern African family of Amaryllidaceae.
It’s a comprehensive and handsome publication, 760 pages in all. The launch in Cape Town was held on Saturday at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden’s book shop and the two authors were present. The accomplishment in getting the book together is an extraordinary story – it was a Herculean task and took 45 years to produce. The water colour paintings which are the basis of the book were started by Barbara Jeppe in 1971 and when she passed away 28 years later her daughter Leigh Voigt, also a talented artist, took on the task to complete it. Graham Duncan undertook the mammoth job of describing the species and collating all the information. The trials and adventures involved in preparing the book are the basis for a second – “The Book About the Book”. Listening to Leigh’s account and Professor Mike Bruton’s address at the launch, the project was one of endurance.
The Amaryllis family is diverse, the southern African boasts 18 genera and at least 240 species; it’s second to South America where 26 genera and approximately 375 species are found.
There is great variety of form and most have gorgeous showy flowers – often gregarious and blooming in mass displays, they’re a favourite wildflower. The genera include such taxa as Boophone, Brunsvigia, Clivia, Crinum, Gethyllis, Nerine, Strumaria and others. Seasonal flowering: March lilies or the belladona mark the coming of autumn; the Haemanthus or April Fool flower around the same time. Fire lilies bloom in swathes of vermilion to bright red and look spectacular after summer fires. Parasols are known more for the dried out ‘tumbleweeds’ after the fruits have formed. The Kukumakranka (Gethyllis) are known for their medicinal properties and some species have the most divine perfume. Cunning survival strategies developed as an adaptation to cope with the often harsh conditions. The bulbs, as they are geophytic, store precious nutrients and moisture to survive periods of drought and the amaryllids in the Western Cape have adapted to the regional climate where the plants which are synanthous develop new leaves before the flowers appear or are hysteranthous when the bulbs have sufficient food reserves to support flowering without the leaves.
The beauty of the artwork in the book is that the plates show the leaves, flowers and fruit separately and that appeals to my sense of riddle solving when identifying the plant when the parts appear separately.
Serendiptously this morning when out cycling i spotted the first flowering of Haemanthus sanguineus (April Fool / Veldskoenblaar). They’re early yet it’s a sign that summer is moving on.
To all the supporters who followed and commented on my blog posts through 2016, my sincere thanks sent with a virtual bouquet of Agapanthus. The flowers are in season at this time of the year and although they grow wild on the slopes of Table Mountain and areas to the south, these are from the bottom of my garden near the coast. Hardy plants which tolerate the strong winds and salt air their blooms are welcome in the heat of this dry summer.