South Africa IV-2 - PLANTS
OH, WOWIE-E-E-E-E-E-E ! ! !
Our new South Africa IV collection has just been completed and we’re ecstatic, to put it mildly. This is South Africa IV-2, a design of some of our country’s widely varied plant treasures, and the stories that go with it:
Our readers will remember the story of the spiky red fern S, from the blog post “S” Is For Spiky, so we’ll continue immediately to the next letter.
The king protea is the national flower of our beautiful country and therefore deserves a place of prominence in this design. The most fascinating thing about proteas is that they’re designed to flourish after fire. Its stem reaches deep into the ground and carries a number of buds ready to grow into new plants after a bush fire. Of course, proteas are endemic to areas in South Africa where bush fires are common. Coming across a mountain slope - charred by a fire , the earth charcoaled in contrast to white rocks scattered like giant salt grains, with a smattering of new protea bushes - is one of the most beautiful paradoxes of our natural heritage. This particular specimen was photographed at one of our favourite places – Dutchies at Grotto Beach, Hermanus. But that’s a story for another day.
Another protea, this time the Protea neriifolia or oleander-leaved protea. It’s not my usual modus operandi to this, i know, but as the protea variety is so great in South Africa, i decided to indulge myself. On this particular day we were driving from Nature’s Valley on a grand adventure – to go walking with the elephants of Knysna Elephant Park (of which the story will be told another day). The rain had ceased just long enough for us to take this picture, which meant that i could capture the sparkling drops sticking to the petals. Don’t you think that those tiny drops look like precious stones beaded onto an elegant ball gown, too?
This cycad was standing in solitude on a hillside next to the Sentinel in Mpumalanga. i could tell you many things about that day and list a host of interesting facts about cycads, but only one fact will be given attention here: cycads in South Africa face extinction. Many people are so desperate to have cycads in their gardens that they’re willing to buy black market plants, which are illegally harvested from nature, and in this way they are effectively accessories to the decimation of our wild cycad populations. Is it really worth it to have a cycad in your garden, but not on the hillsides of our country? If cycads are fair game, what’s stopping us from poaching every single plant and animal from the plains, forests, deserts and mountains? Think of a future where the only thing you’ll see in the countryside is grass. Not a single protea, halfmens, cycad, agapanthus or aloe; no springbuck, ostrich, giraffe or warthogs. This is my plea: think and investigate before you buy a cycad, and pay more if that’s what it takes to save this part of our natural heritage.
We were on a photo trip through Namaqualand when a friend offered to take us to the Richtersveld in his 4x4, so we jumped at the opportunity. He used to be a land surveyor, and he was part of the team who plotted the roads in this park, which means we couldn’t have asked for a better guide. i didn’t know what to expect, but he introduced us to a whole new world. This is surely some of the starkest landscapes i've ever seen, and yet it’s rich in both plant and animal life. And of course, seeing a halfmens (literally translated – semi-human) for the first time in my life was the highlight of the trip.
The Pachypodium namaquanumis a succulent plant endemic to the western regions of South Africa and Namibia. Although some of these plants have been known to reach a height of 5 metres, mature plants are usually no more than 2.5 metres in height. When you take into consideration that it only grows about 1 centimetre per year, that means these plants spans generations of human lives. Even though the halfmens has many unique and interesting features, there is only one which really capture my mind: the sound of rain drops that emerge from this plant when you run your fingers downwards along the spines that cover the stem. If i had my way, we would’ve parked right there and listened to rain falling in this arid land until the echoes reverberated through the canyons. And even though we heard the sound, still it was dry as dust. Only sand and rocks and echoes; no real water.
Another of my favourite days ever was the day we visited God's Window in Mpumalanga, and not only because this was the first time i'd visited this corner or Creation, but because i could spend time with two of my favourite people in the whole wide world: tannie Ans and That-Man (of course.)
We drove to God’s Window from Nelspruit early on a misty morning, a common feature of these parts. When we arrived there, we were the only people and we enjoyed that particular privilege immensely. Just the two of us walking through misty corridors overflowing with indigenous plants, including aloes. We spent some time at the lookout points waiting for the sun to rise, and as the rays glided over the escarpment, the wisps of mist seemed to rise with increasing speed towards the heavens. We spent some time there, and when some sunbirds started collecting nectar from the aloes, the shape of the orange flowers caught my eye. Orange and blue both contrast and complement each other perfectly to create a balance i would never be able to imagine.
