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!


  1. Nice photos as usual, I can help with a couple of plants. The bluet like plant is Conostomium natalense and the "scarlet runners" are most likely the native Desmodium repandrum, which unlike our species does have red flowers. Ernie

  2. Very cool, Ernie: what would I do without you? (package headed your way, btw)...


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