Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Proteas - King & Others

The name 'Protea' was derived from the name of a Greek god, Proteus, who could change his appearance or shape at will, because proteas have such a variety of forms in plant & flower size, habit as well as colour. If I compare the photos I took so far of our National Flower, the King (or Giant) protea, the above "holds true" for this flower alone! [Compare other King protea-photos - SEE below]

Although protea blooms look like flowers they in fact are "flower-heads" that contain many small individual flowers - therefore what looks like petals are modified leaves! The King protea has flowerheads measuring up to 30cm across & the colour varies from near white to soft, silvery-pink to deep rose-pink or crimson.

Another look at a King protea & "bud" - apart from the wide variety, the leaves of these plants also differ: they are either leathery & mostly narrow, whilst others are needle-like. 92% of the protea species occurs "naturally" only in the Cape Floral Kingdom or fynbos (Afrikaans; literally meaning "fine bush") region of South Africa.

A King protea "bud" - the Proteaceae family (to which proteas belong) are considered as 1 of the oldest families of flowers on Earth. Its "ancestors" already grew on the Super-Continent of Gondwanaland - so there are "shared" subfamilies amongst the continents, which seperated from each other about 135 million years ago: e.g. Africa shares 1 genus of Proteaceae with Madacascar, whereas South America & Australia share many (common) genera = indicating that they seperated from Africa BEFORE they seperated from each other!

No - this isn't yet another photo of a King protea. Instead it's a Protea Caffra (or Highveld protea) - a hardy plant (bush/shrub/small tree) that survives in regions with sub-zero tempteratures (at night) & thrives in the summer rainfall region. Its name is derived from Caffraria = the 17th Century geographical name for the north-eastern regions of South Africa.

This is (what I assume?) a protea bud of the Sugarbush protea family - I'm certainly no flora-expert & only enjoy sharing my photos & (limited or research-acquired) knowledge in this field, because I saw that my previous blog-entry on South African flora "attracted" more new visitors than most of my other blog-entries. Proteas are said to be "social" plants - meaning they occur in close proximity of other species, therefore forming close-knit communities.

The Sugarbush is 1 of the most widely distributed proteas in the Cape (fynbos & Renosterveld) Region & is usually a bushy shrub. It got its common name (instead of scientific name, Protea repens) because these flowers are particularly rich in nectar.
Did you know that until 1976, the Protea repens (= the "true" sugarbush) was South Africa's National Flower? It also inspired the well-known S.A. song (by Fred Michel): "Suikerbossie ek wil jou he..."

The flowers (= flower heads) of the Pincushion protea are usually yellow, orange or red & are mostly visited by sugarbirds & sunbirds - birds which mainly pollinate proteas, other than beetles in some cases, whilst fire also often helps to distribute seeds.

"Budding twins" of the Pincushion variety of protea.

One of the "pollinators" = a female Cape Sugarbird on a Bearded Grey-leaf sugarbush protea.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Flora in South Africa

Since most aloes flower during winter (or early spring) travellers through (or inhabitants of) certain parts of our country will be "accompanied" by magnificent displays of these drought-resistant group of succulents (= typically have fleshy leaves with a high moisture content). Aloes are indigenous to Africa (& parts of the Middle East) whilst some species are only found in South Africa.
Did you know that the name is derived from the Hebrew word allal - meaning "bitter" - just taste the juice of a member of the aloe family (e.g. Aloe ferox) & you'll surely agree!

The Wild iris (also called African iris) is another native of Southern Africa but instead of growing in the wild, you'll find them growing in many gardens these days. This relatively large flower with its white petals, markings of yellow & brown, as well as pale mauve centre segments, unfortunately only "lasts" a couple of days - therefore this isn't really a vase-flower.
Did you know that iris is the Greek word for "rainbow"?

Vygies (sometimes referred to as mesembryanthemums or daisies) are also colourful succulents - drought resistant plants found throughout South Africa, especially in desert (or semi-desert) regions. They are silky-textured flowers & the leaf surface appears to be covered with dew.
Did you know that the Afrikaans name vygie means "small fig"? This is derived from the fruiting capsule, which in fact resembles a small fig.

One of South Africa's great wonders "happens" after winter rainfalls, when the otherwise dry & dusty semi-arid areas "erupt" in a wonderland of colour during early spring. A "single" daisy flower really is a "group" of flowers - the centre being disc florets, which are surrounded by ray florets.
Did you know that daisies belong to the Compositae, which is the largest of the plant families & includes such plants as the sunflower, many ornamental flowers - as well as lettuce?

Amongst the daisies you'll "discover" the "real McCoy" = the endemic Namaqualand daisy. Also known as the African daisy, it bears flower heads of bright-orange petals with a narrow mauve ring around the orange centre near the base of the ray florets.
Did you know that Namaqualand daisies only open when the sunlight is bright (& that at night, they always close)?

The Cape daisy is distinguished by its white ray florets with a pale mauve "flush" below surrounding the central yellow disc florets, whilst another variety of this flower "sports" a very narrow band of deep purple around the central disc. The Cape daisy is also known as the rain daisy.

Amongst the 4 indigenous species of (fresh) water lilies found in South Africa, probably the best known is the Blue water lily. It has large, almost circular leaves, which float flat on the water's surface. These flowers also close at night and open during the day but without being "dependent" on bright sunlight (like e.g. the Namaqualand daisies).

