Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On the Dark Side: Royal Natal National Park

Cyathea dregei
I'm a sucker for tree ferns. I'm boggled that they are found rather commonly on the east face of the Drakensberg to surprisingly high elevations where they experience snow regularly. Unfortunately, this is just about the most slow growing, challenging tree fern in cultivation. You won't be seeing it in Box Stores any time soon...This whole east face of the mountain range is much wetter, much milder and much more "developed" than the other sides of the Drakensberg. The northern half (from Underberg northward) in particular is almost all Nature reserve, with no end of fabulous resorts at the base where you can hike towards the heights. Just about my favorite place on Planet Earth: I wish I could spend November-March there every year, as a matter of fact, and explore a different "kloof" each day. The biodiversity is astonishing. Unlike 95% of South Africa, there are deep woodlands (mostly Podocarp) in the declivities full of shade-lovers. These are what this blog is about...

Conostomium natalense

I shall add the name later (Thank you Ernie for saving me time!)--but what it basically is is a Bluet--very similar in morphology to our native American ones, although classed in a different genus. The parallels are almost as striking as the contrasts to our North American flora.

Looking suspiciously like Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus), but Ernie Demarie has persuaded me it's Desmodium repandum, a stunning little woodland bean relative native to Southern Africa.

Barbara Young photographing her favorite!
Here and there throughout this area you find Crocosmia--often a hybrid surprisingly similar to 'Lucifer'. Nevertheless, the Drakensberg is center of distribution for this genus, although the true species are sometimes elusive.

A very strange and uncharacteristic orchid, probably Disperis wealii (although there are many in the genus here that are similar).

This has to be a crassula, although I can't find any in the picture books that look even vaguely like it.

Begonia sutherlandii
What a treat to see this again in the wild! Popular in cultivation--there should be some higher altitude forms of this that possess greater hardiness than what we grow.

Begonia sutherlandii closeup

Gleichenia umbraculifera

One of my favorite ferns,Gleichenia umbraculifera makes masses of forking fronds along the road. Although related ferns occur in tropical and subtropical regions, this is the Southern African specialty in the genus.

Closer view

Elaphoglossum drakensbergense
What a treat to see this rather narrow endemic of the east face of the Drakensberg--an epiphytic fern...

Elaphoglossum drakensbergense
As you can see, there's lots of humidity year around in the deep valley here...

Pteris cretica v.
Always a surprise to find this Universal fern so far from it's (and my) nomenclatural home! There is a fabulous website I use to verify names called i-Spot: you may want to check it out!

Plectranthus calycina
As a confirmed lover of Labiates, I  am thrilled to find this cousin of so many house plants (and kissing cousin to Coleus). I actually grew this for a short time--it's one of the few of the genus (Along with P. grallatus) likeliest to tolerate our subarctic winters.

Plectranthus calycina
I know there are those who aren't nuts about mints. More's the pity! I find this very graceful, and the foliage beautiful.

In addition to having hundreds of orchids, the fern flora of the Drakensberg is vast and multifarious. I've never seen this giant shield fern here before, at least I THINK it's a Dryopteris.

Desmodium repandum
How do you like this for a sophisticated groundcover?...they're is doubtless perennial. This would be a wonderful introduction!

Nancy Schotters next to Podocarp
Yellowood (two species, this one is likely Podocarpus latifolius) soar skyward hear: much of the original yellowood forest (and there wasn't much) has been lumbered for the lustrous wood. They are so painfully slow-growing that their woodlands are generally re-planted with North American conifers, so these havens along the base of the Drakensberg are all the more important.

More ferns and Phaseolus: unlikely combo

Fuzzy closeup of an Asclepiad (Schizoglossum atropurpureum) we saw many places around the Drakensberg. The family is so diverse and glorious in this region--wish more were cultivated!
Same from further away...

Cyathea dregei
More tree ferns. I can't help myself: they're so cool!

The waterfalls and streams of the Drakensberg are myriad--and always beautiful. No two are the same.

Selaginella sp.
There are little club mosses everywhere in the Drakensberg from shady woods like this one to dry open rocks.

Cyathea dregei
And even MORE Tree Fern shots...I get homesick looking at this shot. I think it captures the magic of the "Little Berg"...would that I could be there right now! (It's been snowy and cold for weeks, and more is predicted this next week..uggh).

Bushbuck coming!

Female imbabala or bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus)
It is always a treat to see antelope in the Drakensberg, where several species occur. This cautious, nocturnal species was obviously aware it's in a National Park!

imbabala or bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) with fawn.

But we did not see any Dassies on the road despite the sign!

