Lowveld Botanical Gardens

One of the places I have been very keen to visit here in Mbombela is the Lowveld Botanical Garden.  I had heard that it was really worth going to see.  This last weekend B and I popped in to take a look.

There are two separate entrances and one can be a little confused as to which one to go to when you arrive.

Entrance 1 gives you quick access to the Nelspruit waterfall and cascades

and a really nice looking eatery called Kuzuri Restaurant. We popped in to take a look and the food smelled heavenly.  We plan to try it out soon.

One then walks over an amazing swing bridge and through the rain forest to get to the area serviced by entrance 2

Entrance 2 is closer to the formal gardens and the different types of walks as well as  the Red Leaf Fig Tea Garden where we stopped for scones and strawberry jam.  The food and service was very good.  This venue is often used for tea parties, birthdays and weddings.

Unfortunately when we arrived they were preparing for a party and the radio was loud with cars parked around the venue blocking out the stunning view and the beautiful bird sounds. I hope this was a once off. I will definitely be going back to see because other than that it was an enjoyable experience.

From this point there are various walks in different directions that one can choose from, all seem lovely from the few we did. The walks down to the river involve quite a few stairs but there are also walks throughout the garden that are wheelchair friendly.

We were lucky enough to catch the last of the clivias blooming

The huge variety of plants and flowers allow for all year round pleasure so we will be back many times I am sure.

Pretty in pink

This beautiful lily pops up just next to one of my cottages every year in Nov or December.  For the rest of the year it looks like two or three shriveled leaves.  It’s commonly known as a veld lily or river lily and is one of the Crinum lilies.  I am still arguing with all my sources as to which one it is.  Depending on the book or source, my crinum changes names.

I think it may be a crinum stuhlmannii but one of my books disagrees.

Anyone have an opinion?

Lilies in my valley

This week I found both of these lilies flowering in the bush near Jackal’s Den.  Some welcome colour midst the browns and greens of the summer landscape.

Snake Lily   (edit: – It has been brought to my attention by Ian from Antares Field Guide Training Centre that this is not called a snake lily. We both agree that it is the Scadoxus multiflorus which my book calls the snake lily. Ian calls it a fireball lily. I have done some research and have found that it is called many names including blood lily, torch lily, powderpuff lily, fireball lily, bloedblom, poison root, gifwortel.  No where else have I found it called a snake lily so it seems that my book may be wrong. I am going to try and contact the lady that edited the flower section so see what she says. Thank you Ian)

Ground Lily

At first I thought that the ground lily’s leaves had been eaten by one of our animals but they appear just like this in my plant book too.

Thanks to Sue and Rose for my lovely book. It is so handy.

The Wildlife of Southern Africa – The larger illustrated guide to the animals and plants of the region.  Edited by Vincent Carruthers

A crying tree – The Weeping Boer Bean

Although, when looking at the bushveld, is seems rather monotone (oranges and browns and greys in winter and greens and browns in summer), there are a myriad of colours hiding away for those who look closely.  In springtime especially there is quite a bit of red.

A favorite tree of mine is one with the most beautiful red flowers.  They stand out because they seem to shine brightly in the sunshine.  This is due to the copious amounts of nectar they exude – coating them in a sheen of sticky honey – so much so that the nectar drips onto the ground under the tree.  That is why it  is called the weeping boer bean.

Scotia brachypetala has quite a few other names too which help describe it.

  • Parrot Tree – the nectar attracts a lot of birds
  • Drunken Parrot Tree – excess nectar ferments and can have a mild narcotic effect on some birds
  • Weeping Boerbean – the name we use here – weeping due to the nectar dripping and bean because it is a leguminous tree
  • Huilboerboon – is the Afrikaans name (huil = cry)
  • Tree Fuchsia – totally different family to the fuchsia but has similar flowers (ballerina flowers)
  • African Walnut – the roasted seeds are edible.
While the tree in my garden pictured here is only about 3m tall, these trees can grow to about 22m high with a spread of 15 meters.
Not only is Schotia brachypetala an exceptional ornamental tree, it also has a number of other uses: A decoction of the bark is taken to treat heartburn and hangovers (good to know 🙂 ). Bark and root mixtures are used to strengthen the body and purify the blood, to treat nervous heart conditions and diarrhoea, as well as for facial saunas. The seeds are edible after roasting, Both the Bantu-speaking people and the early European settlers and farmers are said to have roasted the mature pods and eaten the seeds, a practice which they learned from the Khoikhoi. The bark can be used for dyeing, giving a red-brown or red colour.
Here are some pictures of the flowers
In the picture below you can see the gooey nectar. Also the bean pod in the middle of the flower and some ants busy collecting nectar.

