Articles: BULB CHAT May 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 26 May 2011 23:45

BULB CHAT May 2010 No: 74

Our wonderful country

Week Two in the Eastern Cape

by Rhoda McMaster

January is a good month for orchids in the Maclear district, so we had booked a tour with Adele Moore to take us on her famous Orchid Trail. Because we were short of time, we didn't do the hike, but went up into the mountains in vehicles. Adele's enthusiasm and the rewarding sights produced an exceptional day. We saw about 20 different orchids in the Maclear district, but what was an unexpected bonus was a large field of Protea dracomontana in full flower, with colours ranging from dark deep pink to almost white, the one more photogenic than the next. On the road outside Maclear, another stunning flower was the milkweed Pachycarpus campanulatus with large hanging bells, also in perfect condition that had us lying just about flat on our backs trying to get the best shot.

The bulbs were in the minority - Gladiolus inandensis, Dierama reynoldsii, Oxalis obliquifolia and, in my opinion, the most attractive of the Hypoxis species, H. costata with its brown-fuzzy-edged broad leaves. Cameron spotted a beautiful trio of flowers: deep pink Hypoxis baurii, bright yellow Hypoxis argentea, and a salmon-pink hybrid between the two (see photo, April Bulb Chat) parentage confirmed by Dr Snijman of the Compton Herbarium.

The next day we left Maclear for Rhodes via Naude's Nek Pass to explore the alpine and grassland flora on the summit of the Pass, at an altitude of 2500m. We were well rewarded after the many kilometers to get there. The never-ending winding road had a good show: Littonia modesta, Brunsvigia grandiflora, Cyrtanthus epiphyticus, Kniphofia parviflora, Watsonia confusa, Scadoxus puniceus (in fruit), and another stunning milkweed with bell flowers, Pachycarpus vexillaris (and many other wonderful flowers, including about 15 orchids again!). The views from the top of the pass were endless, but we could also feast our eyes by looking down on the stony ground bulbs all over the place! In the vicinity of Naude's Nek, the following bulbous plants were flower: Gladiolus longicollis and G. pubigerus, Albuca humilis, Eucomis autumnalis, Bulbine sp, Dierama parviflorum and D. trichorhizum, Hypoxis costata and H. rigidula, Kniphofia stricta and K. caulescens, Moraea albicuspa, M. alticola and M. trifida, Rhodohypoxis baurii and R. rubella, Romulea macowanii and R. thodei, Tulbaghia montana, Tritonia drakensbergensis, Wurmbea krausii and W. elatior, and then a delightful little Massonia sp that has been misidentified as M. echinata in some books - M. echinata flowers in spring and is dormant in summer. Lower down we saw Gladiolus saundersii, Hesperantha radiata, Galtonia viridiflora and the left-overs of flowers on Kniphofia northiae.

The next day we were on our way from Rhodes, a quaint little village which seems to survive on the trout industry and skiing holidays, further north to a guest farm called Balloch, close to the Lesotho border, with beautiful rock formations and rock shelters containing rock art. We had an unforgettable birthday celebration for Mary Sue in one of the huge shelters, accompanied by much thunder, lightning and rain. The poor farmer lost several sheep and cattle in that storm. The plant highlight at Balloch was the red Disa porrecta which mimics Kniphofia triangularis, thereby fooling the butterfly to come and search for nectar (in vain) and thus pollinate its flowers.

From Balloch we travelled westwards towards a private nature reserve near Lady Grey, where we saw a magnificent stand of Kniphofia linearifolia, from yellow to dark orange. Along the roadside Nerine angustifolia was also in flower, rather early. It was so dry that we decided to move on and travel south again to the Cathcart district.

Near Cathcart we found many Crinum macowanii in full flower, which got the cameras clicking again. We stayed in Hogsback that night so that we could climb Gaika's Kop the next day. There had been a recent controlled burn on the mountain, and we were fortunate to see the results, so many flowers! Apart from all the daisies and other shrubs in flower, there were several Hypoxis and Albuca species everywhere. Also Agapanthus praecox, Cyrtanthus huttonii, Dierama pulcherrimum always an impressive flower, Eucomis autumnalis, several shades of Watsonia pillansii (or some hybrids?), Kniphofia triangularis and K. uvaria, Moraea elliottii, Schizocarphus (=Scilla) nervosus, Hesperantha pulchra, Ranunculus baurii and R. bifidis, Ornithogalum juncifolium and Tritonia disticha. What was particularly exciting that day was the discovery of Schizoglossum amatolicum, a very rare milkweed that CREW had wanted us to look out for it had been recorded only once before, and then never found again.

