Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Olifantsbos and Cape Point

In Cape Town, we borrowed my parents' Landcruiser, our beloved camping vehicle, and drove to the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula. Cape Point forms the lower extremity of the Table Mountain National Park, a unique, urban-locked series of preserved landscapes, which begin above the city bowl, on Table Mountain itself, and then curve south, following the vertebrae in the unifying spine of mountains that end in the deep, dark sea.

Cape Point is a land of floral contrast, sometimes furred by restioid fynbos (so-named because of the various species of restios grasses that occur in parts of the moor-like fynbos), sometimes speckled with the pinks of low-growing heaths (ericas), sometimes tilted and bent with wind-trained coastal plants, sometimes rugged with gnarled pincushions, and always yielding bright surprises - geophytes growing from underground storage organs - bulbs, tubers, corms, rhizomes.

There are dramatic mountains that drop into the sea, and there are flats that stretch to the horizon. There are sheltered beaches, roaring shores and seas the colour of thunder and of aquamarine.

There are occasional animals. See the tour buses speeding to the actual Point hit the brakes.

But we don't rush right to the end, like they do, to see the alleged meeting of the oceans. And we hit the brakes for flowers.

Cape snow up close - Helichrysum vestitum. We usually visit Cape Town in late December and January. So I had never seen this never-ending sea of papery white flowers, before. One or two bushes would always be in bloom on our hikes, but not this rustling snow field.

Nor had I remembered seeing as many yellow pincushions in bloom. Leucospermum conocarpodendron. According to Plantzafrica conocarpodendron means the ‘tree bearing cone-shaped fruits.'

The remnants of one of those geophytes, Wachendorfia paniculata, in the blood root family (Haemodoraceae).

And near a small stream a sprinkling of Chironia baccifera. This ID was confirmed on iSpot, a wonderful biodiversity resource, and it surprised me. I have seen it at altitude in the mountains where it makes a pillowy and leafy mound, and here it was in the flats, looking quite different and very unleafy. Splashes of pink, from the car. Hit the brakes. Get out. Walk into the fynbos. Hear...nothing. The wind in the grasses. A bird. The feathered shuffle of a camera shutter as it records the image.


May we stay? Why not? When can we come back? Why don't we live here?

I had never seen the wild dagga in bloom, either. Leonotis leonurus. Alive with long-beaked sunbirds (visit the link for Vince's pictures). I tasted the nectar from a flower tube. Just awful. Spat. Unladylike.

Near the tall wild dagga ("dagga" is the word for marijuana in South Africa), flat on the sand, were mats of a Hebenstretia, but I don't know what species.

Here, at the beach, the air was soft, the clouds in layers all the way to the end of the sea, the breakers like turquoise glass.

A plant I did not know, Berkeya, but no idea of species, growing in spiky yellow carpets over boulders above the beach.

And a gorgeous little butterfly, known as a fynbos blue. About an inch-and-a-half across.

Ha! A foraging opportunity. Dune currants. Flavour a lot like sweetish tamarind.

My guilty stash below the dash.

On the way out of Olifantsbos (which is just one part of the Cape Point reserve) we braked after I glimpsed spots of delicate pink in a seep area beside the road.

More geophyte joy. And a source of head-scratching. Even for the experts on iSpot. And I realize that I have probably been calling several different gladiolus species painted ladies (Gladiolus carneus). There are least three that are similar. This may or may not be Gladiolus vigilans.

See the blue anthers? 

And Psoralea pinnata, a slender, bendy shrub with pretty pea flowers.

We kept seeing this strange litter on the sides of the road, and sometimes smack in the middle.

On close inspection they turned out to be the deconstructed green cones of a Leucadendron.

Baboon food. Nibbled like ears of corn, or artichokes!

Below, the tall stalks of Bobartia indica. Usually I only see its fat green seed pods.

And my favourite of the whole trip. Dilatris pillansii, or rooiwortel (red root). Also in the blood root family, with flowers the size of a large, outstretched palm. I have never seen them like this - again, usually only the dried seed heads.

I wonder if they are difficult to cultivate? They would be superb cut flowers. They grow from rhizomes. 

Vince using his "little, old" G10, for a close up.

An old friend, the hairy Erica cerinthoides.

And the mountains disappearing into the electric sea mist, beyond a field of yellow pincushions, habitat of endemic Cape sugarbirds.

Not a tame sea.
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