For the identification of insects and other fauna and flora of South Africa: please click on the following links:
Insects and related species: Antlions - Ants - Bees - Beetles - Bugs - Butterflies, Moths and Caterpillars - Centipedes and Millipedes - Cockroaches - Crickets - Dragonflies and Damselflies - Grasshoppers and Katydids - Mantis - Stick Insects - Ticks and Mites - Wasps - Woodlice
Plants, Trees, Flowers: (Note: Unless plants fall into a specific species such as Cacti, they have been classified by their flower colour to make them easier to find) Bonsai - Cacti, Succulents, Aloes, Euplorbia - Ferns and Cycads - Flowers - Fungi, Lichen and Moss - Grass - Trees
Animals, Birds, Reptiles etc.: Animals, Birds, Fish and Crabs - Frogs - Lizards - Scorpions - Snails and Slugs - Snakes - Spiders - Tortoise, Turtles and Terrapins - Whipscorpions
Other photography: Aeroplanes - Cars and Bikes - Travel - Sunrise - Water drops/falls - Sudwala and Sterkfontein Caves etc.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Giant False Scilla (Ledebouria zebrina)

Family Hyacinthaceae
One of the largest and densest populations of Ledebouria zebrina recorded from Natal is found within a few metres of the Bivane River below the dam wall. L. zebrina is the largest South African species and these plants have broad “zebra stripes” towards the leaf bases.
 In addition to the zebra stripes, which are spectacular in their own right, the inner leaf surfaces bear cloudings and blotching of purplish red brown bluish grey and underlying slate. The leaves are suffused with a powdery bluish bloom and look particularly attractive after winter grass fires.
 The spikes of numerous cream flowers and fresh leaves look at their best in late October and early November.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bitter Aloe (Aloe ferox)

Family: Aloaceae
An attractive form of Aloe ferox is found in Kwazulu-Natal, particularly between the midlands and the coast in the Umkomaas and Umlaas river catchment areas. This used to be known as A. candelabrum and has subsequently been included in the species.

The bitter aloe will reach 2-3 metres in height with the leaves arranged in a rosette. The old leaves remain after they have dried, forming a "petticoat" on the stem. The leaves are a dull green, sometimes with a slightly blue look to them. They may also have a reddish tinge. The "A. candelabrum form" has an elegant shape with the leaf tips curving slightly downwards. The spines along the leaf edge are reddish in colour. Spines may also be present on upper and lower surfaces of the leaves as well. Young plants tend to be very spiny.

The flowers are carried in a large candelabra-like flower-head. There are usually between five and eight branches, each carrying a spike-like head of many flowers. Flower colour varies from yellowy-orange to bright red. "A. candelabrum" has six to twelve branches and the flowers have their inner petals tipped with white.

Flowering occurs between May and August, but in colder parts of the country this may be delayed until September. This aloe forms a beautiful display and attracts many bird species such as sunbirds, weavers, glossy starlings and mousebirds. Insects also visit the flowers which in turn brings yet more birds to your garden. In natural areas, monkeys and baboons will raid the aloes for nectar. Visitors usually leave adorned with large patches of pollen, often causing confusion amongst birdwatchers! It is an excellent garden specimen plant and is adaptable to many conditions.

Distribution and Habitat
It is a tall single stemmed aloe which has a wide distribution, ranging over 1000 km from the south western Cape through to southern Kwazulu-Natal. It is also found in the south eastern corner of the Free State and southern Lesotho.

It occurs in a broad range of habitats as a result of the wide distribution range. It is common on rocky hill slopes, often in very large numbers where it creates a stunning winter display. In the south western Cape it grows in grassy fynbos and in the southern and Eastern Cape it may also be found on the edges of the karoo. Aloe ferox grows both in the open and in bushy areas. The plants may also differ physically from area to area due to local conditions - a south east Free State winter is quite different to that of the Eastern Cape coast!
 Derivation of Name

Aloe - derived from the Greek word for the dried juice of aloe leaves. Ferox - "fierce" or "war-like" referring to the spiny edged leaves.