That night we stayed at the historic Thomas River village, and the next morning we were off to the Moonstone Cycad Trail. It was so hot that I stayed in the farm house, but the others went ahead and climbed Moonstone mountain looking over the Kei River Valley. Apart from the three cycads that occur here, Encephalartos caffer, E. friderici-guillielmi and E. princeps, several of the previously mentioned bulbous flowers were out, as well as Cyrtanthus macowanii, Haemanthus humilis and Drimia elata, but the most spectacular was the robust Cyrtanthus obliquus with its large pendulous dark orange flowers. There were also some huge fans of Boophone disticha leaves (flowers in late spring).

The next two nights were spent at Morgan Bay, where we explored Kei Mouth and the coastal thicket to see sub-tropical flora, such as Clivia miniata and Clivia nobilis (no flowers on either). It was very dry here too, but we did see some noteworthy flowers: Crinum moorei (in bud), red Freesia laxa, pink Gladiolus ochroleucus and white G. wilsonii, Gloriosa superba which lived up to its name, Hypoxis angustifolia, Kniphofia rooperi (endemic to the East London district), Resnova (=Drimiopsis) maxima, and the orange Watsonia pillansii. In leaf we saw Crocosmia aurea and Scadoxus membranaceus. Strelitzia regina and S. nicolai are also at home here. There were also several orchids, but the drought had prevented the flowering of many plants.

The last day of our trip was spent driving from Morgan Bay back to Port Elizabeth, with some good stops. Near the Keiskamma River we were quite awestruck by the sight of very many Cyrtanthus sanguineus, despite the drought, the red flowers dotted up the hillside under the thicket. Agapanthus comptonii was also in flower (pale blue), and further on we came across the diminutive Tulbaghia cominsii, known from only one locality. A bicoloured pink and white Watsonia may be a hybrid W. pillansii x W. knysnana.

It is impossible for me to ever suffer from 'bulb overload', but after this trip I felt very satisfied and there is much to mull over for a long time. Thank goodness for photographs to aid the memory!

NB: To see a few of Cameron's photos from this trip, in particular the orchids mentioned in his talk, go to the website click on the link.

Disa crassicornis Lindl.

By Rogan Roth

My arm did not take much twisting when I was offered the chance to be a "guide" in the Drakensberg, on the trail of a rare orchid species. I had encountered this orchid more than 23 years before so the chances of finding it again, after all the ensuing years, was minimal, or so I thought.

Disa crassicornis is not a particularly rare orchid in natal, but this high-altitude form is not very well known or understood. My companion was a pollination biologist from the local university and his back pack was stuffed with camping gear, cameras and special "sniffing" equipment with which to extract the cocktail of chemicals responsible for attracting specific pollinators to the flowers. I felt quite sorry for him as my back pack was only half the weight of his and contained only camping equipment and a few essential home comforts!

Upon reaching our "designated camping area" a pristine grassy meadow beside a gurgling stream, it took no more than half an hour to find the first specimen of Disa crassicornis. I felt a surge of exhilaration and delight at encountering this remarkable orchid in its natural setting once more. An extended search revealed only three or four more specimens on the hillside, rather a disappointment as I clearly remember having found a colony of quite a few individuals in 1987 perhaps my memory had failed me after all...

Evening was upon us so the camera equipment was unpacked and set up in an attempt to capture the elusive pollinator on film (a species of hawk moth?). If you study the photograph closely you may be able to make out the numerous yellow pollinia (sticky bunches of pollen grains one of the hallmarks of an orchid) covering the receptive surface of the stigma (detail inserted above), so something had obviously been doing its job well in ensuring the survival of the species the night (or nights) before. Well, this was not to be the night to see it in action and, after sore muscles and stiffening joints heralded the end of the viewing session, we reluctantly returned to our camp none the wiser.

In one malodorous respect we did not return empty handed; while navigating the steep slopes above our camping area we happened to stumble upon a couple of specimens of the really stinky fungus, Clathrus archerii. The gut-wrenching odour, dispersed by the warm sunshine the next morning, soon had a throng of hungry flies jostling for a share of the vile, slime-covered spores. This was a study in itself, and hours later with collecting jars and memory cards filled with a respectable collection of miscellaneous flies, we reluctantly started our journey home.

By Rogan Roth.

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