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.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)

Family Asteraceae
Cosmos are herbaceous perennial plants growing 0.3–2 m tall. It is native to scrub and meadow areas in Mexico where most of the species occur, Florida and the southern United States, Arizona, Central America, and to South America in the north to Paraguay in the south.
 There are over 20 annual and perennial varieties of cosmos, which are part of the aster family and are related to daisies and sunflowers. They come in a variety of colors and sizes ranging from 6 feet tall to barely one foot in height. The annual flowers are easy to grow from seed, which places them on lists of plants that beginners can succeed with.
 History
Cosmos is a Greek word meaning harmony or balanced universe. To Victorians, cosmos were used to signify modesty. Cosmos is native to Central America where it grows wild, especially in Mexico. In some areas of the United States it is considered a weed because it reseeds readily and can be invasive. Mission priests in Mexico planted it in the mission garden and it often escaped to grow wild in the meadows.
 Requirements
This flower prefers less than perfect soil. When growing in rich soil, Cosmos tend to get lanky and tall. While many leaves and stems may grow, flowers are limited. Cosmos grows in either shade or sun but prefer sun. The flowers grow in hot or cool weather.
 Planting
Cosmos is an annual that is grown from seed that is simply pressed into the ground at 8- to 12-inch intervals and left uncovered. In cold climates, March is the month to plant--it is OK to plant before the last frost of the spring. Germination will take place in 7 to 20 days provided the soil around the seeds is kept moist but not soggy for about 10 days. Perennials grow from a rhizome that should be divided every three years.
 Seeds
The seeds from the annual variety of cosmos can be saved for the next year. Let some of the flowers die and stay on their stems. After the petals have fallen off, cut the stem and hang it upside down to dry. Once the seeds have turned black, pull them off the stem and seal them in a labeled envelope for the next spring.
 Uses
Cosmos lasts about 7 to 10 days after being cut for a vase. The flowers can be dried and used in dry arrangements and in potpourri. The plants are used in the landscape as a background and paired with evergreens. Cosmos attracts butterflies and birds to the garden.
Information from: http://www.gardenguides.com/109574-cosmos-flowers.html 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Giant Honey Flower (Melianthus major)

Kruidjie-roer-my-nie -  Family Melianthaceae
 With its large grey leaves and huge bronze flowers this is a striking shrub. On a sunny day the sunbirds feast on the nectar dripping from the flowers, but any one touching those attractive leaves is in for a surprise. With a strong unpleasant smell, it warns all that it is highly toxic.
 Melianthus major or Kruidjie-roer-my-nie, which means herb-touch-me-not, is a well known plant in the south western Cape where it occurs naturally; usually along streams and roadside ditches.
 Although toxic when taken internally, it is used medicinally by the local people. They mostly use the leaves to make poultices and decoctions that are applied directly to wounds, bruises, backache and rheumatic joints.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Drakensberg scabious (Scabiosa drakensbergensis)

 Family Dipsacaceae
A bushy scabiosa with large soft green leaves and beautiful, pure white, ball-like inflorescences with flowers packed tightly at the tips of long delicate hollow stems – the shy flowerer of this family but a ‘Princess' none the less.
Ecology
Flowers are popular with insects, particularly with bees and butterflies, which in turn attract insectivorous birds— so, this is a wonderful plant to have in a Birds, Butterflies and Bees Garden.
Uses and cultural aspects
Leaves and roots of Scabiosa are known to have medicinal uses. But this scabiosa's value is mainly horticultural. All scabiosa flowers last well in a vase.
Information from: http://www.plantzafrica.com

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paperbark Acacia (Acacia sieberana)

 Family Mimosoideae
 Description

A magnificent, widely spreading, flat crown (12 m high, 16 m wide) of deep green, feathery foliage (deciduous) and attractive creamy-tan to yellow-brown corky bark, make this an easy tree to identify. The flaky, papery bark peels off in flattish strips, revealing a yellow underbark.