Uses and Cultural aspects

The bitter aloe is most famous for its medicinal qualities. In parts of South Africa, the bitter yellow juice found just below the skin has been harvested as a renewable resource for two hundred years. The hard, black, resinous product is known as Cape aloes or aloe lump and is used mainly for its laxative properties but is also taken for arthritis."Schwedenbitters" which is found in many pharmacies contains bitter aloe. The gel-like flesh from the inside of the leaves is used in cosmetic products and is reported to have wound healing properties. Interestingly Aloe ferox, along with Aloe broomii, is depicted in a rock painting which was painted over 250 years ago.
Information from:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ox-eye Daisy (Dimorphotheca pluvialis)

Family: Asteraceae
Dimorphotheca pluvialis is always one of the first spring annuals to flower at Kirstenbosch. Flowering in masses the glistening white daisies look like snow covering the ground of the large annual beds, small pockets along the footpaths and rockeries. For the best display it is important to visit the garden on a sunny day as these sun loving daisies only open with the warmth of the sun from about 10 o'clock in morning to 4 o'clock in the afternoon. As the sun moves across the sky their flowers follow, always facing the sun.
Dimorphotheca pluvialis is an annual endemic to Namibia, Namaqualand and the south western Cape. During spring huge fields are covered with this bright white daisy, forming a dazzling mass. In their natural habitat the flowers are pollinated by small horseflies that get covered with pollen as they fly from one daisy to the next in search of tiny amounts of nectar.
 These annuals are adapted to germinate, grow, flower and set seed during the rainy winter and to survive the long dry summer as seed. The seeds are interesting in that two different forms are produced. The ones we usually sow are flat, papery and fly away easily in the wind. They are formed in the center of the flower by the disk florets. The outer ray florets form seeds which looks like little thorns with a thick coats. Under favorable conditions the papery seed of the disk florets germinate in abundance, while the seeds of the ray florets have delayed germination to protect the species against unpredictable conditions in their arid environment.

Kirstenbosch grows two different forms of Dimorphothece pluvialis, which were selected from plants growing in the wild. Dimorphotheca pluvialis "Flat White" (left) has pure white flowers, with its petals backed with mauve, and a yellow centre. The plant grows about 15 cm high.
 Dimorphotheca pluvialis "Purple Centre" (right and below) also has white flowers but with a deep violet ring around the yellow centre. It grows to about 40 cm in height.

Dimorphotheca pluvialis forms a bushy plant that is covered with large white daisies all flowering at the same level. The flowering season is from July to October, depending on the rain. The narrow leaves are light green, about 7 cm long and have indented edges. They are numerous at the base of the stems, becoming fewer and smaller near the top.
Information from:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Black Monkey Orange (Strychnos madagascariensis)

Family Strychnaceae
Very often confused with Strychnos spinosa, S. madagascariensis is a single- or multi-stemmed tree with a spreading, irregular, angular canopy. It grows singly or among other species of trees and is often a loner. It is, however, an attractive addition to a garden landscape.


Strychnos madagascariensis is 5-8 m tall and is heavily branched. The bark is pale grey with white patches which darken with age. The simple leaves are green, hairy and leathery and are oppositely arranged with an entire margin. Leaves are not attached by an obvious leaf stalk and are clustered on the ends of short thick twigs. The trumpet-like flowers are clustered at the base of the leaves, are greenish yellow, and often appear after heavy rains. The smooth, hard fruit is large and green for most of the year, ripening to yellow. Inside are tightly packed seeds surrounded by a fleshy, edible covering.
 Distribution and habitat

The black monkey orange is found in Botswana, Limpopo, North-West, Mpumulanga, Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal. It is easily noticed in the Sand Forest at the coast and is also common in the woodland and thornveld of the bushveld savanna. It is seen on rocky hills (koppies), in riverine fringes and coastal bush.
 Derivation of name and historical aspects

The genus name Strychnos is taken from the Greek word for deadly, which refers to poisonous alkaloids contained in the seed integuments. The species name, madagascariensis, means from Madagascar. The genus is widespread over the tropics with nine of the 190 species of trees, shrubs and lianas occurring in South Africa. The genus is an important source of drugs and poisons. Strychnine and other strychnine compounds are extracted from the seeds of S. nux-vormica and other species, and curare is extracted from the bark of S. toxifera and other species.

Leaves are eaten by duiker, kudu, impala, steenbok, nyala and elephant; the fruit is eaten by baboon, monkey, bushpig, nyala and eland. The numerous herbivores aid in primary seed dispersal. Secondary dispersal is provided by dung beetles. Due to the presence of compounds that mimic dung compounds, these seeds attract the beetles. The seeds are then rolled with the dung and buried.
 Uses and cultural aspects

There are a number of uses of the plant. Traditionally the flesh is pounded and dried and is edible. The seeds, although bitter, are dried and are considered a sweet treat for children. Musical instruments, the marimba and flutes are made from the dried shells.
Medicinal uses include using the plant as an emetic. The roots are ground up, mixed with hot water and taken orally. A paste is made from the fruit for treating jigger fleas.
Information from:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sand Olive (Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia)

Family Sapindaceae  
This well known, drought and wind resistant, indigenous plant can grow into a shrub as it is usually multi-stemmed or a small tree when the lower branches are pruned. It is ideal for water-wise gardens.

Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia is an evergreen shrub or small tree up to 5 m high. Its bark is light grey and finely fissured. The droopy leaves are shiny light green above and paler green below. Its flowers are small, yellowish green and are followed by decorative clusters of yellow or reddish fruits with papery wings. Flowers are produced from April to August (autumn–winter). This is a fast growing plant that prefers a sandy substrate; when given good soil and plenty of water it requires minimal water once established.
 Distribution and habitat

Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia grows in a variety of habitats from arid, semi-arid to high rainfall regions and is frost-hardy. It is found in a wide strip along the coast from Namaqualand through the Western Cape, Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal as well as further north in Mozambique and Zambia.


The dense bushy hedges which it may form are ideal bird nesting sites and the flowers attract butterflies. The seed has papery wings and is possibly dispersed by wind.
 Derivation of name and historical aspects

The genus Dodonaea was named after Rembert Dodoens. He was a Dutch physician and botanist who wrote a book on plants of the Middle Ages. He died in 1585. The specific epithet viscosa means sticky, referring to the young growing tips which contain surface flavonoids; this gives them a shiny appearance. In the genus Dodonaea there are 60 species widespread mostly in Australia. In South Africa there are two recognized taxa: Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia and Dodonaea viscosa var. viscosa.
 Uses and cultural aspects

This shrub is grown worldwide, as the roots have soil-binding properties which are effective for the purpose of stabilizing sand dunes and to control erosion. The early Cape settlers used a decoction prepared from the new leaf tips for fever. In the rural areas Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia is still widely used for colds, influenza, stomach trouble and measles. For a sore throat and oral thrush it is used as a gargle. The Khoi-Khoi used a concoction of the root for colds and influenza. In Namaqualand the green leaves are boiled slowly, then left to steep, strained, and the extract is used for influenza, colds and also to induce sweating. It also used to relieve coughs and the congested feeling typical of influenza, croup and diphtheria. The same extract is considered to alleviate stomach ailments and fever. The leaves are used externally as a remedy for itchy skin and to treat skin rashes. An extract of the leaves is used as a mild purgative and for rheumatism, sorethroat and haemorrhoids. Other early uses of the plant include the treatment of pneumonia, tuberculosis and skin rashes. In southern Africa it is regarded as one of the most important traditional medicines and is used in combination with other medicinal plants, including Viscum capense (Willem Steenkamp, pers. comm.). Most of the Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia specimens found in the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden are a host plant to the hemiparasitic shrub, Viscum capense which grows on them. Seeds of the parasite are deposited on the branches of the host as a result of birds feeding on the fruits of the parasite and cleaning their beaks on the branches of the host. In arid areas it is also a valuable source of firewood.
Information from :

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum)

This is an ornamental South American herb belonging to the daisy family, Asteraceae. It is rapidly becoming the most serious threat to the conservation of grasslands in South Africa.

Infestations become conspicuous when the plants are in flower between December and March, transforming the veld from green to pink. The plant initially establishes itself in disturbed sites such as roadsides, but then invades natural grasslands, open savanna and wetlands.
 This weed displaces native species, reducing both the biological diversity and carrying capacity of vleis and veld.

Information from: The Agricultural Research Council (ARC)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Waterlily / Lotus - Nynphaeaceae

The water lily family, Nymphaeaceae, is an old and evolutionarily primitive one, and is grouped with buttercups (Ranunculus) and magnolias in the order Ranales. Furthermore, fossil evidence suggests that nymphaeas have not changed much over the past 160 million years. All they have done is move about the globe, keeping in the tropical and temperate zones. Another well known genus in this family is Victoria, the giant amazon water lily.
  The genus Nymphaea consists of roughly 40 species found in tropical and temperate climates of both hemispheres. It is full of synonymy, because different populations or colour forms have been described as separate species which have since been sunk into one species and in some cases the same plants have been described as different species by different botanists, or the name of one species has been misapplied to another species. It all gets rather confusing. There are also many variants and hundreds of hybrids that come in all colours, shapes and sizes.
 There are only two species that occur in southern Africa. One is Nymphaea lotus, the white water lily, or white lotus which has night-blooming white or cream flowers and is widespread in tropical Africa to southern Africa, where it occurs in the former Transvaal, KwaZulu-Natal, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia, and in Madagascar, in sheltered water 0.5-2.5m deep and in swamps. It also occurs in hot springs in Hungary and Romania. There is a variety in Australia and it is widely cultivated in the USA and South America.
  The other southern African species isNymphaea nouchali. The blue lotus, Nymphaea caerulea and the Cape blue water lily, Nymphaea capensis are no longer regarded as distinct species and have been sunk into this genus.
  The type specimen was collected in Coromandel in India. The meaning of the specific ephithet nouchali has only been traced with the assistance of staff at Kew who report that one of their specimens contains a note that Noakhali is a district in Bangladesh. The variety name caerulea refers to the sky blue colour of the flowers.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kei-apple (Dovyalis caffra)

