Saturday, 22 July 2017

Extreme botanising - two grasslands, one rocky outcrop, two provinces (Thursday 20 July 2017)

We decided that Banner's Triangle was a good bet for Thursday's walk but as we approached, the small hill was engulfed in smoke - we later saw that there was a large uncontrolled burn happening at the Red Desert NR, probably arson! Fortunately the smoke lifted a little and we were able to start our walk.

We were soon amongst flowers, some clearly having been flowering for some time, others just getting going.  Hebenstretia comosa must have been flowering for a while, but were still dominating the scene. A few Afroaster hispida peeped out from the shade of some trees, while out in the open we saw Helichrysum griseum and Tritonia gladiolaris flowering. In a small wetland the first Ledebouria cooperi were putting out buds and surrounding them was a carpet of Senecio speciosus that should provide a spectacle of flowers in a few weeks.

Afroaster hispida

Hebenstretia comosa

Helichrysum griseum

Tritonioa gladiolaris

Ledebouria cooperi buds

Berkheya insignis bud

Ornithogalum juncifolium

Climbing the slope towards the top of the hill we encountered several Ursinia tenuiloba - both flowering and some already showing their deceptive seed heads. Along this south-west facing slope we also found Senecio variabilis, Gladiolus wilsonii, Ornithogalum juncifolium  and small clumps of Nemesia caerulea.

Ursinia tenuiloba flowers

Ursinia tenuiloba fruit

Nemesia caerulea

Senecio variabilis

Gladiolus wilsonii

Once over the top of the hill onto the north-facing slope we started seeing other Helichrysum species - H. pallidum, H. aureum var monocephalum and H. nudifolium var pillosellum. There were a few Hilliardiella oligocephala with their tufty purple heads, some Hypoxis hemerocallidea and several Raphionacme galpinii in bud

Helichrysum pallidum

Helichrysum nudifolium var. pillosellum

Hilliardiella oligocephala

Hypoxis hemerocallidea

Raphionacme galpinii

We then came across the first of our early-flowering orchid species - Orthochilus foliosus and Eulophia clitellifera. The grassland was well covered by a mixed selection of Berkheya species: B. insignis, B. speciosa and B. umbellata and we found a small cluster of Kniphofia - we think these are K. littoralis but confirmation will only come when the fruits develop.

Orthochilus foliosus

Eulophia clitellifera

Berkheya insignis

Berkheya speciosa

Berkheya umbellata

Kniphofia cf littoralis

There was a clump of Eriosema kraussianum in flower and nearby was a Dimorphotheca fruticosa, the local form having yellow disc flowers whereas elsewhere they are generally mauve.

Eriosema krassianum

Dimorphotheca fruticosa

Having thoroughly explored this small grassland patch we then set off by foot across the R61 highway to another privately-owned grassland hillock. This grassland has not yet been burned so there was less to see, but was nevertheless worth exploring.

Obvious amongst the brown grass was a single flowering Aloe maculata and further up we found Grewia occidentalis. From the top of this hill we had a great view of the Port Edward shoreline. 

Aloe maculata

Grewia occidentalis

Antidesma venosum

Strychnos spinosa

As we gathered at the top of the hill we debated what to do next - we had the choice of going to the Rennies' Beach grassland (mostly unburned) or going further afield to see a population of Leucospermum innovans photographed by Phakamani in the Bizana district. By popular vote we chose the latter. On the way back to the vehicles we came across Antidesma venosa with many tassels of fruits and a single Strychnos spinosa also bearing some fruits.

We crossed the Umtamvuna River into the Eastern Cape and a few kilometers along the R61 we turned off onto a gravel "road", in places more of a track but not unusual for Pondoland.  We drove slowly through a rural community, eventually climbing a small rocky ridge where Phakamani pointed out the Leucospermum, pulled off the track and went to investigate.

Exploring a rock outcrop we passed some Helichrysum lepidissimum and several old flower heads of Erica aspalathifolia before confirming the identity of the Leucospermum innovans, an Endangered endemic species. We took time to do a count of the sub-population in this new locality and found some 20 plants growing in a area of about 1 hectare. Other notable species in the proximity of this hilltop were Leucadendron spissifolium subsp. natalensis and Stangeria eriopus.

This was a great find by Phakamani - congratulations to him for noticing these flowers and for bringing them to our attention.

Helichrysum lepidissimum

Leucospermum innovans

Crassula perfoliata

Burchellia bubalina

Ficus ingens leaves

We sat and had our lunch in a chilly southerly wind looking out over the Sigidi and Xolobeni coastline in the distance. This was Lindo's last opportunity to walk with us as he will be returning at the end of the week to continue with his research project at the University in Durban - we all wish him well with this work and hope to see him again soon.

Lunch with Sigidi and Xolobeni coastal areas in the background

Participants: Anne S, Dorothy M, Gail B-W, Graham G, Kate G, Lindo T, Phakamani M, Sarah B-W and Uschi T.

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