Balls of creamy to pale yellow scented flowers are borne in spring to summer (September to November) and entice insects. Paired thorns are long, strong, straight and white. Light brown, woody pods are formed from autumn (March) onwards, are cylindrical and thickened (often with velvety hairs).
 Ecology
It is a favourite nesting site for many birds - in valley bushveld areas, Pied and Crested Barbets make their nesting holes in this tree. Wood-hoopoes often scratch around under the loose bark for insects. Grey Hornbills crack the pods open and eat the seeds.


The flowers lure beetles, bees, butterflies and thrips, in turn attracting insectivorous birds (e.g. Bar-throated Apalis, White-bellied, Black and Collared Sunbirds). The pods have a musty scent (like old socks!) and are eaten by cattle and game (said to taint a cow's milk). They contain hydrocyanic acid, so the quantities fed to livestock should be limited (also quantities of wilted leaves).
 Uses and cultural aspects
In Central Africa, a bark/root decoction is used for inflammation of the urinary passages. Leaf, bark and resin are used as an astringent for colds/chest problems, diarrhoea, haemorrhage and eye inflammation. In Tanzania, bark is used to treat gonorrhoea. The edible gum is a good adhesive. Twine from the inner bark is used for threading beads.
 Growing Acacia sieberiana var. woodii
This tree is easily propagated from seed that has been immersed in boiling water and soaked overnight. Protect young plants from frost. They are suited to medium to large gardens. Allow these magnificent trees the space to show off their wonderful shapes - don't crowd and clutter them. However, on a large property, five to six trees planted fairly close together make an impressive group.


This tree is half-hardy and very fast-growing with fertile soil and sufficient water, and tolerates temperatures ranging from about -2°C to 40°C. Plant in the sun.
Information from: http://www.plantzafrica.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Doll's Protea (Macledium zeyheri)

Family : Asteraceae



The doll's protea is a strikingly attractive plant found in the grasslands of the eastern parts of South Africa. It is also used in traditional medicine.

 
Description

Macledium zeyheri is an erect herb with most leaves at the base developing from a woody rootstock. New flowering stems develop annually and grow up to 300 mm tall. Stems and young leaves are covered with white woolly hairs. Flower heads are usually solitary but sometimes in small groups of up to three per flowering stem. Heads are characterized by 35–45 very tough outer bracts, which are somewhat inrolled to form spiky tips. Outermost bracts are mostly green with white margins and purplish markings. An open flower head can measure 40–60 mm across. Flowers are brownish-red.


Plants flower from December to March, but dried flowers remain on the plants until about May.
 Distribution and habitat

Plants are found in the northeastern part of the country: eastern part of the North West Province, Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, and Swaziland. They are commonly found in open grasslands, in open flat areas or on gentle slopes.


Ecology

“Seeds” (fruits) are wind-dispersed and the persistent pappus aids in the dispersal. Not many seeds survive in nature as they are a sought-after food source of insects and their larvae.
 Uses and cultural aspects
It is used in traditional medicine to treat chest ailments; decoctions are administered as blood strengtheners to mothers after a long, difficult birth.

This is a very hardy garden plant and the flowering stems can be cut and dried for dry flower arrangements.
Information from: http://www.plantzafrica.com

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spotted Aloe (AloeGreatheadii)

Family Asphodelaceae
Aloe greatheadii var. davyana is a drab and uninteresting plant, but when it flowers in winter, it is spectacular. It is a plant that will cheer up any highveld garden in winter.
 Description

Aloe greatheadii var. davyana is stemless and grows singularly or in groups of up to 15 plants. The succulent leaves are arranged in a basal rosette. The leaves range from triangular to lance-shaped, are often faintly striped above with oblong white spots arranged in more or less distinct bands but are unspotted below and usually a whitish green; margins are armed with sharp, dark brown teeth. In winter, the apical half of the leaf dies back and becomes twisted, leaving the remaining part almost square in shape.
The inflorescence can reach a height of up to 1.5 m high and has up to 6 branches. More than one inflorescence is often formed and up to seven have been counted on one plant alone. The flower colour ranges from pale pink to red. The species flowers in midwinter from June to July.
 Distribution and habitat
This species occurs in the Grassland and Bushveld Biomes. Aloe greatheadii var. davyana occurs in all the northern provinces of South Africa, including the Free State and northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal and is very common in Gauteng. It often forms extensive stands in overgrazed areas.
 Ecology
Pollinators are bees and other birds. Seeds are dispersed by wind.
Uses and cultural aspects
Trails have shown that this species can be used successfully as a soil binder in disturbed areas such as mine dumps. The bitter sap in the leaves is used medicinally for the treatment of wounds, sores and burns.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cancer Bush (Sutherlandia frutescens)