Family Flacourtiaceae
The Kei-apple (Dovyalis caffra) is a small shrub/tree, 15-18 feet (3-5m) in height and have some evil looking thorns on them.
  The flowers are creamy-green and give way to delicious fruit in summer. When mature they are apricot-colored.
  These trees are widely cultivated for gardens even as far as Australia and California but do not like areas where there is frost.
  The fruits, harvested from November to January are made into an excellent jam/jelly.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Nelson’s Slime Lily (Albuca nelsonii)

Family Hyacinthaceae
Albuca nelsonii may be found in specialist collections but it is not often seen in gardens. Yet, as this illustration shows, it has attractive flowers, and it is considered a good garden plant.


This robust, evergreen, bulbous perennial grows in clumps and is 60-120 cm high when in flower. The large, fleshy bulb is partially exposed above the ground. The leaves are strap-shaped and rather sappy. Its flowers are white with green stripes, 25-35 mm long, and borne on a long, more or less erect pedicel. Several to many flowers are arranged in a raceme
 Uses and cultural aspects

An infusion made from Albuca nelsonii bulbs and tubers of Kniphofia species, known as icacane, is taken as an emetic as protection against sorcery. Albuca nelsonii is well suited to mass plantings in flower borders or on rockeries, especially in informal gardens.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wild Squill (Scilla natalensis)

Also known as Large Blue scilla - Family Hyacinthaceae
Scilla natalensis is a graceful perennial bulb, and with its tall plumes of blue flowers, the showiest of the South African scillas. It is a variable species, with individuals and populations of differing bulb size, flower colour, leaf coloration etc. In general it produces a large bulb, 10 to 15 cm in diameter, covered with firm, hardened, papery brown or purplish tunics (bulb scales). It is deciduous, growing during summer and dormant in the winter.

The inflorescence is a many-flowered slender raceme of bright violet-blue, or pale blue, or blue and white, star-shaped flowers each one carried on a delicate amethyst blue stalk, giving the overall effect of a misty blue plume floating in mid-air. There is also a white form, although we don't have specimens in the Garden as yet. The flower stalks are produced either just before or with the new leaves in spring to early summer (October), and are usually about 1 m tall, although some are as short as 0.75 m and a few can reach a height of about 1.4 m. The flowers have a honey-like scent towards evening and are visited by bees during the day. The seed, which is formed in capsules that split when mature, does not look much like seed. It is beige in colour, somewhat irregular in shape and a bit wrinkled, 6 mm long x 2-3mm wide tapering to a point. It is light in weight and dispersed by the wind. It does not last long unless it is refrigerated (not frozen) where it will last for a number of years.

Scilla natalensis has shown itself to be selectively toxic to mammals. It is said to be poisonous to stock, particularly when the young leaves appear in spring. Experiments on sheep, using fresh bulb as a drench, proved fatal to the sheep, yet it has been proven an ineffective rat poison. It is apparently toxic to man when raw, even the sap is reported to burn the skin, and for any preparations taken internally the plant must first be heated. This plant should be treated with extreme caution, as taking any part of it internally is potentially fatal. The bulb is used medicinally in South Africa and is one of the most popularly traded muthi (meaning traditional medicine and pronounced moo-tea) items in KwaZulu-Natal. Warmed fresh bulb scales, slightly burned bulb scales and decoctions of the bulb are used externally as ointments for wound-healing, to treat sprains, fractures, boils and sores and to draw abscesses. The ash from a burnt plant, and the bulb in powdered form, is rubbed into cuts and scratches, and over sprains and fractures. Decoctions are taken as enemas for female infertility and to enhance male potency and libido. It is also known to be used as a purgative, a laxative and for internal tumours, and is used in conjunction with other ingredients in infusions taken during pregnancy to facilitate delivery and in treatments for chest pain and kidney troubles. It is also an ingredient in a medicinal preparation for cattle suffering from lung sickness. It has magical properties for the Tswana who rub the powdered bulb into the back, joints and other body parts to increase their strength and resistance to witchcraft. The plant appears to have significant analgesic and antimicrobial activity, and phytochemical studies have found that it contains compounds known to possess anti-inflammatory and anti-mutagenic properties which would support its use for the treatment of strains, sprains and cancers. Although its effect on sheep appears similar to that caused by cardiac glycoside poisoning, whether or not it contains the same heart glycosides found in the closely related genera of Drimia and Urginea remains to be determined.
Information from:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Moon cactus (Harrisia martinii)

