Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kirstenbosch in 80 minutes

In our eight days on the ground in Cape Town we had: helped with the 80th birthday preparations, written and given a speech, drunk Champagne, eaten two braais, slurped oysters, seen the sea, roared up to Paternoster, eaten at Oep ve Koep, seen two friends, bought and cooked fresh crayfish straight off the boat, hiked in the mountains above Silvermine, and picknicked at Cape Point while watching flocks of stilts and terns near the water. 

But we had not yet visited Kirstenbosch. So before lunch on our last day we scooted around the beautiful garden, where the clouds were just lifting from the mountain, and saw flowers that we usually miss on our late December or January visits.

You could spend a day, here, with a good lunch inbetween and serious book or plant shopping afterwards. These pretty yellow Cotula grew in amongst some campanula-ish flowers (please chime in with ID if you know) - part of the displays always planted in front of the upper level restaurant (avoid the lower level one, it's horrible).

One of my favourite sections of the botanical garden is the endangered and threatened species rockery. Here is a stunning erica, which I have never seen in bloom:  known commonly as rock heath, and properly called Erica quadrisulcata. Sulcata means furrows and somewhere, there must be four furrows. On the flowers? On the needle-thin leaves?

I can't tell my Leucaspermum from my elbow. It is all I can do to remember that they are not Leucadendrons, the coned bushes of fynbos. I suppose...I suppose those individual pins in their cushions do look a little - a lot - like sperm cells, yes? Seriously, I'd never thought of it before. Like, duh?

Commonly and collectively referred to as pincushions. The flowers. Not the sperm cells.

Above, another Leucaspermum but it had a handy label. Tufted pincushion, Leucapsermum oleifolium. Small flowers, about an inch-and-a-half across. 

Every week new flowers are collected from all over the garden to display here, with names. The change-over was in progress. I would like this job.

Below, our friend the tufted pincushion again, on the higher slopes of the garden with some magnificent Aristea macrocarpa behind. They top six feet, and most summers we only see their dried stalks and seeds on the mountain.

The smallest aristea I have seen is about four inches high, on Silvermine and at Cape Point.

More pincushions, below.

And Mimetes. I don't know what species, but they were everywhere.

Yep, another pincushion.

And a tree with a checkered past. Wild almond. Native to shady mountain kloofs, it was planted as a hedge by Jan van Riebeeck, the first Dutch commander to land at the Cape. He was collecting a herd of cattle to feed his Dutch East India Company employees, to use as trek beasts (to pull wagons and carry supplies) and to supply DEIC ships passing the Cape, and wanted to keep the best grazing near the mountain for his own herd, rather than allow the semi-nomadic KhoiKhoi to let their stock graze there, where they had, presumably for centuries. He traded hard liquor, tobacco and beads in return for their cattle. Sound familiar?

If you'd like to know more about that interesting time at the Cape buy Dan Sleigh's Eilande. It's a fat book  - a novel about South Africa's early colonial past - and will last a long time. I am rereading the original Afrikaans version, but Islands is available, used, in English, on Amazon. I think of it as the War and Peace of South Africa.

Back to the wild almond - Brabejum stellatifolium. This is reputedly one of the original trees. They were planted in the 1650's. Kobus van de Merwe mentioned when we were at Oep ve Koep that their fruit could be used as a coffee substitute. But that is another story.

The protea man was there, at the entrance, when we left. He brings his flowers from the farms outside Stellenbosch, and sits all day in his car, listening to jazz guitar music, which he plays when he is not flower-smousing, as we say in the Cape.

And then we charged off to Noordhoek, for lunch with my mom.


  1. This garden is on the list of those I simply must visit sometime in my life. Thank you for the brief peek!

  2. Oh Marie, so pleased you got to see the botanical gardens. You did my daily loop (minus 1): Noordhoek - Kirstenbosch (center for biodiversity conservation) - Noordhoek. So looking forward to the rest of your Cape stories.

  3. It looks like the flowers might be a bit like hollow "squares". Perhaps the four furrows are the inside corners that cause that. sort of the reverse of Bee Balm stems?

  4. Mimetes cucullatus http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantklm/mimitcuc.htm die rooistompie. Had some in our wedding bouquets :)

  5. Travelling to Africa is on my bucket list. Now I am reminded why. Beautiful pictures!


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