Also commonly known as Baloon Pea family Fabaceae
Sutherlandia frutescens, is a much-respected and long-used medicinal plant that is also an attractive garden plant, and has been cultivated in gardens for many years, for its fine form, striking colour and luminous flowers.


Description
Sutherlandia is an attractive small, soft wooded shrublet, 0.5 to 1 m in height. The leaves are pinnately compound . The leaflets are 4-10 mm long, grey-green in colour, giving the bush a silvery appearance. They have a very bitter taste.

The fruit is a large, bladder-like, papery inflated pod and is almost transparent. It can be used in dry flower arrangements as it dries well, maintaining its colour and form.

Ecology
Sunbirds pollinate the attractive, butterfly-like red flowers. The lightweight, papery, inflated pods enable the seed to be dispersed easily by wind. Stock browse the foliage.


Ecologically legumes are well known for fixing nitrogen in the soil through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. The bacteria infect the roots, forming small growths or nodules. Inside the nodules, atmospheric nitrogen, which the plants cannot use, is converted to ammonia, which plants can use. The plant supplies sugars for the bacteria, while the bacteria provide the biologically useful nitrogen that the plant absorbs.

Distribution
Sutherlandia frutescens occurs naturally throughout the dry parts of southern Africa, in Western Cape and up the west coast as far north as Namibia and into Botswana, and in the western Karoo to Eastern Cape. It shows remarkable variation within its distribution.
 Uses and cultural aspects:

This plant is one of the most talked about in the ethnobotanical world because it has a strong reputation as a cure for cancer and now increasingly as an immune booster in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Research on its properties is ongoing.

It has long been known, used and respected as a medicinal plant in southern Africa. The original inhabitants of the Cape, the Khoi San and Nama people, used it mainly as a decoction for the washing of wounds and took it internally to bring down fevers. The early colonists regarded it as giving successful results in the treatment of chicken pox, stomach problems, and in the treatment of internal cancers. It is also known to have been used in the treatment of eye troubles, the eyes being bathed with a decoction of the plant. It continues to be used to this day as a remedy for the above-mentioned ailments. It is still used as a wash for wounds, to bring down fevers, to treat chicken pox, for internal cancers, and farm workers in the Cape still use it to treat eye troubles. It is also used to treat colds, 'flu, asthma, TB, bronchitis, rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis and osteo-arthritis, liver problems, haemorrhoids, piles, bladder, uterus & 'women's' complaints, diarrhoea & dysentery, stomach ailments, heartburn, peptic ulcers, backache, diabetes, varicose veins and inflammation. It is also used in the treatment of mental and emotional stress, including irritability, anxiety and depression and is used as a gentle tranquillizer. It is said to be a useful bitter tonic and that a little taken before meals will aid digestion and improve the appetite. It is considered to be a good general medicine.

There is as yet no scientific support for the numerous claims and anecdotes that this plant can cure cancer, but there is preliminary clinical evidence that it has a direct anti-cancer effect in some cancers and that it acts as an immune stimulant.

Sutherlandia should not be regarded as a miracle cure for cancer, its real benefits are as a tonic that will assist the body to mobilize its own resources to cope with the illness. It is known to decrease anxiety and irritability and to elevate the mood. Cancer patients, as well as TB and AIDS patients, lose weight and tend to waste away. Sutherlandia dramatically improves the appetite and wasted patients start to gain weight. It is also known to improve energy levels and gives an enhanced sense of well-being. It is hoped that treatment with sutherlandia will delay the progression of HIV into AIDS, and even remission of the disease is hoped for.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cream Cups (Pachycarpus schinzianus)

Family Apocynaceae
Pachycarpus schinzianus and Xysmalobium undulatum are the two largest and most readily distinguished asclepiads in the grasslands of the northern provinces of South Africa in spring and summer. Of these, the bitterwortel has by far the most beautiful flowers.
 Description
Pachycarpus schinzianus is a rough-textured, erect perennial herb 0.3 to 0.6 m tall that resprouts from an underground rootstock. The leaves are simple, large, lanceolate and leathery, with rough hairs. They are up to 100 mm long, with wavy margins usually with a red or maroon edge.


