Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hiking in Cape Town: Silvermine

Above: Gladiolus somewhere between G. undulatus and G. monticola. Marijke, Lynn? Photographed near pool above the Waterfall.

"The entire Cape Floristic Region averages 94 species per 1000 square km, making it much more diverse than any other part of the world. California and Southwestern Australia, two other Mediterranean regions, have respective average diversities of 14 and just under 12 species per 1,000 square km...Within the Cape Floristic Region, fynbos alone may contain between 150 and 170 species per 1,000 square km, an astonishing two or three times that measured for tropical rainforests..."

John Manning, Field Guide to Fynbos, 2007

Vince and I, two corgis and one black lab, set off from the eastern section of Silvermine, easily defined as lying on the eastern side of Ou Kaapse Weg, one afternoon after lunch at home. There are several possible routes one can follow from the car park, but we wanted a shortish walk of about 3 hours, and headed off towards the amphitheatre. I was relying on memory and an old map from Jose Berman's hiking book, circa 1976, but we should have had the up to date Slingsby's Silvermine Map.

These are excellent maps and I would encourage visitors to the Cape to purchase several (Table Mountain, Hout Bay, Cape Point) , and then use them. Very few tourists consider hiking proper (i.e. with backpacks, proper shoes and a MAP) when they come to the Cape Peninsula, and this omission deprives them of an unforgettably rich lifetime experience.

Table Mountain might look flat (or in our accent, flet) from the front, but in fact the Table Mountain National Park extends right to tip of the Cape Peninsula, with hundreds of hiking trails crisscrossing it, with plants and views unique to each.

Ah, Romulea, But you are not in Mr Manning's book. Growing almost flat on the sandy soil leading steeply up to the Amphitheatre, and as dense as gentians. Known as African bluebells.

For better ID'ing I have ordered Wild Flowers of Table Mountain, from England. Amazon had never heard of it. However Amazon did have Cape Peninsula: No. 3: South African Wild Flower Guide" by M.M. Kidd. A whopping $55. But I still have credit on my Christmas gift card. Thanks, Boss. Sold. So hopefully I will be saying "I think..." a little less often when it comes to plant names.

Pelargonium cucullatum, and the first and easiest I ever learned to recognize, as a child newly moved to the Cape from the grasslands of the Free State.

On a hill overlooking Ou Kaapse Weg, this Protea speciosa grew right next to the path.

Below, I have seen these pelargoniums two years in a row now, in relative abundance beside these paths, growing out of dry sand banks, with leaves frizzled to nothing. I think they are P. pinnatum. What I love about these walks is that you see one flower for a few metres, and then another, and then more of the second, and so on, so that always there are localized pockets of something new. And this was a midsummer hike, not exactly the most floriferous time of year.

"At every step a different plant appeared; and it is not an exaggerated description, if it should be compared to a botanic great was the variety everywhere to be met with."

William Burchell, journal entry for the last week of November 1810.
Flax - Heliophila, no idea which species. And blooming seemed to be a late year in general.

Thereianthus, and again not sure which one - the last time I walked here I saw them showing only their tantalizing drying stalks. With petals they are lovely!

This stunning, shrubby erica, dripping with waxy white and green blooms, grew on the path down into the Amphitheatre, just after False Bay had come into view. Sunbirds darted about, drinking their nectar. No luck ID'ing, as it does not seem to match the white ericas in my book.

Poor, short-legged corgis. I had told them the walk would be gentle. I had completely forgotten a steep, boulder-climbing section. Not having a collapsable water dish, we poured their water into one of the honeycombed sandstone boulders on the way.
They said a lot in Welsh, and from the tone none of it apparently flattering to my person.

Lobelia, of course. L. coronopifolia.

Lachnaea grandiflora - mountain carnation/bergangelier. They can also be pink.

Polygala - butterfly bush.

Protea nitida, I think. For some reason I never paid much attention in the past to the most famous of the fynbos flowers. This one grew low down on a tree about 8 feet high.

Ben flopped into the pool above the waterfall.

And in the thicker, grassy vegetation behind the pool I found several more of these gladioli. The colouring looks like G. monticola but the form and habitat resembles more G. undulatus. Help.

The home stretch, coming full circle.

Home before dark. Obviating the necessity for a posse, which is what I found in the driveway the last time I returned, well after sunset, from this circuit.

Some hiking rules for visitors (and the first one I need to um, obey too. I hate hats):

1. Wear a hat
2. Take a sweater or waterpoof jacket no matter what the weather looks like
3. Take water and some food
4. Tell someone exactly where you are going. Write it down.
5. Do not hike alone

Mountain rescue: 021-948-9900


  1. Plant treasures - so beautifully recorded - Marie YOU could publish a book on Table mnt flowers soon! Can't believe I missed out on the opportunity of giving you a proper, truly wanted gift - sorry I didn't know you needed the guide. Eventhough I'm supposed to be abotnist, I don't get much further than basic match-the-picture-to-the-plant identification....(blush). The roella looks like it could be R.triflora and the erica is the white form of Erica mammosa. Interesting that the sunbirds have 'learnt' / know that this offers a nectar reward just like the more common red and pink forms of mammosa. Argh - I really miss our walks and having a fellow plant enthusiast!

  2. Marijke, I called, you came! Thank you! Blerrie Innernet is amazing.

    Yes, the R. triflora looked just like the actual flower in Mr Manning's book, but I was thrown off by the habit of the ones we saw: right flat on the ground and really dense...but I don't know how widely these things are permitted to vary within a species?

    Ha! And I had the E. mammosa but didn't read the fineprint about the other

  3. PS The book would have to be titled

    "Possible Flowers of Cape Peninsula" etc

  4. PPS

    Thank you, by the way. And the book! Hell, I thought I had one here! But it's in Cape Town..

  5. these are just beautiful. seeing that protea reminded me that j often used to buy them for me when we lived in northampton, with a wonderful florist nearby. i must remind him of that ;)


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