Spring on the mountain

Each time I go up the mountains here, I am totally floored by the amazing plants in bloom.  Besides the flora being totally different to that of the surrounding lowveld, there are new things to see in every nook and cranny all year round.

It’s the first time I have been up when there has been a significant amount of cloud cover and also my first time in early spring.

Our national flower, the protea, is in full bloom.

Sue enjoying the view midst small protea plants.

Transvaal bottlebrush

other little bits of colourThis little plant was growing in a crack in a rockSome kind of wild cucumber type vineClivias growing in the fork of a tree

Coral tree bloom (we have these all over the place right now – not just on the mountain)

It was super having Rose with us as she could tell us just about every Latin name for each and every plant – I want to be able to do that one day – she’s awesome.

I can’t wait to go up the mountains again, yet I know they will look so very different again.  We noticed that there were hundreds and hundreds of clivias in the forests on the slopes of the mountain – I want to go up when they are in flower – what an awesome sight that will be. Now I just need to find out when they flower here.


Mariepskop – the summit

For this outing we headed to the top of this mountain.  Can you see the red beacon/tower.  That’s where we were going.  You may ask “How the heck do you get up there?”

By car…. right around the back of the mountain and up some very steep and windy roads.

On the eastern side of the Drakensberg Escarpment, facing away from the Blyde River Canyon, is  Mariepskop, a mountain of endemism of unsurpassed beauty. You can ascend to the top where, at 1,945m above sea level, you can see the Indian Ocean and Maputo on a clear day. Mariepskop is the highest peak in the northern Drakensberg Escarpment. The view is fantastic.

Ironically, its height has led to the presence of the military radar equipment on the top of the mountain that has caused its preservation. Development has been restricted and a natural wilderness has resulted. This hardware (along with its attendant masts) is visible from the local area, and helps to identify the location of the mountain.

Mariepskop Mountain is unique in its floral diversity. The foothills are in the Savannah. It is the source of the Klaserie River. On the slopes and in the kloofs and crags, montane forest species can be found. The semi-detached grassland hilltops are poorly studied, but are represented by grassland species and highly protected cycads species. The top of the mountain is a combination of tropical mist forest and ‘fynbos’ species.

Mariepskop contains well over 2,000 plant species, greater than the whole of Kruger Park and far exceeding Table Mountain’s plant diversity. There are over 1,400 floral species.

The diverse conditions also give rise to 905 vertebrate species.  Both the Mariepskop Dwarf Chameleon  and Three Rondawels Flat Gecko  appear to have been isolated locally through natural island biogeography. Unusual local mammals include the Samango monkey.

This is a place of wonderful solitude.

In the 1950’s, the planning and development of Mariepskop Radar Station started.  In 1954, Capt Cockbain and Cpl Franke ventured through the forest in order to reach the mountaintop of Mariepskop to access the site for radio communication.

1955  saw the start of construction of the road to Mariepskop, which was deemed impossible by both civilian and provincial contractors. They spent a year extending the forest road by five kilometres to the proposed domestic site, so as to use it as a base of operations. The basic road, to carry up equipment with which to establish the planned radio repeater site, was finally completed in February 1957. On 21 March 1957, the first radar radiation tests from Mariepskop took place and  proved so successful that the decision was taken to go ahead with plans to establish a radar station there. The station opened in 1965.

Fog-harvesting for water – clouds on tap

The first fog collection installation in South Africa was at Mariepskop in 1969/70. It was used as an interim measure to supply water to the South African Air Force personnel manning the Mariepskop radar station. Two large fog screens, constructed from plastic mesh and measuring about 28m x 3,5 m each, were erected at right angles to each other and to the fog and cloud-bearing winds. These yielded more than 11 l of water per square meter of collecting surface, per day. Unfortunately, the project was terminated once an alternative water source was found.