Saturday, 17 March 2018

Fossicking in the cliff-edge forests at Cubica Heights (Thursday 15 March 2018)

With the publication of the name of the new species of Hesperantha which we found last year expected soon, we decided to head the Cubica Heights to see if any had emerged yet. Before we went to the Hesperantha site however we first went to look at the Outeniqua Falls. Luckily, it was overcast and this made it easier to take photos of what is normally a very contrasty scene. On the way to the waterfall we found Gladiolus eckloniiMonsonia praemorsa and a big patch of Monocymbium ceresiforme.

Gladiolus ecklonii

Monsonia praemorsa 

Monocymbium ceresiforme

Outeniqua Falls
Looking in the opposite direction we could see a bright pink swathe of Watsonia densiflora. At the first rock outcrop where the grassland drops down into the Outeniqua gorge, the Loxostylis alata were showing the full range of colour from white flowers to red bracts and combinations of both. A nearby Phylica paniculata was also starting to flower and in their shade there were several clumps of Aeollanthus parvifolius. Unexpectedly early (or late) was a few clusters of flowers on Pseudoscolopia polyantha. 

Needing a careful look to distinguish the similar looking flowers from the Aeollanthus we found some Brownleea coerulea growing in the leaf litter.

A swathe of Watsonia densiflora

Loxostylis alata

Phylica paniculata

Aeollanthus parvifolius

Pseudoscolopia polyantha

Brownleea coerulea

We walked across another rocky promontory, passing spikes of purple-flowered Plectranthus hadiensis, until we reached a forested edge to the cliffs. We found our way into this narrow patch of forest to be greeted by a showcase of Brownleea coerulea, Streptocarpus formosus and Stenoglottis fimbriata. There was a cluster of Rhipsalis baccifera bearing deep pink fruits. We also found the as yet undescribed species of Clutia in flower.

We enjoyed this spectacle for a while, venturing down the steep slope as far as we could before climbing out of the forest again.

Plectranthus hadiensis

Stenoglottis fimbriata

Rhipsalis baccifera in fruit.

Clutia sp. nov. 

Once back in the grassland we skirted the top of the forest for a while, finding Brachylaena glabra, Olea capensis subsp. enervis, Tarchonanthus trilobus and Cassipourea gummiflua flowering and Viscum obscurum in fruit. A little further on there was a great mass of Pelargonium capitatum climbing over other shrubs, as was a Dolichos sericeus.

Brachylaena glabra

Olea capensis subsp. enervis 

Cassipourea gummiflua

Tarchonanthus trilobus

Viscum obscurum 

Pelargonium capitatum

Dolichos sericeus

We then found an unusually floriferous Indigofera herrstreyi (ined.), while below us and impossibly out of reach was a Rhynchocalyx lawsonoides covered in white flowers.

Indigofera herrstreyi (ined.)

Rhynchocalyx lawsonoides

We then found another access into the forest and a couple of us pushed our way down the slope. It seemed to be more of the same - apart from two young Celtis gomphophylla - until Gail spotted a Begonia flowering below us. This turned out to be an Endangered Begonia homonyma, a plant not often seen in the Umtamvuna NR.

Growing on a steep rock face was Oplismenus hirtellus, a forest floor grass species, sporting two flower stalks and lower down on the same rock was Oldenlandia tenella.

Begonia homonyma 

Oplismenus hirtellus

Oldenlandia tenella
By now the troops were clamouring for lunch so we moved more quickly around the forest to a great view spot.

Osteospermum moniliferum

Anastrabe integerrima

Alberta magna at cliff edge with the diners in the background

We checked for the Hesperantha but there was no sign of them yet. Heading back to the vehicle, we came across more pink-flowered Craterostigma sp. nov.,  scattered among white flowered plants. A little further on we saw a small frog poorly camouflaged against the bright pink of a Watsonia densiflora.

Craterostigma sp. nov.

Frog on Watsonia densiflora

As we reached the entrance to Beacon Hill we noticed a Brunsvigia grandiflora  and this was accompanied by numbers of Syncolostemon ramulosus. We had timed things just right -- we had enjoyed the cool, overcast conditions all day and as everyone departed it started to rain.

