Can I smell it, or is it just in my head, please let it be…..Nope, should have known it’s only the neighbour’s sprinkler system that is sending up that particular scent of water on dust. Yip, it’s spring in southern Africa. When I think about spring in the movies, it’s cherry blossoms, butterflies and picnics in between the yellow buttercups, but this is Africa, so nothing is that simple. Spring time over here is quite the opposite of how the movies portray it.
In a way I love this time of the year, but then our spring is always extremely hostile, with warm bone dry, twirling winds powdering everything with dust and scorching temperatures in the high 30s, and all of this without a single cloud – not even mentioning the prospect of a rain. But what astounds me each year is how the world of plants still embrace this harsh time with full flair, and a lot of plants in the dry bush-veld around my area are in full flower, like they do every season.
Last week was particularly hot, and after applying half the tube of 100% block-out all over my face, looking like I was on the way to a cricket match, I went for a walk in one of our reserves in the eastern parts of South Africa, close to the Mozambique and Swaziland border. With a canister of water on my back and the camera in my hand, I completely lost myself in this dry wilderness.
One of the first spectacles and definitely a plant that cannot be missed and grows all over the show was the pink and white lilies of Crinum macowanni, growing wherever it can find bit of moisture for its feet and, as if the pink spectacle wasn’t enough, nature added a bit of a ‘Andy Warhol’ effect to the colour scheme with Kniphofias sending up spears of the brightest orange and yellow tubes filled with juicy nectar. On the rocky outcrops the aloes are almost finished flowering, but every now and then one was still holding on to its color robe and, even without the flowers, the masses of Aloe chabbaudii foliage were a sea of blue-green spikes.
The epic smell of jasmine is universal, and in my valley we have the rambling Jasminum multipartitum growing in between all the cracks of the big boulders. When in full flower you just have to follow the sweet scent to find those white star-shaped flowers covering the rock faces. The jasmine wasn’t the only plant with a intoxicating scent, as at the moment Plectranthus neochilus are in full bloom, and with the slightest touch of the leaf or a flower, an overwhelming spicy scent shoots up in the air.
The shade was welcoming in the heat, but even the shady areas were anything but dark and gloomy, as under the cover of low growing trees and Mackaya bella shrubs, one of the most successful global commercial plants grows wild, Clivia miniata, making a river of bright orange, and easy to see why they are so popular world wide.
On the way down the mountain a tree that caught the eye was Commiphora marlothii, with its paper-thin bright green bark that peels off in long strips, giving the shiny trunk an amazing texture, and a local toilet paper.
Growing only on the dry granite outcrops in the area are the very architectural euphorbias or chandelier trees. All I can tell you about them is not to get their milky latex in your eye, it was agony!!!
Our first rain should arrive end of October then like clockwork, a whole new curtain call of plants will appear almost overnight, to welcome in our wet summer.