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South Africa: On My Knees in Wildflowers

Monday, December 28, 2015


We knew we weren't in Kansas any more when a pigeon foraging calmly in the grass at a roadside rest stop turned out to be Speckled, and crazily beautiful. Common here, but nothing any of us Americans had ever dreamt of.

And the views were like this, all along our drive.


We had stopped to take it all in and look for southern right whales, which we saw in good numbers, right from shore. And Bryde's whales, too, a life mammal for our guide Leon Marais! When your guide gets a life mammal, well, you're in tall corn. We knew we were seeing Bryde's whales, because they were rorquals with a fin, and we were in South Africa. Whoot!!! Lifer for all of us. I was happy to get a number of shots of the fin for confirmation.




We were getting low, down out of the wind, just taking the scene in, thanking our lucky stars to be in this glorious place, and I looked downslope from the picnic table and saw many multicolored dots in the vegetation on the steep slopes leading down to the bay. I put my binoculars up and saw they were wildflowers!

This was not the first time I was glad I'd worn my Keen hikers. I was to repeat this performance many, many times on this safari. I scramble-clambered down the slope and into a dreamy bed of the most incredible wildflower diversity I'd ever seen. 

There follows a bunch of aimless speculation on my part. And around 10 AM Dec. 29, in the comments section of this blog, I got a late Christmas present from South African guide Callan Cohen. Callan, Phoebe, Liam, Bill and I shared a riotous climb up a very high mountain in Park City Utah at an American Birding Association meeting some years ago. The delightful digiscoping marvel Bill Schmoker was along for the hike, too, and he taught us how to butt-ski. We saw pikas PIKAS!! at the top, and butt-skiied much of the way down. I'll never forget that wonderful day, the constant gales of laughter, or the excellent company we enjoyed. Here's Callan's analysis of my photos. I've gone in and inserted the ID's in the captions below. Oh, joy! Thank you, CC!!! Ride in any old time with corrections, I'm all eyes!

Great blog, Julie! Here are some IDs from the details I can see so you can put some "names to faces" (sorry, very few of these have common names, when you have 3000 species just around Cape Town it's tricky): Berkheya barbata, Trachyandra (probably tabularis), Cleretum herrei (sprawling "ice plant"), Erica cerinthoides "Fire Heath" red hairy tubular bell flowers, Oxalis probably purpurea, the Osteospermum is Arctotheca calendula "Cape Weed", white daisy = Dimorphotheca pluvialis "Rain Daisy", white daisy with feathery leaves = Cotula turbinata. Cheers, Callan 

Here: Berkheya barbata (yellow) and white: Trachyandra sp. (probably tabularis) fide Callan Cohen. Did I get that right?

And the Science Chimp didn't know what any of them were. Tiny vines with watermelon leaves, hairy and glandulose. Callan says Cleretum herrei.


Brilliant scarlet firecrackers, (probably ericaceous) (Fire Heath, Erica cerenthoides) and shocking pink Oxalis! That one I recognized, but it was Oxalis on acid. Oxalis sp., probably purpurea, fide Callan. Egad. I got one to genus.




For an amateur botanist, there is really no more delicious thing than to be ankle-deep in miniature flowers of every rainbow color, and to have almost no idea what any of them are. I burned to know! Who wouldn't, with that Oxalis doing a great impression of our grocery-store primroses?!


 But all I could do is appreciate them. And there is a beauty in that. This one's a composite. How's that for some high-brow botanizing? If I had to guess, and I am guessing, Osteospermum?
Nope. Arctotheca calendula, or Cape Weed. The white daisy is Dimorphotheca pluvialis, or Rain Daisy. Ahh, thanks, Callan!



I dunno. I just loved them. I was down on my hands and knees, crawling through a miniature botanic garden. And, having found it myself, it was ever so much  more wonderful than something that was planned and planted and contained by walkways and beds. 
And this, some kind of freaky little chamomile? Nope. This is Cotula turbinata.


Some, I could see, were from bulbs, and others herbaceous.  They looked like the great granddaddies of my gladioli.


But all of them were rioting, partying like it was 1999. Everywhere I could see charred stalks and stems of shrubbery that must have been shading them out before the fires. 


So this is what I'd only read about--the rebirth of a sort of Southern Hemisphere alpine meadow after a fire has gone through. 


And the one with blazing red tubular bells, telling stories of the flame that had passed. 
Fire Heath. Yes. So. 

And just above that, a pelargonium (geranium). Not in bloom now, but I recognized the leaves. They smelled familiar too. I was grinning like a fool. 
So THIS is what they mean when they talk about botanizing in the Cape Region of South Africa. 

I get it, I get it, I get it. And I couldn't get enough. I scrambled back up the slope, oh so reluctantly, and rejoined the group. I showed them my iPhone photos, babbling excitedly about the floral display below. Apologizing for not knowing much of what any of it was. But that, too, was the wonder, the excitement. 

I was filled with joy and wonder. I felt like Gulliver, coming back from the land of the Liliputs. It was nothing I could describe. I could only show my photos and exclaim and shake my head. I wanted everyone to come down and see, too, but that slope gave wiser women pause.

We would spend the next three nights in Noordhoek, taking all this in.



All this, and southern right and Bryde's whales from shore. It sure is a wonderful world. 




6 comments:

Flowers and whales and rugged coastline and whales and pigeons and whales!

Flowers and whales and rugged coastline and whales and pigeons and whales!

I hope you were watchful while in the fynbos. I was botanizing with a Simonstown botanical group and found a large poisonous snake. Love your blog. Brings back wonderful memories. Thank you.

Posted by Bette Dengel December 28, 2015 at 7:27 PM

This stretch of coast in South Africa is so full of endemics and so beautiful - the landscapes, the colors, the exoticness of it all. I would go again in a heartbeat. I was there in late November/early December and it appears from your pictures that the seasonal variation is dramatic. Next time, I want to hike up the entire slopes of Table Mountain since the vegetation changes with altitude. At the windswept tabletop, the flowers are alpine-like and so very tiny, so you really do have to get on your knees to enjoy them.

Great blog, Julie! Here are some IDs from the details I can see so you can put some "names to faces" (sorry, very few of these have common names, when you have 3000 species just around Cape Town it's tricky): Berkheya barbata, Trachyandra (probably tabularis), Cleretum herrei (sprawling "ice plant"), Erica cerinthoides "Fire Heath" red hairy tubular bell flowers, Oxalis probably purpurea, the Osteospermum is Arctotheca calendula "Cape Weed", white daisy = Dimorphotheca pluvialis "Rain Daisy", white daisy with feathery leaves = Cotula turbinata. Cheers, Callan

I can't thank you enough, Callan, and I've gone in and inserted your ID's and my profuse thanks, as well as fun memories of goofing around on a Utah mountaintop with you! YES!! Please ride in and continue light the botanical way as I go blindly forward. What fun! THANK YOU!!

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