A few days after visiting the aloes at God’s Window, we were in Limpopo with one mission: Collect photos of baobab trees . These curious trees are so other-worldly and so unmistakably symbol of Limpopo that it was the only item on our list for the Limpopo province.
2016 was an extremely dry year after many other dry years, and as water became scarcer, the elephants in Mapungubwe came to the baobabs increasingly in search of water. You see, these trees store water in their trunks, and the elephants harvest that water by digging into the trees with their tusks. The elephant damage to this tree made this “F” possible, and reminded me of an Afrikaans idiom: “Die een se dood is die ander se brood.” (“One’s death is bread to the other.”) Although the baobab was hurt, the elephant could survive by the water it mined from the tree.
Remember the story we shared with you about the day we hiked the first 3km of the Otter Trail? Well, on that same trip we also hiked the last few kilometres of the Otter, from the beach at Nature’s Valley to the gate on the dune that prohibits entrance to people not registered for the hike. At this stage, we had just started preparing for the Annapurna Circuit, so my legs were not strong according to any definition, and neither were my lungs or heart. The struggle was real for me even before we’d left the beach, and That-Man’s patience once again shone like a beacon as he encouraged me towards our destination: a lookout on top of the dune. (Did i say dune? i meant EXTREMELY HIGH, FRIGHTFULLY STEEP, MAGNIFICENTLY CHALLENGING MOUNTAIN!) On the way back he kicked in his heels, though, and made me take out my camera to take pictures of a piece of driftwood. It must have been a whole tree when it originally landed on the beach. These photos are still some of my favourites in my whole collection, and the shape of this letter reminds me of the Nepali flag. Sometimes That-Man’s stubbornness is something to be thankful for.
What a day! What a day! What a day!
Have you ever hiked from the Sentinel Car Park to the Chain Ladders in the Drakensberg? We have, and oh, what a day! Five people bundled into a Corsa bakkie, some sunscreen, hats, backpacks and walking sticks and there we go! A meandering footpath snaking along the side of the mountains, some baboons barking from the cliffs, hair-raising climbs up the chain ladders and many stops to refuel and take photos along the way. Spending time talking with my Creator on top of the mountain, meeting herdsmen on their ponies and then all the way down the chain ladders again. Too many experiences to jam in here today, but i will share this little snippet of time with you. As we were returning to our vehicle, the sun was already sinking low and mist was gathering. This lone agapanthus stood just close enough to the trail to be visible through the mist. It’s smaller than those we’re used to seeing in gardens. Maybe it’s still growing, maybe it’s a different variety. Maybe the harsh climate here inhibits its growth. Whatever the case may be, it served to remind me that solitude can be a beautiful thing.
Those of you who don’t know South African flowers that well, won’t notice the repetition until i inform you that this is yet another protea. The pincushion protea, no less. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is the crown of South African flora, and that was our stop for the day. A week later, after we had seen many extraordinary things in and around Cape Town, i told That-Man that if i were a Capetonian, i would buy myself annual membership to Kirstenbosch and a Sanparks card, and spend all my free time on a rotating basis at Kirstenbosch, Cape Point and the penguin sanctuary in Simons Town. Kirstenbosch offers so much more than the opportunity to see a variety of indigenous plants and trees in one place. There are a number of hiking routes, including a route to the very top of Table Mountain. They have outdoor events, concerts and many more. One of my favourites was the greenhouse close to the entrance. Here all kinds of strange and awesome plants are kept, not the least of which the ancient Welwitschia of Namibia. You could come here every week and keep learning something new each time.
On the same day that we captured the spiky red “S,” we encountered this exceptional fern in Knysna’s forest. This might be as close as my current lens will come to capturing a macro photo, and the process that led to this particular photo was a most enjoyable experiment. As there was only dim, filtered light on the forest floor, i was experiencing extreme difficulty taking a picture that showed enough light, yet without motion blur due to a slow shutter speed. After many frustrating adjustments to my manual settings, That-Man simply said: “Why don’t you use the flash?”
Has he lost his mind?!
A flash is as good as a death-knell to a photo! Doesn’t he know that?!
Well, sometimes he teaches me valuable lessons about photography. Like being open to using the flash against your own bad experiences. Sometimes the flash doesn’t create harsh shadows, because in the forest everything is already in the shadows. The flash lightened the foreground and enriched the luscious green hues, while casting everything else in total darkness, creating a perfectly-coloured image.
That-Man is a most welcome companion to any photographer.
So there it is, one of our new designs. If you’re interested in owning one of these, feel free to send us an email.
Other stories in this series include: