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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Plants of South Africa

plants africa, Plants of South Africa

Hi again I’m back! All inspired and ready to fire up the landscape design engines.

I’ve been off running the Big Five Marathon in South Africa since my last blog and enjoyed seven days with runners from all over the world, running amongst the lions and other wild animals on the Entabeni Game Reserve. What a place!  I had a second week in the Dolomite Hills near Johannesburg known as the “Cradle of Mankind” where the fossilised, humanoid skeletons of Australopithicus australis, our Homo sapiens precursor, were found.  Here I had 400 acres of safe country to wander and wonder in, without the danger of lions, rhinos, hippos and elephants.I saw plants that made my head turn!  I do love my plant world, so this blog is about some of the extraordinary plants in the high fields of South Africa.

The humble acacia tree, which provides the bulk of food for antelope and giraffe, has the astonishing ability to make its leaves unpalatable within seconds of an animal’s first mouthful, by exuding bitter tannins.  Most surprisingly, the other plants within the vicinity notice the tannins on the breeze (up to 60 metres away) and start producing tannins of their own in anticipation of browsing animals. What an adaptation for survival!

There are plants with thorns so long and sharp that you can’t imagine their fierceness. Thorns are their adaptation to grazers, which is only partially effective against a giraffe’s 40 cm, blue tongue! WOW!!!
Brunsvigia bosmanii (left) has two large leaves growing near flush with its environment. During flowering season (right) a single stem shoots up and produces a large red or pink flower head. After flowering the seed head is then carried by the wind, dispersing seeds as in tumbles through the landscape

Even in the middle of winter the plants were truly amazing.  There were fields of orange flowered “Soap Aloes” glowing amongst the droughty golden grass heads. Towering prickly Mountain Aloe, Aloe marlothii that will survive bush fires without a scar, tiny silver lambs ears and artemisia straight out of our cottage gardens growing in the hard Dolomite mountainsides There was a wildly stupendous South African “tumbleweed” Brunsvigia bosmanii which, from two little ground hugging leaves and a bulb underground, produces a voluptuous soccer ball size pink or red flower head on a single stem. This is an inexplicable floral extravaganza in the middle of a most hostile environment.  What a strange world we live in.

plants africa, Plants of South AfricaProtea flower head
Attention grabbing South African Sugar Bush, Protea caffra was everywhere.  This flower, the symbol of South Africa appears to be in ironic denial of its environment by the sheer nature of its beauty amongst the harshness!  The plants of this country seem to be reflected in the colourful chaotic nature of the people and their politics in this wondrous land.

I’m going back for a springtime flowering… Hopefully soon!

plants africa, Plants of South Africa

Brunsvigia bosmanii (above) has two large leaves growing near flush with its environment. During flowering season (right) a single stem shoots up and produces a large red or pink flower head. After flowering the seed head is then carried by the wind, dispersing seeds as in tumbles through the landscape