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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Forest Num-num (Carissa bispinosa)

Family Apocynaceae

These shrubs have an extremely small flower and fruit (edible). The flowers are white to pinkish in colour and sweetly scented.
 At most they grow to about 5m in height but those I have seen have been in the region of about 2-3m.
 They grow at medium to low altitudes and in hot and dry karroid scrub.

They have immense y-shaped thorns which are 4-5cm in length.

Info: Trees of Southern Africa (Palgrave)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Common Cabbage Tree (Cussonia spicata)

Family Araliaceae

This is a tree which most people know and in Afrikaans goes by the name of Kiepersol. There are various species of it though but each still looks like it belongs to the same family but their leaves are quite different.

Mostly these trees are single-stemmed so this one was unusual in that it had three. They grow up to 10m in height and their natural habitat it through the central eastern areas down to the Cape.
 The roots of this tree can be eaten in times of need and the Zulu people use it to treat malaria but one wonders if it is effective?

The leaves provide valuable fodder for stock.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wild Poppy (Papaver aculeatum)

Family Papaveraceae
I found some wild poppies growing near Magaliesburg and although I knew they existed, I had not seen them before.
 The stem is very thorny and what leaves they have, mostly grow flat on the ground.
The flower comes in only this orange colour and is much like the ones we have in the garden.
It occurs in grassland and karroid shrubland, often in disturbed places.
 A biographical enigma in being the only member of Papaver indigenous to the southern hemisphere.
 It is also peculiar in that plants may suddenly appear in a particular season, only to vanish without a trace in subsequent years.
Info: Wild Flowers of South Africa (Braam van Wyk)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ferns and Bromeliads (pineapple family)

I have put the ferns in just to add contrasting color.

Bromeliads are one of the more recent plant groups to have emerged, presumed to have evolved at the close of the Cretaceous, over 65 million years ago. Fossilized bromeliads have been dated back to roughly 30 million years ago.
The greatest number of primitive species reside in the Andean highlands of South America suggesting a beginning there. The west African species Pitcairnia feliciana is the only bromeliad not endemic to the Americas, and is thought to have reached Africa via long-distance dispersal approximately 12 million years ago.
Humans have been using bromeliads for thousands of years. The Incas, Aztecs, Maya and others used them extensively for food, protection, fiber and ceremony, just as they are still used today.
European interest began when Spanish conquistadors returned with pineapple, which became so popular as an exotic food that the image of the pineapple was quickly adapted into European art and sculpture. In 1776, the species Guzmania lingulata was introduced to Europe, causing a sensation among gardeners unfamiliar to such a plant.
In 1828, Aechmea fasciata was brought to Europe, followed by Vriesea splendens in 1840. These transplants were successful enough that they are still among the most widely grown bromeliad varieties.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

StrelitziaStrelitzia regina)

In South Africa we have two species of Strelitzia growing. The first is one found in many other countries too and is also called "The bird of Paradise." It is a very slow grower and when first planted, takes a few years for the first blooms to appear. On average, it get to be about 3/4 feet in height and are propagated through breaking off shoots at the bottom with roots on. This flower is also found on one of our coins.
The second species grows to a height of 15-20 feet and is sometimes called the Giant Strelitzia with flowers about 4 times the size of the normal one.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Buffalo Thorn (ziziphus mucronata)

Family Rhamnaceae
The Buffalo Thorn  is a medium size tree and often found growing on termite mounds and has a small berry which matures into a reddish-brown color. These berries can be found for most of the year and make a passable coffee when ground. It has many medicinal uses one of them is a leaf paste which is used for boils and other skin infections. Sufferers of dysentary and lumbago either chew the root or drink and infusion made from it. The leaves and fruit provide useful fodder in times of drought.
To our Zulu people, it is a very sacred tree. The two thorns, one pointing straight and the other curved backwards, is believed to indicate the future (straight) and the past (curved).