Family Cactaceae
This is a low-growing scrambler that thrives in the undergrowth and below trees forming an impenetratable thicket.

Stems resemble thick ropes and carry regularly spaced tufts of very sharp thorns along their length.

Flowers are borne in the late summer, open at night and become wilted by midmorning the next day.

The white flowers are replaced by bright red, golfball-size fruits which split open when ripe to expose small black seeds in a white marshmallowy pulp.

The species is very invasive in savanna and should not be cultivated.
Information from: Guide to Succulents of South Africa (Gideon F Smith & Neil R. Crouch)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wild Lobelia (Lobelia erinus)

Family Lobeliaceae
This is a small slender plant growing in all areas except the Karoo. The flowers are small and easy to  recognise with their white lip.
 Powdered roots and leaves of this plant are mixed with a little water and sniffed to clear a blocked nose.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

African Star-chestnut / Tick Tree (Sterculia africana)

Family Sterculiaceae
A thick stemmed tree growing only 5-12 meters in height. The bark peels and flakes to reveal a beautiful pastel-colored underbark.
 The seeds resemble fat, engorged ticks, hence its other name and the hair around the pod can be an irritant to the skin.
It has the pretties flowers which are extremely small (maximum ¾” in diameter).
 The tree produces a gum but not enough for commercial use.

The wood is soft and fibrous and is used in making rope and mats.
 Taking a closer shot of it, I discovered the tiniest, most unusual little spider. The widest part of it, across the legs, could not have been more than 4mm. This is one I almost missed but then saw the difference in color to the petal which alerted me to it’s presence.
 I have checked all over and cannot even begin to classify it. I would guess at it being some kind of crab spider judging from the legs but I have never seen one this shape or this hairy.

If there anyone who can give me more info on it, please do, it would be highly appreciated.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Hibiscus flower

TheHibiscus flower is traditionally worn by Hawaiian women. A single flower is tucked behind the ear. Which ear is used indicates the wearer's availability for marriage.
Many species are grown for their showy flowers or used as landscape shrubs. Hibiscus is also a primary ingredient in many herbal teas.
In Mexico, the drink is known as Jamaican water or agua de Jamaica and is quite popular for its color, tanginess and mild flavor; once sugar is added, it tastes somewhat like cranberry juice. Dieters or persons with kidney problems often take it without adding sugar for its beneficial properties and as a natural diuretic. It is made by boiling the dehydrated flowers in water; once it is boiled, it is allowed to cool and drunk with ice.
In Egypt and Sudan, roselle petals are used to make a tea named after the plant, karkade.
Hibiscus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Chionodes hibiscella, Hypercompe hambletoni, the Nutmeg moth, and the Turnip Moth.
The Hibiscus is used as an offering to Goddess Kali and Lord Ganesha in Hindu worship. The Gumamela or Hibiscus rosa sinensis linn flower has antifungal, emmenagogue, emollient and refrigerant effect.
The bark of the hibiscus contains strong fibers. They can be obtained by letting the stripped bark sit in the sea in order to let the organic material rot away. In Polynesia these fibers (fau, pūrau) are used for making grass skirts. They have also been known to be used to make wigs.
Hibiscus, especially white hibiscus, is considered to have medicinal properties in the Indian traditional system of medicine, Ayurveda. Roots make various concoctions believed to cure various ailments.
The natives of southern India uses the Red hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) for hair care purposes. The red flower and leaves, extracts of which can be applied on hair to tackle hair-fall and dandruff on the scalp. It is used to make hair protective oils. A simple application involves soaking the leaves and flowers in water and using a wet grinder to make a thick paste, and used as a natural shampoo.
Dried hibiscus is edible, and is often a delicacy in Mexico.
One species of Hibiscus, known as Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus), is extensively used in paper making. Another, roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is used as a vegetable and to make herbal teas and jams (especially in the Caribbean).