Saturday, January 31, 2015

Black rhino in the morning, white rhino in the afternoon...thoughtful foray into the Lowveld.

Diceros bicornis
If someone had told me just WEEKS ago (let along during my animal-addle-pated childhood) that one day I would see a BLACK rhino in the morning, and then a WHITE rhino in the afternoon*--that in fact I would see several of both on several days in South Africa--well, I frankly would have thought it unlikely.  But on Tuesday of this past week, I did just that: we saw two mud-encrusted black rhinos wallowing in mud and scraping mud off their nose-tusks at Mahlavetsi (a wildlife refuge associated with Kruger Park in South Africa) and later that day in the mellow light we saw two stately and elegant white rhinos...
Ceratotherium simum
The awesome opportunity to see both these majestic creatures (in a single day no less) couldn't hardly help but coax forth a few thoughts about ironies and paradoxes of Modern Life. Going on a wildlife Safari wasn't exactly a life goal of mine: thanks to the privilege of working at an extraordinarily successful public garden, I've had the opportunity to partake in two (the first almost twenty years ago at Mashatu in Botswana).Ex post facto, I realized this was a life ambition I'd just thought I'd never get around to. The things you never get around to may be just what lights your fire the most.

This sort of "safari" was the sort of thing only very wealthy people partook of decades ago, and it's still a stretch for most of us. Although I doubt that anyone who partakes of a wildlife trip like this regrets spending the cash. And obviously, having first world visitors spending lots of money to see these animals is part and parcel of the reason so many African countries have made an effort to set aside large tracts of land preserving the remnants of Africa's once vast herds of charismatic megafauna.

Driving practically up to a rhinoceros is a thrill--but there are a myriad attendant thrills: the wonderful pristine-seeming countryside, the literally dozens of other taxa of megafauna you see as well (and let's not even get around to the microfauna which sometimes steal the show--and flora and especially the fantastic variety of birds). And then there are the people: the South Africans in this case--over a dozen different ethic groups, each with a rich culture and history and wealth of cultural attributes.

But getting back to the rhinoceros--if you read my blog I suspect you are aware of the wanton destruction of thousands of rhinoceros a year for commerce in their horns: if you are miraculously ignorant about it, just Google "rhinoceros horn" and stand back for the shocking revelation that there were nearly 100,000 individuals mid last century and that they've dwindled to a few thousand, and possibly 1200 were killed in Kruger alone last year. The magnitude of the destruction of a creature so that small market of truly pin-headed East Asian plutocrats might ingest tiny portions of ceratin (It would be SO much more appropriate if we all just collected our collective toenail clippings and sent them those instead).

The plight of Indian and Indonesian rhinos is hardly any better: the last surviving species of rhinoceros have had the bad luck to be find themselves in tiny, fragile havens next to areas of colossal population growth (India, Indonesia and now Africa--whose population is still burgeoning at astounding rates).

Much of the area just west and south of Kruger and its surrounding "reserves" is heavily populated already, with huge fruit and cereal farms, mines and tree plantations carpeting every inch of ground. I can't speak for the north or east side--Zimbabwe and Mozambique can hardly bode better.

Of course, one (or possibly more) species of rhinoceros have already become extinct--likely with help from humankind already: the Wooly Rhinoceros ( Coelodonta antiquitatis and likely other taxa) succumbed by the end of the Pleistocene: depicted nearly100 times by Cro Magnon artists--although not nearly as often as they painted mammoths, bison and horses (which were subsequently also ushered into extinction at about the same time).

As one peers into the future dimly, one wonders which of the two bifurcating paths humanity might take: on the one hand, the seemingly ineluctable stampede towards greater extinction including perhaps our own: driven by our steppe-genes: the psychotic demand for control, domination and membership in the National Rifle Association (an organization I do not approve of, incidentally).

Or perhaps we shall come to our senses: wealthy Orientals will realize that ingesting toenail clippings does not in fact really enhance their sexuality. Desperate poachers (many of them likely knowing the ways of the rhinoceros by working on the very reserves by day where they poach by night) shall find better opportunities and eschew the now not so lucrative pursuit.

India and Indonesia will soon curb birthrates, and ultimately expand preserves so their modest rhinoceros populations shall continue flourish and expand.

And genetic wizards turn their talents from "enhancing" corn for Monsanto's bottom line to re-constituting the hypercharismatic megafauna we extinguished coincidentally about the time we invented horticulture (and all hell broke loose) to populate vast new Pleistocene Parks in Siberia, Alaska and Canada set aside for the burgeoning herds of renaissance mammoths, wooly rhinos, Steppe bison and the rest of the creatures we destroyed in our path to becoming Homo ubiquitus or perhaps better termed Homo smart-phonicus?

If you are reading this you are undoubtedly committed along with me in the second (and only) path. NRA be damned. Please don't try and defend them. I will certainly allow you to comment, but I think you will regret it if you do, I assure you. I wish every gun in the world turn to rust immediately.

Such are a few of the thoughts inspired by a magical foray into the Lowveld.

P.S. "Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on." Led Zeppelin

 *Black and white rhinos aren't really named for their color--although my specimens were nicely contrasting. Black rhinos are generally a tad smaller, have more beak-like mouths designed mostly for browsing shrubbery and white rhinos are larger, with flat-lipped mouths designed for grazing.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tiffendell PART ONE...(some tighty whities...)

Kniphofia triangularis
We'll quickly be getting to the "tighty whiteys"--a surprising number of South African alpines do tend to be white in color. But there are many with bright colors: there were only a few of this species on the hill but brilliantly colored. I'm always astonished at how different this species is from one area to the next. We shall see this again at the opposite end of the Drakensberg in a very different hue...