When a Zulu dies far away from his birthplace, a small branch of the tree is pulled across his/her body and is believed to be able to capture the person’s spirit. This branch is then taken back to their home and buried there. If on the journey they use any kind of transport, busses, trains etc. they will pay for two people, one for themselves and one for the spirit of the person carried in the branch.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How the Fever Tree got its name

FeverTree (Acacia xanthophloea) family Mimosoideae
In the early part of the 1800's when the settlers were heading from the Cape inland and discovering the area around Kruger National Park, this tree was blamed for their bouts of malaria.
It only grows where there is water on the edge of streams and rivers.
The flowers...
The bark is a yellowish-green.
The bark is covered with very fine yellow powder and they thought that it was this which caused them to be sick. In those days, the name "malaria" was not yet known, but they did get high fevers supposedly from the tree and so called it the Fever Tree.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Common Nasturtium

This colorful and delicate annual is from Peru, where it was once used to treat skin wounds. Nasturtium is well known for its edible spicy flowers and leaves; what may not be so well known is that it has a high content of vitamin C and effectively treats infections and may help relieve colds. It was first brought to Europe in the seventeenth century and first cultivated only in abbey gardens for medicinal usage. Today, nasturtium is used in cooking and as an herbal remedy. The plant's peppery leaves make a delicious addition to a salad - as long as pesticides weren't used on the plant! Nasturtium is most often used to stimulate the appetite and promote good digestion - a perfect blend of the delightful plant's culinary and medicinal properties.Nasturtium is an easy, colorful plant to grow and is available with trailing, climbing or mounding habits and either dark green or variegated leaves. Plant it in full sun or partial shade for a large harvest of leaves and flowers all summer long.
Plant Facts
Nasturtium is an annual belonging to the Tropaeolaceae family. Both the trailing and bushy varieties have yellow, orange, pink and red flowers with long spurs that bloom during the summer. The stem is located in the center of the funnel-shaped leaves.

OriginNasturtium is originally from South America; it was first cultivated in Peru. Today the colorful plant is grown in both tropical and temperate climates throughout the world. Parts UsedThe leaves and flowers are used medicinally. The leaves, flowers and seeds, all edible, also have a number of culinary uses.

ComponentsNasturtium contains glucosinolates, a mustard-oil glycoside; glycotropeoline, which releases a disinfectant sulfur compound when added to water, which have antibiotic and anti-tumor effects. They can also alleviate respiratory congestion, stimulate the digestive system and mitigate hyperthyroidism; and many flavonoids. The plant is also a great source of vitamin C, which the flavonoids help the body to absorb. Some small amounts of usable iodine are also present, helping to regulate metabolism. Nasturtium has spilanthol, oxalic acid and the enzyme myrosin, too.

A delicious medicinal remedy, nasturtium is an effective treatment for the symptoms of topical and internal bacterial infections, most especially those affecting the skin and urinary tract, as well as the respiratory and digestive systems. It can also be used to treat fungal infections, such as Candida. Colds and flu's may be remedied by this herb as well, although whether nasturtium has antiviral properties or not is still unknown. Caution: Ingesting excessive amounts of this plant can result in vomiting, and leaving it on the skin for longer than 10 minutes may induce a painful burning sensation. Nasturtium's disinfectant properties are the result of its mustard-oil content. Since the oil is released in the gastrointestinal tract, eating nasturtium in large quantities or too frequently can irritate these delicate mucus membranes. However, for normal food consumption, nasturtium is generally considered safe.
Therapeutic Effect
The herb's mustard oils are antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial; these properties can help to treat infections, colds, flu and digestive upsets that stem from an overgrowth of yeast or from parasites. Nasturtium also boosts the immune system, which helps the body to resist infections. Further, it stimulates the appetite, promotes digestion and supports metabolism. Mildly warming, nasturtium makes an ideal chest plaster for coughs.

Methods of Administration
For the common cold or inflammation of the urinary tract, juice 4-6 cups of leaves. Dilute 1 tsp. of juice in 1 cup of water or herbal tea, and drink 1-2 cups daily.

For indigestion, sinusitis, or bronchitis, place 1/2 cup of leaves and 1 cup of brandy or vodka in a clean jar with a tight lid. Steep 4-6 weeks, shake occasionally and strain. Dilute 20-40 drops in 1/4 cup of water, and drink 3-4 times daily.

Skin Wash
For bacterial infections and skin inflammations, add 1 cup of leaves to 2 cups of boiling water; steep 10-15 minutes, and strain. Dip a clean cloth in the solution and use it to rinse the skin.

Foot Soak
For fungal infections, such as athlete's foot, add 2 cups of leaves to 4 cups of boiling water; steep 15-20 minutes; strain. Add to 2 gallons of warm water. Soak the feet in the solution for 20-30 minutes each day for 2 weeks.