Brusnvigia grandiflora

Syncolostemon ramulosus

Participants: Dorothy M, Elaine L, Gail B-W, Graham G, Kate G, Maggie A.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

A CREW training workshop in Rhodes (6 to 10 March 2018)

Interest was expressed in starting a new CREW group in Rhodes, Eastern Cape province, and Vathiswa Zikishe asked us to assist by providing some training in how to collect, press and dry plant voucher specimens as part of a workshop in Rhodes. Clearly there would also be some field work in the surrounding hills and mountains. It was certainly an opportunity for us to broaden our knowledge of the botany of this high-altitude biome, so we made the long trip up to Rhodes (about 250 km as the crow flies, but the trip took about 7 hours) via the lower Pitseng Pass and up Naude's Nek (the third highest mountain pass in SA). We were lucky that the road up the Pitseng pass was in the process of being graded and was thus in reasonable condition. This was unfortunately not the case with Naude's Nek, with the approach from the Maclear side being pretty rough.

We nevertheless had cause to stop at a few places up these passes when flowers caught our eye. There were some stands of Kniphofia linearifolia and a big patch of Bulbine narcissifolia along the roadside. We also saw a Striga elegans and a Delosperma which we have yet to identify.

The start of the lower Pitseng Pass

Kniphofia linearifolia

Bulbine narcissifolia

Striga elegans.

We then started seeing Gladiolus oppositiflorus along the side of the road and a bit further on we saw the first of the purple-flowered Berkheya purpurea.

Gladiolus oppositiflorus

Berkheya purpurea
Not far from the junction of the lower Pitseng Pass road with the road to Naude's Nek we stopped to look at more Kniphofia and saw an unusual white form of Satyrium sphaerocarpum,  as well as Cyphia longifolia and a single Disperis tysonii.

Satyrium sphaerocarpum

Cyphia longifolia

Disperis tysonii
We bounced our way up to Naude's Nek, stopping briefly before the top to look at some Brownleea macroceras, a single Alepidea thodei, Crassula sarcocaulis, Crassula setulosa and some Sebaea natalensis.

Brownleea macroceras

Alipidea thodei

Crassula sarcocaulis

Crasula setulosa

Sebaea natalensis

We then pressed on with some speed (relatively speaking) to ensure we reached Rhodes to get the key to our accommodation before the agent left for the day - apart from a brief stop to photograph a clump of Kniphofia caulescens at the roadside. 

Kniphofia caulescens

While we were enjoying the last rays of sun on the stoep of the house we were staying in, Brendan Cole, the prime-mover in getting this new CREW group going, popped in to welcome us and set up arrangements for the following day. The next morning dawned with clear skies and we drove up to the workshop venue at the Rubicon restaurant. Once some of the delegates arrived we set off on a short walk on the Rhodes commonage just next to the restaurant grounds, where we collected several plants to use as examples of how to press specimens.

Some of the workshop participants on the first field outing

Apart from the mole snake which crossed our path lazily, the first flower we saw was the common Hermannia coccocarpa - as with most Hermannia, the flowers of this species hang downwards and they always need a little help to show them at their best. Nearby were several Polygala hottentotta and easily seen from a distance was a single Gladiolus saundersii.

Hermannia coccocarpa

Gladiolus saundersii

Our numbers were swelled when a contingent from Matatiele joined us, delayed by the slow pace of scaling Naude's Nek.  Further into our exploration of this area we found Jamesbrittenia pristisepala, a number of Euphorbia clavaroides (surprisingly, no-one elected to collect a specimen of this) and a cluster of the rich burgundy-coloured flowers of Pelargonium sidoides. We also found some Diascia integerrima and one or two Dianthus basuticus.

Jamesbrittenia pristisepala

Euphorbia clavaroides

Polygala hottentotta

Pelargonium sidoides 

Diascia integerrima

Dianthus basuticus

We then reached a stream and searched along the banks where we found Crassula dependens, Crassula natalensis and Chaesostoma floribundum. Having collected sufficient demonstration material, we headed back to the workshop venue, finding an Asclepias gibba on the way.

Crassula dependens

Crassula natalensis 

Chaenostoma floribundum

Asclepias gibba 

The augmented collecting team

The delegates then all had the opportunity to position specimens on flimsies and pack them together with absorbent paper and cardboard into a stack for pressing. Late that afternoon there were presentations on CREW by Vathiswa and on plants of the Rhodes area by Brendan. Late that evening we experienced a rambunctious thunderstorm and some heavy rain. When we woke the next morning the skies were clouded over but we nevertheless set off to explore the area around Naude's Nek and Tenahead. At the roadside on the way up we saw several of the attractive little Zaluzianskya crocea.

Waterfall cascading down into the Bell River valley

Zaluzianskya crocea

At Naude's Nek it was pretty misty and cold but we set off just below the cliffs and were soon finding interesting plants. On the exposed basalt slabs near the parking area we found an unnamed  Othonna sp. as well as Psammatropha obtusa and Helichrysum subglomeratum.