Two for one...
Seeing the antelope, one might think it's a doe just about anywhere in the Northern hemisphere, but the weaverbird nests bring it back to South Africa. Which is where we all originated, you know!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sani Pass to Howick: the Little Berg

Cyperus obtusiflorus v. flavissimus
This may be my all time favorite sedge: quite common all over the foothills of the Drakensberg (the "Little Berg" it was one of the highlights of a thwarted attempt to get up Sani Pass (sigh). We did nevertheless see some good stuff before heading down to Howick (the last part of this Blog)...Be warned: Sani Pass is closed this season, and the road requires four wheel drive. Compare this sedge with the much bronzier one I photographed at Drakensberg Gardens and posted a few weeks ago: wait till you see the monster we found at Platberg (to be posted in a week or so)...

Erica cerinthoides
I've seen this before (there were miles of it at Drakensberg Gardens) but here it was still blooming. This heather is widespread in South Africa: it can be a brilliant scarlet and make a shrub several feet tall. This higher altitude form, however, could be cold hardy in much of the USA..

Hypoxis sp. (close to hemerocallidea)
Hard to believe we share this genus--albeit the South African ones are wildly variable!

Rhus sp.
Sumac grow everywhere it seems: this species is uncannily similar to our North American R. aromatica or R. trilobata..although our's have more orangy-red berries. These have a similar lemonade taste.

A locust
The South African locusts are amazing.

Erica caffrorum
Compare with trhe husky plant at Drakensberg Gardens, I posted a few weeks ago...

I have not looked up to see if the South African bracken is a different species from our's: sure looks the same! I know it's regarded as a horrible weed in many climates, but I have a warm spot in my heart for this rangy fern: it grows thickly on Rabbit Ear's Pass in Routt county (near where I was born) and there are thick colonies on Flagstaff mountain near where I grew up. And it's found near both my parents' villages in Greece--I guess you could say it grows everywhere so it's not accident it's near so many places I love, not least of which is South Africa!

Themeda triandra

A meadow full of Themeda: we'll be seeing some lovely specimens up close soon of this outstanding grasss.
Protea roupelliae in the foreground

I know this protea is found far beyond the Drakensberg, but it is so emblematic of the "Little Berg" I always associate it with these foothills. It was heartbreakingly lovely up against the green green hills dotted with giant tree ferns. These mountains are hard to beat!

Al Gerace
It was signal honor to have Al Gerace and his wonderful wife Enza on this trip. Al is not just a kingpin--he's the very heart of our regional green industry: the two of them were a daily delight to be around: love seeing him shake hands with the Protea here!

Protea roupelliae (again!)

Protea roupelliae (and yet again!)

You can't really blame me for dwelling on this a bit, can you?

Cliffortia sp.

I haven't had time to figure out which one, but this is South Africa's rather too modest representative of the Rosaceae. When you see the flowers in the next frame you'll see what I mean. They characterize Fynbos, which is why many consider the Drakensberg to be an "Afromontane" cousin to the West Cape's Fynbos (many shared genera like Protea, Erica, Passerina, Watsonia etc.) The sort of thing only biogeographers could salivate over....

I think it's a rather statuesque thing, with a habit rather like a conifer...

I can see you yawning from here, so I'll move on...

Senecio  oxyriifoliusie!) (thanks for the I.D., Ernie!)

Commelina africana
Although this yellow dayflower is found throughout South Africa, it doesn't seem to me as though it would be weedy: I would love to try it in the garden...

I think the flowers are very cute!
Whenever I see a Commelina, especially in South Africa, I think of Bob Faden, retired botanist at the Smithsonian, who was the authority on these: he and his wife are enthusiastic and accomplished gardeners as well!

Helichrysum vernum
It was a tad galling to see the luscious rosettes of this strawflower everywhere--looking for all the world like an Echeveria or Dudleya...and not a single flower or seedhead. It must either not have bloomed this year, or bloomed so early the stalks have disintegrated. The flowers on this are usually huge and bright rose red. If you click here you will see what it looks like in flower (in a blog I wish I had never had to write).

Themeda triandra
The first of my two shots: not terribly impressive. If you click on it it will become a little more impressive (and you can gloss through this blog without my droning on about things)...My dirty little secret.

Had to show two more P. rouppeliae...
Did I mention I love the Proteas? But who doesn't?

Karel De Toit
The water in the Drakensberg (knock on wood) is so pure and clean you can drink it. Really!

Now THIS is a Themeda
There are no end of wonderful grasses, and South Africa has more than her share. I would love to grow this wonderful blue leaved T. triandra!

Berkheya sp.
We saw no end of this sort of Berkheya all across the highveld, almost to Kruger (which is lowveld I know)...

A miserable picture of Cyphia, a vining Campanulad. Haven't quite figured out the focus on my dang camera!
Cussonia paniculata
I know the Cabbage Trees are everywhere in South Africa--especially in the High and Lowveld. But I never tire of them. Love this outside bonsai clinging to the cliff--with the green hills beyond. I am horribly homesick for this landscape already.

A wonderful mystery grass along the road (very pink)

Merxmuellera sp.
The other widespread clumping grass of the Little berg--these are such amazing meadows! I'll inflict this picture on you again below, this time featuring the puffy clouds...

