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, May 29, 2014

Bushman's Candle (Sarcocaulon crassicaule)

Family Geraniaceae
 Species of Sarcocaulon occur in regions where dry climatic conditions prevail, and are found on rocky hillsides or mountainsides, gravel, outcrops of weathered quartzite and red dune sands.
Members of the family Geraniaceae have long been widely cultivated for their horticultural value. Members of Sarcocaulon are much sought after by succulent lovers! The fleshy branches, covered with wax, are flammable and can even when wet be used as a kindling to light fires.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hops (Humulus lupulus)

Hops are found growing in the Cape region and are unmistakable to identify when driving past because of the way it is planted on tall vines.
Hops are the female flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor, though hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine.
In the Middle Ages beers tended to be of a very low alcohol content (small beer) and were commonly consumed as a safer alternative to untreated water. Each village tended to have one or more small breweries with a barley field and a hop garden in close vicinity. However, the first documented use of hops in beer as a flavoring agent is from the 11th century. Before this period, brewers used a wide variety of bitter herbs and flowers, including dandelion, burdock root, marigold, horehound (the German name for horehound means "mountain hops"), ground ivy, and heather.  
Hops are used extensively in brewing for their antibacterial effect that favors the activity of brewer's yeast over less desirable microorganisms and for many purported benefits, including balancing the sweetness of the malt with bitterness, contributing a variety of desirable flavors and aromas. Historically, traditional herb combinations for beers were believed to have been abandoned when beers made with hops were noticed to be less prone to spoilage.

The first documented hop cultivation was in 736, in the Hallertau region of present-day Germany, although the first mention of the use of hops in brewing in that country was 1079.Hops were imported from France, Holland and Germany and naturally import duty was raised on those; it was not until 1524 that hops were first grown in the southeast of England (Kent) when they were introduced as an agricultural crop by Dutch farmers. Hops were then grown as far north as Aberdeen near breweries for infrastructure convenience. It was another century before hop cultivation began in the present-day United States, in 1629 by English and Dutch farmers.
Hops production is concentrated in moist temperate climates, with much of the world's production occurring near the 48th parallel north. Hop plants prefer the same soils as potatoes.  

A superstructure of overhead wires supports strings that in turn support bines.

Although hops are grown in most of the continental U.S. states and Canadian Provinces, cultivation of hops for commercial production requires a particular environment. As hops are a climbing plant, they are trained to grow up trellises made from strings or wires that support the plants and allow them significantly greater growth with the same sunlight profile. Energy that would have been required to build structural cells is also freed for crop growth.
 Hop plants are planted in rows about six to eight feet apart. Each spring the roots send forth new bines that are started up strings from the ground to an overhead trellis. The cones grow high on the bine, and in the past, these cones were picked by hand. Harvesting of hops became much more efficient with the invention of the mechanical hops separator, patented by Emil Horst in 1909.

Harvest comes near the end of summer when the bines are pulled down and the flowers are taken to a hop house or oast house for drying. Hop houses are two-story buildings, of which the upper story has a slatted floor covered with burlap. Here the flowers are poured out and raked even. A heating unit on the lower floor is used to dry the hops. When dry, the hops are moved to a press, a sturdy box with a plunger. Two long pieces of burlap are laid into the hop press at right angles, the hops are poured in and compressed into bales.
Hop cones contain different oils, such as lupulin, a yellowish, waxy substance, an oleoresin, that imparts flavor and aroma to beer. Lupulin contains lupulone and humulone, which possess antibiotic properties, suppressing bacterial growth favoring brewer's yeast to grow. After lupulin has been extracted in the brewing process the papery cones are discarded. 

Hops are also used in herbal medicine in a way similar to valerian, as a treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. A pillow filled with hops is a popular folk remedy for sleeplessness, and animal research has shown a sedative effect. The relaxing effect of hops may be due, in part, to the specific chemical component dimethylvinyl carbinol. Hops tend to be unstable when exposed to light or air and lose their potency after a few months' storage.

Hops are of interest for hormone replacement therapy, and are used in preparations for relief of menstruation-related problems.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Sticky Red And Green Heath (Erica densifolia)

 Family Ericaceae
 Growing along the mountain slopes along the road in the George/Oudtshoorn area.
 About 1m in height

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Selago Corymbosa

Family Scrophulariaceae 
 Grows to a height of about 1m.
 Found along the road in the George/Oudtshoorn region

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Common Sugarbush (Protea repens)

Family Proteaceae
Protea repens was grown under glass in the Royal Collections at Kew in 1774 and flowered around 1780, the first protea ever to have been flowered in cultivation away from the Cape. It was also the first protea to have been grown outside in gardens in Australia, New Zealand and California from about 1890. Protea repens was the National Flower of South Africa up to 1976.