Nasturtium Salad
1 1/2 cups fresh nasturtium leaves
1 medium bunch arugula
1 bunch scallions
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2-oz. chunk of Parmesan cheese
several nasturtium flowers
Wash the nasturtium and arugula, and shake until they are dry. Chop them slightly, if desired.Wash and trim the scallions; then slice them into fine rings.Mix the balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and mustard; whisk in the olive oil.Toss the nasturtium leaves, arugula leaves and scallions in the dressing, and arrange them on plates.Slice or coarsely grate the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of the salad, and garnish with nasturtium flowers.

Kitchen Hints
The seeds are useful, inexpensive substitutes for capers. Place a handful of caper-sized seeds in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Boil 1/2 cup of white-wine vinegar with 1 tsp. of sugar and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Pour the vinegar blend over the seeds, seal the jar and steep for 3 weeks.

The pungent flavor of the leaves adds a piquant note to green salads. You can also shred the leaves and use them in egg dishes or mix them with soft cheeses.

The decorative nasturtium leaves have a slightly peppery taste, similar to watercress. The plants, however, are not related.

Use the delicate flowers to flavor sorbets, custards, jams, jellies, teas, liqueurs, fruit punches and wines.

Chop the flowers and add them to risotto. Or toss them with olive oil as a topping for pasta dishes.

The attractive flowers add bold dashes of color as a decoration or garnish for cakes and pastries.

The leaves are most tender in the spring, before the plant has flowered. Pick the blossoms in the early morning and in dry weather. Rinse in cold water.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Large Sour Plum (Ximmenia caffra)

This is a smallish shrub or small tree and is fairly common.
The fruit ripens into bright red during December, is edible and makes a good jelly.
Working as a tour guide in the regions where they grow, I used to have a lot of fun with it and would stop to pick some for my guests. The outer section is lovely and sweet nice until you get too close to the pip and I loved to see their faces when they bit into it and was sour. LOL!! These cruel, awful guides!! LOL!!
The local people extract an oil from it which is used to rub into chapped feet or for softening animal hides.
A decoction made from the leaves is used to sooth inflamed eyes.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Natal Mahogany (Trichilia emetica)

Family Meliaceae
It is the seeds of a tree or just seeds would have been okay too. :) I am glad this one turned out to be a good one and not as easy as the rest I have been posting. :)

This riverine tree is found along the larger permanent streams and rivers occurring at medium to low altitudes, in woodland, in riverine forest and in coastal forest. It grows to a height of 8 - 20 m (24-60 feet), with very dense foliage.
The larvae of several species of butterfly feed on this tree and baboons, monkeys and certain birds eat the seeds.
Human uses - The wood is used to make furniture, fish-floats, dugout canoes and musical instruments. It is also used to make some of the carvings that are sold along the roads of the Lowveld. The wood should be treated against borer attack. The bark is used for medicinal purposes. Oil is extracted from the seeds, and used for medicinal purposes.
During January and February, the fruit bursts open to expose red seeds (which are poisonous). (45 x 30 mm)

Friday, November 2, 2012

How do mangoes grow

For many people who live in colder climates, it is sometimes interesting to see where tropical fruits come from and how they grow.

The mango belongs to the family Anacardiaceae in the genus Mangifera. The family consists of 41 species of which the mango (Mangifera indica) is the most important. Compared to citrus and bananas, mangoes are the third most important crop in the tropics.

The mango tree is an evergreen medium to large (9 – 35 m) tree. The tree has a long tap-root up to 6 m in depth and dense mass of feeding roots just beneath the soil surface. Mango leaves are simple leaves that are entire, leathery, short, pointed and oblong to lanceolate. Crushed leaves of many cultivars emit a distinct turpentine odour. New leaves are formed in periodic flushes about two to three times a year. In mature trees the first flush during the dry season is usually transformed into a flower flush.

The mango is tolerant to a wide range of climatic conditions. It is successfully cultivated, under conditions which vary from very hot, very humid to cool and dry, to very hot and arid.
Mangoes are an excellent source of vitamins C and A, both important antioxidant nutrients. Vitamin C promotes healthy immune function and collagen formation. Vitamin A is important for vision and bone growth.
They are a good source of dietary fiber. Diets low in fat and high in fiber-containing grain products, fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of some types of cancer.

They contain over 20 different vitamins and minerals.