How, prithee, am I supposed to pick between these two? They both epitomize the landscape there I've come to love--the wonderful "platberg" (table) mountains, the green green hills, the blowing grasses and the puffy clouds. Really, the Drakensberg are Heavenly.

Oxalis obliquifolia
Closely allied to the O. depressa often sold in America--this is ubuiquitous in this area (and everywhere else in the Drakensberg). I love it!

Hypoxis sp.
Here's one of the larger hypoxis--the genus is amazing here.
Oenothera sp.
There are a few weeds in Paradise: I saw several species of Evening Primrose, presumably from South America. This and the one below were growing together--very strange!

Oenothera sp.

Karel photographing a Rubus
Haven't yet figured out if this is one of the several invaders, or one of the few native species. Location suggests a weed.

Rubus sp.
The fruit was not quite ripe: guess how I know?

Hypericum sp.
We saw one big patch of St. Johnswort: very pretty...I haven't looked it up but I have me doots. It may be exotic.

Zantedeschia aethiopica
Fast forward forty or more miles--we're on the road to Howick (justr before the fog turned into pea soup consistency). I have been surprised this trip how much of the typical Calla Lilies occur everywhere in the Drakensberg, rather than their spotted (Z. albimaculata) summer rainfall species. There have to be some hardy clones of this...Large forests of Pinus patula cover the slopes in this area.
Agrimonia procera
Just noticed the Agrimony is growing with a Geranium I didn't photograph (I tried to document these for Robin Parer and Ernie Demarie--my two good Geraniaceae fan club buddies). This Agrimony looks exactly like A. eupatoria from Eurasia and several North American species--another of the links between our regions.

The pine woods are not so attractive when they're cut...
I know South Africa needs wood--and forests grow lustily here. But there were never ever forests in these regions: instead, there were fabulously rich grasslands, largely replaced by farms and forest. I find that very sad.
Kniphofia parviflora
We found several dozen showy plants in one tiny strip of grassland left in this area--including several orchids. Surrounded by the utterly impoverished pine plantations (impoverished in terms of biodiversity I hasten to add...) This is in the running for the ugliest poker...

Kniphofia parviflora
And here's an even uglier one!

Ledebouria sp.
I have seen some Drakensberg Ledebourias thriving in Sweden and Scotland, but I don't believe we have any of the higher altitude species yet in the U.S.A.: the flowers are generally not very showy, but the foliage is to die for. This is one of the best. Hate to think of how many of these were snuffed out by the pine woods.

Watsonia lepida
And some fine specimens of the pink Watsonia of the Drakensberg...

A delicate Lobelia
Closer view of the Lobelia above

Asclepias cultriformis
The Drakensberg boast no end of Asclepiads--in all colors and forms. It has to be a major center of the genus (and family). This is one of the loveliest...You can see much better pictures of this at this blog.

One of the hundreds of orchids in the Drakensberg environs
I forgot to key this out--will do so and come back and label it in a few days...

Kniphofia laxiflora
I believe I have the species right--I show many more of these at a locality a few dozen kilometers away further down this blog. A fabulous plant...

Phytollaca octandra
I was startled to see this pokeberry--which is pantropical and probably a weed here.

Phytolacca octandra
It may be a weed, but it looks as trim as a shrub from Monrovia!

Gladiolus ecklonis
This speckled green and black Glad is closely allied to G. dalenii, and has a wide range. I've seen it growing just a few inches tall on the alpine turf of Sentinel in years past (but not this year!)

I was countermanded and we drive perhaps an extra unnecessary sixty miles through pea soup fog almost not be able to see the famous falls at Howick. End of conversatrion...

I was able to get a picture of this rather charming way sign..

Dais cotinifolia
There are great recompenses in this life, however. We stayed at a really wonderful lodge that evening (eventually), and the next morning the fog had lifted and we saw a whole hillside covered with this wondeful cousin to Daphne. It was breathtaking! Dais grows all over the Drakensberg, but had finished there--for whatever reason, they were lingering still in the Midlands (I think they'd had more cool weather) so we were able to see one of my all time favorite trees. I've only seen this in bloom on one other occasion, my first trip when I came early enough to catch the last flowers.

Imagine Daphne cneorum on steroids--on stilts--growing thirty or even forty feet tall. WOW!

Kniphofia laxiflora
On one hillside we stopped to commune with this elegant poker: the next few pictures speak for themselves...
Kniphofia laxiflora

Kniphofia llaxiflora

Kniphofia laxiflora

And we returned to Howick falls the next morning--and fortunately the fog had lifted (mostly) so we could glimpse the falls and shop a few minutes (and get a decent cup of coffee! Our wonderful lodge the day before only had instant--I need to talk to them before I go back. Which I hope I shall)...

We have but one more day and two more hillsides, and I shall have completed the circuit of the Drakensberg for you. I have been blessed to visit mountains on five continents--but there is something about this range that is very near and dear to my heart. I hope you too are becoming smitten!

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