Monday, 26 February 2018

Smedmore grassland and forest (Thursday, 22 February 2018)

The morning started off hot and oppressive but by the time we met at Beacon Hill it had clouded over and there was a cooling breeze.Gail had managed to persuade Alex Viossat-Barau to join the regulars and we set off to walk at Smedmore, where there is grassland as well as forest habitat. As it was still overcast and cool when we arrived, we decided to start off in the grassland.

The first flowering plants we came across were tall Indigofera tristis with pink flowers, unlike most other Indigofera species which have red flowers. Nearby was a single Gladiolus ecklonis. At the edge of a rock plate a Tephrosia bachmannii posed, showing leaves and flowers. 

Indigofera tristis

Gladiolus ecklonis

Tephrosia bachmannii

Pachycarpus asperifolius

A short distance further we were treated to a colony of Watsonia densiflora. Walking a little further brought us to a point where we could look down the the Umtamvuna River which was flowing strongly. On these steep south-east facing slopes we found several clusters of Kniphofia gracilis.

Watsonia densiflora

Watsonia densiflora

The view down into the Umtamvuna River gorge

Kniphofia gracilis

The next flash of colour which drew our attention was Aloe maculata and almost hidden in the grass was a tiny Sebaea bojeri

Aloe maculata

Sebaea bojeri

We followed the slope downwards until we reached the scarp edge with forest growing below. At the forest fringe we found Polygala gazensis and Loxostylis alata in flower. Crossing back over the grassland we found Searsia fastigata growing in a small watercourse and when we reached the lower edge of Smedmore forest we were dazzled by the many flowers of Riocreuxia torulosa, some of which had opened up more fully than we had seen before.

Polygala gazensis

Loxostylis alata

Searsia fastigata

Riocreuxia torulosa
We then entered the cool (but humid) forest surrounded by large trees and moss-covered rocks. We stopped here for lunch, surrounded by filmy fern-draped rocks and Peperomia retusa. In contrast to the green surrounds, a handsome caterpillar drew our attention, subsequently identified by a colleague of Alex as the larva of a Variable Prince moth, Holocerina smilax.  While enjoying the forest scenery, Alex pointed out a butterfly laying eggs on a Bachmannia woodii

The rocky floor of the forest area

Peperomia retusa
Larva of Holocerina smilax

 We decided to return to the vehicle through the forest and following a rather circuitous route round the many large boulders, managed to find our way back to the spot where we normally enter the forest. As it was still quite early we decided to explore the upper grassland and its forest edge. We immediately came across a large tangle of Pilogyne scabra, and almost hidden in the grass was Alectra orobanchoides.

Pilogyne scabra

Alectra orobanchoides

Along the scarp edge we found both Combretum edwardsii and Combretum kraussii in fruit, the latter being particularly colourful.

Combretum kraussii

Combretum edwardsii

We finished off the day by checking on an Atalaya natalensis, one of many we had seen in the forest but this was the only one that evidenced any sign of flowering.

Atalaya natalensis in bud
Participants: Alex V-B, Anne S, Dorothy M, Gail B-W, Graham G, Kate G.

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