Protea repens has been exploited for centuries, as a source of firewood as well as for the nectar produced by the flowers and more recently by the cut flower industry. The abundantly produced nectar was collected in the past to be boiled into a sugary syrup, the so-called 'bossiestroop', an essential component of 19th century medicine chests in the Cape. The cut flower industry utilises the variation in flowering time and flower colour and has produced many beautiful hybrids or varieties, such as 'Guerna', 'Liebencherry', 'Sneyd', 'Sugar Daddy' and 'Venus'. These plants and the cut flowers they produce can be found in nurseries in New Zealand, Australia, Israel and of course South Africa.
 The amazing variety in plant size, habit, flower size and colour of the genus Protea was the reason it was named after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his shape at will. The species name of 'repens', meaning 'creeping' is misleading as Protea repens is an upright, much branched shrub, which normally grows to a height of 2.5 metres but can reach a height of 4.5 m. The name is based on descriptions and illustrations by Boerhaave (1720), which show a very short stem, from which the botanist Linnaeus assumed that it had a creeping habit, hence the name 'repens'. The botanist Thunberg later named the same plant Protea mellifera, referring to the sweet nectar produced by the flowers. However, this much more suitable name had to make way for the earlier name, so this upright shrub is now called Protea repens.
This sturdy, dense shrub produces fairly large flowers ranging in colour from cream to deep red either during summer or during winter, depending on the variant grown. It is an excellent addition to any "wild-life" garden as the large amount of nectar produced by the flowers attracts birds, bees and other insects. The plants are tolerant to a large variety of growing conditions but will show frost damage at temperatures below -4 degrees Celsius.
Protea repens occurs in the Southern part of South Africa and grows from high in the mountains of the Bokkeveld Escarpment along the South West Cape to East of Grahamstown in the Eastern part of the Cape. Although it mostly occurs on the flats, coastal forelands, lower and middle mountain slopes, it has been found at altitudes up to 1500 metres and can be found scattered in between the other fynbos plants or in dense stands. Its conservation status is almost ubiquitous. The flowering period varies from winter flowering in the Western part of the range to summer flowering in the Eastern part. The flower colour also varies, from a creamy white to white touched with pink, to the deep red varieties used by the cut flower industry.

The "flowers" of Protea repens are actually flower heads with a collection of flowers in the centre, surrounded by large colourful bracts. The shape of the flowers is very distinctive, chalice-shaped, and forms an inverted, brown "ice-cream cone" seedhead. The flowers are pollinated by Scarab Beetles and Protea Beetles and many other insects, as well as by birds. The birds are attracted by the nectar as well as by the insects visiting the flowers. The development from opening flower to complete closed flower takes from six to eight weeks and the seed develops over the next seven months.

The flowers are semi-serotinous, some opening after seven months and dispersing the seeds and others staying on the plants for a number of years. Only about 20% of the flowers actually develop into viable seeds. The seeds in the seedheads are damaged by the larvae of many different insects, after two years less than 16% of the seed is undamaged.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Belladonna or March Lily (Amaryllis belladonna)

Family Amaryllidaceae
Amaryllis belladonna grows in the South Western Cape. The bulb is typically large, brown and rounded and has a moderate growth rate. The large clusters of scented, trumpet-shaped pink or white flowers are carried on a long purplish-red and green stem appearing 50cm above the soil. Up to twelve flowers are produced from the flowering stem. These flowers are 10cm long and apically flare open about 8cm.
Protruding from each flower is a long upturned style amongst a group of large curved anthers. The anthers are black and shiny at first, but split open to reveal masses of sticky white pollen. The inflorescence tends to face the direction that receives the most sun. Although most flowers are pale pink, white and dark pink forms occur.
The strap-like leaves are deciduous and are produced after flowering. The leaves remain green throughout the winter period. The leaves produce a starch, which is stored in the bulb. In summer the leaves die back and the bulb becomes dormant. This strange phenomenon of flowering before the leaves appear is known as hysteranthy. The belladonna lily's specific flowering time is late summer, February and March.
 Amaryllis is Greek feminine and is named after a beautiful shepherdess. The specific epithet belladonna means beautiful lady. The appearance of the tall, flower stalk without any leaves accounts for the common name "naked lady". Amaryllis belladonna in its natural habitat is found in small dense groups among rocks. Therefore the best place to plant them would be in a rock garden. In a created landscape, Amaryllis can be used mixed in between blue Agapanthus as a good combination, as the evergreen leaves of the Agapanthus provide skirts for the naked ladies. They can also be grown between a ground cover or mixed annual or herbaceous border.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gumleaf Conebush (Leucadendron eucalyptifolium)

Family Proteaceae  
 A tall tree standing about 4m in height.
 Found in the Tsitsikamma and coastal regions of the Cape.
 Belongs to the Protea family.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Inkberry (Phytolacca octandra)

Family Phytolaccaceae
 Grows to about 1m in height.
 An invasive plant from South America.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Groove Tree Heath (Erica canaliculata)

Family Ericaceae 
Distribution and habitat
Erica canaliculata grows along the coastal plains and valleys from George to Humansdorp in the Western and Eastern Cape. This species is found on moist flats and lower slopes . It tolerates full sunlight in the open where it will be more compact in growth reaching a height of about 3 m. It is however more often found along forest margins where it grows into a small tree 5 m tall. It grows in poor, well drained, acidic soils derived from weathered quartzite.
Erica canaliculata is a large, erect shrub up to 2 or 3 m high, sometimes developing into a small tree up to 5 m tall. It is well branched and covered with small green leaves giving a fine, soft texture. The main stem develops into a trunk up to 100 mm in diameter on large specimens. The bark is grayish-brown and has grooves in the old stems. It is a most impressive species that grows into a small tree that is covered with thousands of small pink flowers in summer. This species produces lovely displays along forest margins or in the thick fynbos-filled valleys of the southern Western and Eastern Cape.

This species produces a profusion of small cup-shaped pink flowers in clusters near the ends of its branches mainly during summer (from November to February). The flowers are distinguished by their very long styles, which protrude from the flower. Another feature is that the calyx has four lobes instead of four separate sepals and the anthers are muticous, which means they do not have appendages such as awns.

The fresh flowers have a strong fragrance, which becomes very noticeable while working with cut specimens. Its scent is a bit musty, with a sweet soapy smell, not unpleasant yet not exactly pleasant either.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
This species is named from the Latin word, ‘canaliculatus' which means channelled, referring to the grooves in its old stems. Plants were collected by European collectors and grown in Europe in the nineteenth century, and specimens are still in cultivation at the Belvedere Palace Gardens in Vienna after 200 years. At this garden plants are grown in large pots and pruned into the shape of a lollypop.
It appears to be pollinated by bees and small insects
Uses and cultural aspects
Erica canaliculata is a very showy species when in flower. It is recommended as a strong growing, reliable garden plant and is easy to maintain in average Mediterranean conditions and will also grow well as a large pot plant.

This species is ideal for a fynbos garden or even for a semishade garden as long as it gets some direct sunlight in the day. Flowering branches make an excellent, long-lasting cutflower.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Black-bearded Protea (Protea neriifolia)

Family Proteaceae
Protea neriifolia is part of an ancient plant family, the Proteaceae, which had already divided into two subfamilies before the break-up of the Gondwanaland continent about 140 million years ago. Both the Proteoideae and the Grevilleoideae occur mainly in the southern hemisphere. In southern Africa there are about 360 species, of which more than 330 species are confined to the Cape Floral Kingdom, between Nieuwoudtville in the northwest and Grahamstown in the east. Protea neriifolia belongs to the genus Protea, which has more than 92 species, subspecies and varieties.
The leaves of Protea neriifolia are most often bright- or dark green and look quite like the leaves of the oleander (Nerium oleander). This accounts for the species name neriifolia, which means 'with leaves resembling those of the oleander'.
Protea neriifolia was first discovered in 1597, was illustrated in 1605, and has the distinction of being the first protea ever to be mentioned in botanical literature. It took quite a while before it was officially recognised as a distinct species by the botanists and it was only described and named in 1810. Enthusiastic horticulturists in the meantime had already succeeded in growing Protea neriifolia in glasshouses in Europe and in 1811 an illustration of a plant grown to flowering size in the Herrenhaus Gardens near Hanover, Germany, was published. During the early nineteenth century it was possible to buy cream or pink flowering plants from a nursery in England and Protea neriifolia could be found in many private collections.
Protea neriifolia is a very widespread species and occurs from sea-level to 1300 m altitude in the southern coastal mountain ranges from just east of Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. It grows mainly on soils derived from Table Mountain Sandstone, often in large stands.
 The flowers are pollinated by scarab beetles, protea beetles and many other insects, as well as by birds. The birds are attracted by both the nectar and the insects visiting the flowers.