Leon KlugeIn search of the giant Miscanthus

Snuggled away on the mountainous border of the Free State and Lesotho is the Golden Gate National Park, a reserve dedicated to the preservation of southern Africa’s amazing and extensive grass species. I took the week off and headed to Lesotho to look for a giant grass called Miscanthus capensis, that is in full flower at the moment and is one of only two Miscanthus species that occur in southern Africa.

field of cosmos

Driving through the province of the Free State, the roadside was completely surrounded by endless miles of colorful cosmos. Yes, cosmos in a daze of purple, white and pink. I know cosmos is a highly invasive plant in South Africa, but it is still incredibly beautiful when in flower, and you can’t help but running through the fields of flowers like a child.

The Free State is known for its friendly people, good old traditional South African food and wide open plains, but on the eastern corner and on the Lesotho border its a completely different scene with mountains, forests, waterfalls and wetlands.

A steep climb - for the physically fit!

A steep climb – for the physically fit!

I haven’t been to the gym as much as I should have in the last couple of months, and the hiking trails I wanted to tackle stated in bold letters “FOR THE EXPERIENCED AND FIT MOUNTAIN CLIMBER ONLY… ” So I packed another energade!

Sandstone cliffs in the Golden Gate National Park

Sandstone cliffs in the Golden Gate National Park

Sandstone formations rise like freshly baked bread

Sandstone formations rise like freshly baked bread

When ascending Golden Gate’s big yellow sandstone cliffs that arise out of the ground like a freshly baked bread rising out of its baking tray, you can’t help but feel so small and insignificant in the scale of everything that surrounds you. Golden Gate got its name from the magnificent golden color that the sandstone cliffs turn into when the sun starts to set over the Drakensberg mountains in the west. It’s magic, just pure magic.

Clematis brachiata

Clematis brachiata

The early morning breeze blessed me with the sweet scent of the yellow flowering Clematis brachiata creeping in the shrubbery all around me. It is autumn with the last flushes of color before the freezing winter and snow is in full swing, from the blue lobelia to the bright yellow gazania and from the streptocarpus to the erica, all trying to out do the other with flowering perfection.

Lobelia

Lobelia

 

It took me a while and all huffing and puffing I finally reached the top of the mountain where some of the worlds most famous alpine plants thrive. Rhodohypoxis, Euphorbia clavarioides , Diascia babaraea, bakopa, erica and geranuim just to mention a few, growing all over the sandstone cliffs. The strange Euphorbia clavarioides looked like coral tightly packed on a reef, with the flowerring gazania as the anenomies. ( It might have been the lack of oxygen to my brain that lead to that thought).

Gazania krebsiana

Gazania krebsiana

 

Helichrysum

Helichrysum

Helichrysum aureum

Helichrysum aureum

Euphorbia clavarioides

Euphorbia clavarioides

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diascia barbaraea

Diascia barbaraea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views were spectacular from the top, overlooking the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, the bird life rife, and startling me half to death every now and then were a black wildebeest and zebra crossing my path.

On top of the world

On top of the world

Miscanthus capensis in between burnt protea

Miscanthus capensis in between burnt protea

On the way down I entered a spectacular scene where the previous season a wildfire had burnt through the veld and left a trail of huge black protea stumps and, flushing underneath them was a sea of flowering grass, the Misanthus capensis. They are spectacular, shooting their inflorescence high up in the air, just to show off and confirm that they are the kings of the mountain grasses. They prefer damp growing conditions, usually colonizing around tricklings of water.

Miscanthus capensis

Miscanthus capensis

Miscanthus capensis

Miscanthus capensis

They are an evergreen grass that flower from December to May, attracting birds not only to feast on the abundance of seed it produces, but also to devour the masses of insects it attracts, and using the long strong strappy leaves as nesting material.

Widdringtonia nodiflora - a South African cedar

Widdringtonia nodiflora – a South African cedar

I had my very ‘healthy’ brunch consisting of mainly a variety of fudge and coffee in one of the many hollowed out sandstone caves in the cliffs. In front of me was yet another strange small tree, Widdringtonia nodiflora which is one of only 3 species of cedar trees occurring in southern Africa. It still remains weird to see cedars growing in the African wild.

Cooling down in the forests

Cooling down in the forests

 

The Drakensberg is still a very much untouched part of South Africa, that gives you a sense of how Africa must have been like before mankind were present.

 

 

 

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Leon Kluge

About Leon Kluge

Leon Kluge is an award-winning landscape designer who was part of the successful South African team at Chelsea in both 2010 and 2012, and the Gardening World Cup in Japan in 2011, and then won a Gold medal at the 2013 Cup. Leon is known for his modern, contemporary landscapes, sustainable community projects and his specialisation in vertical gardens. His company Leon Kluge Landscape Design is based in north-eastern South Africa.

7 thoughts on “In search of the giant Miscanthus

  1. Leon your images and descriptions of South Africa are wonderful. Many of the plants you describe do very well in Sydney gardens. We are looking forward to Rod and Rachel saunders of Silverhill Seeds, Cape Town, speak at our Collectors’ Plant Fair on 13/14 April. No doubt they will paint similar beautiful pictures.

  2. Thank you Leon. You took me on a long trek I’d love to do in actuality, and the photos are marvellous. I never got to that part of South Africa but it felt just like home – well, a rugged and wild bit of the garden anyway 🙂 I’ve posted your piece on my Facebook by the way.

    Tot siens!

    Richard Laidlaw

    • Hi Richard
      Happy to be able to take you guys on my little adventures in the African bush.
      Thanks for the FB-post

      Regards
      Leon

  3. Eugene on said:

    Fabulous bit of PR for SA yet again Leon.

    Your last two articles have now moved me to get off the couch and ring the travel agent. My daughter is in Cape Town at the moment. Her fourth trip in three years, so clearly there is something going on over there.

  4. Leon on said:

    Hi Eugene

    Cape Town’s growing season is about to start now in winter, my favourite time! When I start blogging about that, you will be on the next flight over here!

    Regards
    Leon

  5. Eugene on said:

    I will be there with bells on Leon!

    I’m currently working with an expat Cape Towner and he said to me that whenever he goes back to Cape Town he knows why he goes back.

    The Drakensberg beckons!

  6. helen mckerral on said:

    What an inviting blog post, Leon! I’d love to see those plants growing wild – I have an unruly clump of Diascia barberae thriving in my garden for at least a decade, and just this weekend I planted pink and white clumps of Rhodohypoxis baueri into my dry stone wall. They’re about to become deciduous in my winter, and I wasn’t sure whether they’d like the dry stone wall environment, with the pockets of soil and very good drainage… but your post makes me think I might be in with a chance!

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