Helichrysum cf. albobrunneum
I was surprised at how unimpressed most of my companions were with white helichrysums: I have always been charmed by almost anything in the genus (which is a good thing in the Drakensberg). These resembled what I've grown under this name, although I believe mine was multi-headed...

Cyrtanthus flanaganii in seed
Since this was not in bloom, I couldn't be too was scattered here and there in the high meadow...
A Senecio sp.
I posted this because we have a bevy of very similar senecios throughout the Rockies. Come to think of it, there are similar ones in Asia and also South America.

Alepidea thodei
The Sophia Loren of the genus--this would be an outstanding garden plant. I was surprised to see it in several spots this trip...

Gladiolus sp.
I haven't had a chance to find out the name for this rather nondescript gladiolus: the only one on the hill...
Kniphofia caulescens
This keys out to Kniphofia caulescens which looks rather different to my eyes than the dense colonies in the wet meadows: I suspect there are two ecotypes in play...
Another Senecio sp.
Another senecio--this one a dead ringer for Colorado's Senecio werneriifolius  in our alpine. I suspect the resemblance is superficial...

Cotula 'Tiffendell'
Very similar to what High Country Gardens has offered from the same locality...

Lesotho/East Cape border fence
A rather dramatic demonstration of the contrast in vegetation between the countries.

Hypicium armerioides (Tiffendell form)
Possibly the plant that provided the fabulous form from High Country Gardens...
Helichrysum marginatum
And now lots of tighty whities...and my conversation must end: the taxi has arrived to take me to Johannesburg's Tambo airport--to be continued. Meanwhile: enjoy!
Helichrysum marginatum
Helichrysum sessiloides

Helichrysum sessiloides and Craterocapsa cf tarsodes

Hirpicium armerioides and Helichrysum cf.

Helichrysum sessiloides

Top of the Tiff

Friday, January 23, 2015

In the heart of Lesotho (Semonkong and Malealea)

Aloe polyphylla
Aloes will be a leitmotif of this posting--since our two locations in central Lesotho were in the heart of the range of Aloe polyphylla--which, alas, due to many circumstances (one being a high river level) we were thwarted from seeing in nature. It was abundant in gardens there, however! Above, one of many at the lodge at Semonkong.

My good buddy, Bill Adams, is here seen mimicking the pose of the Aloe rather dashingly, don't you agree?

Jamesbrittenia sp.
A wonderful little Sutera growing wild nearby...
Phygelius capensis across from the lodge
Of course, Phygelius grows everywhere in the Drakensberg--but not often so picturesquely as it did across from the Lodge.
Cotyledon foliage but look above!

Aloe aristata
Taken with a telephoto from forty or so feet below! Most A. aristata were in plump green seed, but this one had a late flower still!

Mystery Delosperma sp. "Semonkong"
Growing much like D. cooperi does at Oxbow, this rather delicate, twiggy delosperma was tucked here and there all over the cliff. I don't have a clue what it is--except that it looks more like floribundum than any of the usual Drakensberg species.

Delosperma sp. "Semonkong"
Closer view...

Another close view of Delosperma sp. "Semonkong"

To continue the Aloe theme--Cotyledon has apparently been sunk in the former genus...HORRORS!
I don't buy it: I still call this Cotyledon orbiculata...

MORE of the mystery Delosperma...growing among the lichens. I rather liked this effect.

And more "Aloe" (gag) orbiculata...

Dianthus sp. with Psammotropha mucronata at the base...
I am always shocked to see dianthus in South Africa--and they are legion and abundant. Yesterday, the field full of Lithops near Heidelberg was full of dianthus in seed.

A Euryops in full glory at Semonkong

Selaginella grows everywhere in the Drakensberg and beyond here: many species.

Strange to see Delosperma and Cotyledon growing in open soil among weeds.

Phygelius capensis
Blogspot decided to separatre the closeups from the overall shot way back in this sequence: sorry! You'll have to toggle to see them together!

Another closeup of same

And an overall shot after all...

More of the mystery Delosperma sp. Semonkong
There are quite a few of us devotees of this genus (which is indirectly responsible for propelling me hither seven times). Bear with me if you're not smitten--these are for them!

Delosperma sp. Semonkong closeup

A Moraea in the huttonii complex in seed.

Part of the group at Semonkong--we live in style!

Breathtaking specimens of Crinum bulbispermum (albino) at the Lodge...

The local delo planted at the Lodge!

Crinum bulbispermum (albino)

Crinum bulbispermum (albino)

Two of the singers listening to their colleagues at Malealea Lodge--to the south of Semonkong.

the Boy's band..they were good.

The singers: I bought their C.D.--incredible harmonies.

Anchusa capensis--in Plant Select!--here in the wild.

Composites everywhere--here, a Senecio I believe...(equivalent to our summer daisy season)

Not so helpful directional sign.

Agave americana, pretending it's an Aloe...

Another view--the green green countryside belies the devastating overgrazing due to "open range" traditions.

Sutherlandia (or is it Lessertia?) montana: one of my faves. In not quite seed.

Aloe saponaria I believe...wild.

The countryside near Malealea: Africa grabs your soul. Believe me.

A charming Hermannia sp.  ign.

Polygalas are everywhere in all shapes and sizes...

An amazing orange flowered Phygelius capensis--not far from Semonkong (out of sequence--sorry)

Senecio speciosus by the thousand on the long and spectacular pass to Semonkong

Delosperma cf. lavisiae in the grass...

A tiny Limosella in a bog.

Ranunculus are much rarer here than in the northern Hemisphere.

Miles of Dierama robustum along the pass...

A fine specimen of Dierama robustum...

Senecio speciosus

Senecio speciosus

I shall end with a series of shots of a Kniphofia caulescens meadow: the essence of the Drakensberg!

I have left little fragments of my heart all over this magnificent region. Africa! I love you.

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