Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A day trip to Ntsikeni Nature Reserve

January is usually a premier flowering period at Ntsikeni nature reserve. As we expected there to be no accommodation available and as we needed to deliver some equipment to Richard Braby at Underberg, we decided to do a day trip into Ntsikeni with Richard and Julie. It turned out that we were the first visitors to the reserve since the end of December so the accommodation had been there for the asking.

We had carefully selected a day with a forecast of overcast but dry conditions, which would allow us to enjoy a full day in the grasslands. On the way from Underberg, we had a couple of stops -- the first was a small wetland on a farm where we found a few Disa scullyi together with one or two Disa rhodantha.

Disa scullyi
Disa rhodantha
We continued towards the turnoff at Franklin, keeping an eye out for Nerine appendiculata at the roadside but saw no sign of these at any of the locations where we have previously seen them. Not far after Franklin, driving along a newly tarred road, Julie saw more orchids at the roadside so we made another stop to have a closer look. In this wetland, despite exposure to a large herd of cattle, we found more Disa scullyi and a fairly large population of Satyrium hallackii, ranging in colour from a pale to fairly intense pink . There were also a few Corycium - these will have to be checked to confirm the identity of the species.
Satyrium hallackii
After one or two additional stops along the Ntsikeni access road to check out small forest patches, finding a number of flowering Gloriosa modesta in one patch, we finally arrived at the reserve gate and in misty and low cloud conditions headed for the first wetland. Here we found many more Disa scullyi (amongst them an unusual white form), a number of Gladiolus papilio, some very robust Satyrium longicauda and a few very tall Disa chrysostachya. Several Melasma scabrum showed their yellow flowers in this grassy marsh.
Disa scullyi

Gloriosa modesta
Gladiolus papilio
Disa chrysostachya
Melasma scabrum
There were also some Habenaria schimperiana buds in this wetland but no open flowers. Several Watsonia lepida flowers on the nearby hillsides caught our eyes but we could find none of the mimic species, Disa pulchra, amongst them.

Watsonia lepida
We drove onwards to a dolerite ridge, known to be home to a wide diversity of species. Here it was not long before we found several clumps of Eulophia zeyheriana accompanied by scattered Kniphofia laxiflora.
Eulophia zeyheriana

Kniphofia laxiflora
There was also a patch of the dwarf suffrutex Pygmaeothamnus chamaedendrum with shiny green fruits.
Pygmaeothamnus chamaedendrum
A little further Julie found the only flowering specimen of the very attractive but yet-to-be-described Xysmalobium sp. Soon after this we found ourselves amongst scattered Disa cornuta.

Xysmalobium sp.
Disa cornuta
We walked on, starting a stampede of a herd of Black Wildebeest and found a small population of Satyrium hallackii in a wetland. Small flowers of Aponogeton junceus presented their heads above the water here.

Wildebeest on the run
Aponogeton junceus
Further back towards the vehicle we found a beautiful group of Kniphofia laxiflora. We drove further, unsuccessfully checking other areas for Habenaria schimperiana and then stopping for lunch in the shade of a large tree. After lunch we visited the lodge and greeted the caretaker, Dalu Ngobo, from whom we learned of the availability of accommodation. We then searched the wetlands in front of the lodge where we found only one Disa cooperii. We also saw Epilobium salignumChironia krebsii, and Wahlenbergia rivularis growing close to the stream.

Epilobium salignum

Chironia krebsii
Wahlenbergia rivularis
We then set off homeward (passing the only Brunsvigia natalensis we saw in the reserve), but outside the reserve I managed to persuade Richard to make a small detour to explore a roadside cliff.  This proved to be a worthwhile detour as there were many Cyrtanthus epiphiticus in flower on the cliffs.

Brunsvigia natalensis
Cyrtanthus epiphyticus
While we had an extremely productive day, it seemed to us that there were far fewer flowers this year than we normally have come to expect at this time of year. It is possible the flowering has been delayed as we would expect the Habenaria schimperiana to be flowering well by now. Perhaps a return visit might be warranted.

Participants: Graham G, Julie B, Kate G, Richard B.


  1. Hello. This is a rather ridiculous question... but I thought I'd try as acess to Ntsikeni Nature reserve has been alluding me for quite some time. We would like to stay there. Any idea how you go about making reservation or who to contact? I'd greatly appreciate any leads! Thanks! - Stephanie

  2. Hi Stephanie,

    Blogger has rather let me down by not sending me an alert to your comment - I apologise for only now coming across your comment.

    Ntsikeni is a joint venture between KZN Wildlife and the local community. You can book through KZN Wildlife's bookings at Queen Elizabeth Park in PMB. Be persistent as we have found that some of the booking office staff are unaware of Ntsikeni. They currently have 4 chalets that sleep 4 each and there is a shared lounge/dining room/ kitchen equipped with gas operated fridge, freezer and stove. Hope you manage to get there, it is an awesome place!