In contrast to many lilies, the Madonna lily is a "true" lily & therefore correctly named as a lily. True lilies grow from bulbs & the flowers typically have 6 outer segments & 6 stamens (stalks) - which are the male reproductive parts bearing pollen-producing "structures". The Madonna lily - a trumpet-like flower - is sometimes also called the Berg lily in South Africa, where it's an indigenous plant mostly growing in mountainous areas, hence the Afrikaans "berg".

The Impala lily is a deciduous succulent shrub with star-shaped flowers. This plant flowers in winter & for most of the year, has no flowers or leaves. There are 5 species of the sweetly scented Impala lily, which also is known by a variety of names: Desert rose, Sabi star or Kudu lily (named after yet another southern African antelope??). This indigenous plant is mostly found in the frost free areas of e.g. the lowveld & eastern parts of southern Africa.

All species of the Arum lily are endemic to southern Africa, but they aren't "true" lilies. Arum lilies grow naturally in marshy areas & when growing profusely, this plant is even regarded as a weed. Arums are also known as "pig lilies", because pigs relish the juicy roots, or as "pig's ear" (= Vark-oor in Afrikaans) because of the resemblance. In fact the "flower" of this plant is really a "modified" leaf, whilst the actual flower is the finger-like spike it encloses.
Did you know that the common name for the Arum lily, calla, means "beautiful" in Greek?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Garden Birds

"Gotsha!" Finally a Crested barbet couldn't resist inspecting at closer quarters what I sometimes "offer" as supplementary food during winter to the birds in our garden. [SEE: my previous blog entry when I called this bird shy & elusive]

Then the Crested barbet seemed to make a "statement" other than only posing "in all its glory" - as if it wanted to refute my previous observation & also provide ample proof that it's more handsome than its cousin!?

After having its fill of bits of fruit & before "departing", the Crested barbet also "demonstrated" how it got its name.

Not to be "outdone" by their more colourful cousin, not 1 but 2 Black-collared barbets approached - proving again that they are far less intimidated by a human on the prowl with a camera.

Feeding on bits of fruit, when available, has virtually become a habit for these birds - I often see them hovering/waiting on a branch on days I haven't put out food for them. I don't want to "spoil" them by providing food for them on a regular basis, because I believe they have to fend for themselves in the "wild" - instead of becoming "beggars" or even "thieves", as sometimes is the case in areas/parks, where humans feed wild animals (like baboons and monkeys).

Larger birds - like this Grey lourie - also love the bits of fruit sometimes on offer. As I explained above & however much I love to "snap" these pretty visitors to our garden "at close range", I've learned that Grey louries can be very "demanding" other than chasing away smaller birds - simply because in the world of birds, size counts!

Some of these smaller birds (mentioned) include this lovely "song-bird" - a Cape robin, who appears more interested in checking out what's "cooking" than actually feeding on what's on offer.

And a bird definitely with a taste for the berries of a bush instead of coming to feed on what I sometimes "provide", is the rather "scarce" Red-faced mousebird.

Similarly disinterested in the food I provide but nonetheless a regular visitor in our garden, is this tiny Cape White-eye.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In our Garden

With a heading like mine above, I guess one would expect to see photos of plants; in my case it means birds, though = my favourite "targets". Since winter here "arrived" early, I've also started to occassionally feed the birds = seperately something for the seed & fruit "eaters". This Black-collared barbet is quick to feed on what's on offer.

This bird's "cousin", the Crested barbet, is more shy & although I sometimes "spy" one, it flies off the moment it detects me with my camera.

Although it's also a somewhat shy bird, this Olive thrush "posed nicely" on a mole-hill, before it flew off. I've mainly come to know this bird as feeding on insects & occasionally worms, but it certainly likes to also "snack" on the bits of fruit I "supply".

With my new camera (as I "explained" during a previous blog-entry) I can zoom in on my "targets" & now "clearly" photograph them as they either wait for me to supply them with some "treats" or already had their fill.

The seed-eaters in our garden are far less "shy" & quick to "partake" in the food on offer. I have hardly put out some garden-bird-mix for them & I can "snap away" to my heart's delight - amongst the most common "visitors" being a Laughing dove & Cape sparrows.

The Rameron pigeons, which usually only "visit" our garden at this time of the year (= autumn/ early winter), aren't interested, though, in the food I "provide". Instead they feast on the berries of bushes, which are now ripe & in plentiful supply in our garden. These birds also "like" to rest on our roof.

I often detect a Fiscal shrike amongst the branches of the tree under which I place my food "offerings" for birds, but it seems to ignore that, even if this bird species is known to "consume" seeds - other than insects, small rodents & birds, etc.

I often see "couples" of Black-eyed bulbuls "resting" next to each other on a branch - but with my new camera, I can now zoom-in on them - what a pleasure :)

Not such a common occurence is seeing a pair of Cape sparrows "copying" this sitting side-by-side - although they usually "arrive" in couples to feed on what I'm "offering" them.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My book for Youngsters

The adventures of a young Impi in the African bush are accompanied by "real-life" photos (instead of more customary illustrations). To order = SEE: My Favourite Sites.

An 4A-coffee-table-sized book - to be enjoyed by younsters & adults alike. [Click on photo to enlarge = to read the synopsis on the back-page].