The flowers are large, cup-shaped , with recurved upper tips and are carried in clusters of about four on the tips of the branches. The flowers are cream-coloured to yellowish to pink. The corona always has a maroon blotch on the channelled inside.


The plants contain thick milky latex which is secreted wherever a plant is damaged; it contains a glycoside that is extremely bitter (hence the common name). The bitterwortel flowers from September to February and is common throughout the grasslands of the highveld. The fruit is an inflated follicle which is usually solitary as a result of abortion after fertilization; it is spindle-shaped, 50–70 mm long, contains 5–7 lateral wings and is hairless. The fruit contains many brown seeds.
 Conservation status

Pachycarpus schinzianus is currently not protected or threatened. The centre of distribution, however, is in Gauteng Province where the grasslands are increasingly under threat of human impact. It is also widely harvested and is fast disappearing (like many other medicinal plants). These two factors may influence the future status of the species.

Distribution and habitat
This endemic species is widespread in the grassland and savanna of South Africa in Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the North-West Provinces.
 Derivation of name and historical aspects

Pachycarpus is derived from the Greek words pachys (thick) and karpos (fruit). The epithet schinzianus honours the well-known Swiss botanist Hans Schinz, who collected extensively in Namibia.

The common name bitterwortel is sometimes also used for Xysmalobium undulatum, which is a member of the same family and has more or less the same medicinal uses.
 Uses and cultural aspects

Medicinally widely used in remedies for many ailments. The Manyika tribe uses it as a remedy against syphilis and to aid conception. Powdered root is a Dutch remedy for haemorrhoids. Concoctions of the roots have been used to treat dropsy, dysentery and even snakebite. The milky latex is rubbed on animal skins before they are set out to dry to prevent dogs from tearing them. Crushed leaves are also rubbed on the legs to repel dogs.

The rootstock is mixed with the pounded root of Xysmalobium undulatum to make Uzara medicine, which is used for diarrhoea, dysentery and to soothe after-birth cramps. It is also used as a tonic for the cardiovascular system. All parts are extremely bitter and are used in various decoctions and infusions as an emetic, diuretic and purgative. Zulu people use the roots for indigestion, malaria and other fevers (including typhoid fever). Xhosas use infusions of the root for colic and abdominal troubles and sniff the dried pounded roots to relieve headaches.


Browsed plants are frequently encountered in the wild. However, experiments have shown the plants to be poisonous to sheep and guinea-pigs, which died within one to two days after consuming the plants.
Information from: http://www.plantzafrica.com

Monday, April 9, 2012

African Ebony / Jackal-berry (Diospyros mespiliformis)

Family : Ebenaceae
Diospyros mespiliformis has a fantastic mutualism and symbiotic network with many living organisms, from human beings to small insects. There is a complex ecological system revolving around this tree. It is one of the savanna giants that can live for more than 200 years.


Description

Diospyros mespiliformis is a tall, upright tree that can reach a height of 25 m, with a trunk circumference of more than 5 m. It has a dense evergreen canopy. The bark is black to grey, with a rough texture. The fresh inner skin of the bark is reddish. Leaves are simple, alternate, leathery and dark green. The margin is smooth and new leaves in spring are red, especially in young plants. Flowers are cream-coloured and bell-shaped. Male flowers are arranged in stalked bunches and female flowers are solitary. The fruit is a fleshy berry, with an enlarged calyx, yellow to orange when ripe.
 
Conservation status

In South Africa the tree is not specifically protected or threatened, but because of its role in the ecosystem and the food web in which it is involved, it definitely deserves some form of protection.


Distribution and habitat
It grows mostly in savanna and woodland, often on termite hills. The tree is widely distributed throughout the eastern part of the African continent, from Ethiopia to the south of Swaziland. It grows well in areas with adequate water and little or no frost.

 Ecology

This tree is involved in a unique ecosystem. Different insects such as bees and wasps play a role in pollinating the flowers. Seeds are dispersed either through wash-off by rain or in the droppings of animals that feed on the fruits. Termites often build their nests around the tree and feed on the roots. The tree benefits from moisture and aeration as a result of termites burrowing in the soil under the tree. Snakes like to reside close to or around the tree as they prey on the rodents and certain birds that feed on the fruits.

Some of the animals that feed on the tree are African Green-pigeons, brown-headed parrots, grey hornbills and purple-crested louries, monkeys and baboons. Fallen fruit is eaten by, among others, kudu, impala, nyala and jackal. The leaves are eaten by elephant, kudu and eland. The larvae of the emperor butterfly, Charaxes achaemenes, feed on the leaves of this tree.
Uses and cultural aspects
Ripe fruits are relished by indigenous people, especially by children. Fruits are eaten fresh or are dried for later use. The juvenile twigs are sometimes used as toothbrushes. The wood is durable and used to make spoons and canoes. A decoction of roots is ingested to get rid of internal parasites such as worms. Extracts of various parts of the plants are believed to have antibiotic properties.
 A secondary benefit from this tree is the flavour it gives to termites nesting around the tree. The termites feed on the roots and humans eat the termites, including flying termites, which are delicious. The tree is used for shade and also makes an incredible screen or windbreak.
Information from: http://www.plantzafrica.com/


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wild Gladiola - Gladiolus

Family Iridaceae
These were cultivated in England as far back as 1837 and one of the principle species from which all our hybrids we have in our gardens today come from.
 Gladiolus oppositiflorus is pollinated by species of flies with elongated mouthparts, also called long-tongued flies belonging to the family Nemestrinidae, the tangle-veined flies.

The mouthparts of these flies can be several times longer than the body length of the fly, and is ideally adapted to reach nectar at the bottom of the long narrow perianth tube.

The dark red markings on the lower parts of the flower are there to guide the insects towards the inner parts of the flower and are called nectar guides.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kiaat (Pterocarpus angolensis)

Kiaat (Pterocarpus angolensis) family Faboideae

This a species of Pterocarpus native to southern Africa, in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zaire, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. The name Kiaat is Afrikaans and is sometimes used outside South Africa as well.

It is a deciduous tree usually growing to 16 m tall. In favoured wetter locations the trees are typically about 18-19 m tall. The leaves appear at the time of the flowers or shortly afterwards.

It produces an abundance of scented, orange-yellow in the spring. In southern Africa, this is usually just at the end of the dry season, often about mid-October.
 The pod is 2–3 cm diameter, surrounded by a circular wing 8–12 cm diameter, reminiscent of a brown fried egg, and containing a single seed. This brown papery and spiky seed pod stays on long after the leaves have fallen. In poorly-drained locations, the tree can still grow but it becomes more open in shape with leaves on the end of long branches - a 'stag-headed' appearance.

The kiaat is fed upon by many animals that include the charaxes butterfly in larval state, squirrels, baboons and monkeys that feed on the seed pods.
 Uses



There are several uses for the wood of the kiaat. The brown heartwood is resistant to borer and termite, is durable and has a pleasing spicy fragrance. The wood polishes well and is well-known in tropical Africa as Mukwa when used to make good quality furniture that has an attractive light brownish-yellow colour. It can also be used for curios, and implements. Since the wood does not swell or shrink much it is great for canoe building. Furniture and curios are often made from the reddish sapwood. The colour of the sapwood is a result of the remarkable, dark red sap of the plant; an alternative name of Bloodwood rises from this. This wood also produces a rich, resonant sound and can be made into many different musical instruments. In Zimbabwe, the mbira is traditionally made from mukwa.

It is valued for several medicinal uses. It has been recorded to treat ringworm, eye problems, blackwater fever, stabbing pains, malaria, and to increase the supply of breast milk. The resemblance of the sap to blood has led to the belief in supposed magical healing powers concerning the blood. Because of all these reasons and that it is also fire resistant the kiaat is sometimes planted around the chief's enclosure to make a living fence.