Misty conditions at the top of Naude's Nek

Othonna sp.

Psammatropha obtusa

Helichrysum subglomeratum

The south-facing grassy slopes below the cliffs had many Brownleea macroceras, the odd Cerastium arabidis and clumps of Erica alopecurus. Just within reach on the cliff face was a Cineraria - we need to do some research to determine the ID of this species.

Cerastium arabidis

Erica alopecurus

We then started seeing orchids - first it was a Disa fragrans (with a spicy fragrant scent) and after a brief interlude to photograph a rather battered Geranium brycei, we then found several Huttonaea grandiflora and nearby, a Disperis renibractea. Huddled over a rock was an Erica frigida in flower.

Disa fragrans

Geranium brycei

Huttonaea grandiflora

Disperis renibractea

Erica frigida
In a small puddle we found numbers of the rather rank smelling Wurmbea elatior. 

Wurmbea elatior

We decided we had exhausted the potential of this area and pressed on to Tenahead, encountering Berkheya cirsiifolia, Euryops annae and Euryops candollei, Crassula setulosa var rubra and Hirpicium armeroides along the roadside.

Berkheya cirsiifolia

Euryops annae

Euryops candollei

Crassula setulosa var rubra

Hirpicium armeroides
 We also found what Hilliard has referred to as a hybrid between Jamesbrittenia breviflora and J. pristisepala. This is fairly abundant in this area and in the fields around Rhodes. Other roadside plants were Selago saxitilis and Eumorphia sericea.

Jamesbrittenia breviflorus X pristisepala

Selago saxitilis
Eumorphia sericea

We enjoyed a cup of coffee and some lunch before setting off uphill to see what else we could find. It was not long before we were caught in a shower but decided to press on. Along a stream we saw many Romulea macowanii and growing on a rock sheet in the stream were Cotula socialis  and Eumorphia prostrata. On the banks we found many more Wurmbea elatior and some Hesperantha woodii.

Romulea macowanii

Cotula socialis

Eumorphia prostrata

Hesperantha woodii

The rain set in a bit more forcefully with a cold wind blowing and a thunder storm was bearing down on us so we decided to turn back. Despite the rain we managed to spot Glumicalyx montana and Moraea albicuspa.

Glumicalyx montana

Moraea albicuspa

Stachys rugosa

We were very glad to get back into the cars and only just in time as the rain really started pelting down, now accompanied by hail. The drive back to Rhodes was interesting with the mountains streaked with streams, some of which we had to drive through. We were very glad to get back home to dry clothes.

One of the many mountain streams on the way back to Rhodes

The next day a clear and crisp morning greeted us as we prepared to undertake a more extensive exploration of the Rhodes commonage. We parked again at the Rubicon restaurant parking area and started up into the hills. Apart from an unknown white-flowered plant which requires some work, we came across the first of many Heliophila suavissima we were to see on this walk. Stopping at dolerite rock outcrops we came across two other species - possibly Malvaceae - which we need to work on to get to genus and species.

Heliophila suavissima

Scaling the heights of the Rhodes commonage

On one of these outcrops we came across the first of the Euphorbia clavaroides showing signs of browsing by sheep - this one depicted below was the only one in flower amongst many that we found. We followed some angora goats around to a steep, south-facing slope and here found Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga with an old flower stalk. Nearby were several Helichrysum elegantissimum, the first time some of us had seen this species. These were accompanied by Ursinia alpina.

Euphorbia clavaroides damaged by sheep

Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga

Helichrysum elegantissimum

Ursinia alpina

Scaling the steep slope I found a Helichrysum trilineatum nicely framed between two rocks. From here we could see the mountain stream and dam which collects the water for Rhodes.

Helichrysum trilineatum

The stream which provides Rhodes with water

Just over the brow of the hill we chose a spot with a good view of Rhodes and stopped for lunch.

At our turning point

View of Rhodes from above

We descended into the valley and ended up walking along another stream. Here we found Felicia cf quinquenervia, a few Gomphocarpus fruticosus and Pimpinella caffra. On the banks of the stream we found numbers of Osteospermum scariosum with their unusual winged fruits. 

Felicia wrightii

Gomphocarpus fruticosus fruits

Pimpinella caffra

Another clear mountain stream with a sandstone bed

Small cascade

Osteospermum scariosum

After collecting a supply of spring water from the overflow of the municipal reservoir, we headed home. That evening we were treated to very colourful sunset.
Sunset in Rhodes

We decided to drive the route via Elliott to return home to ensure that Vathiswa, in her hired car, was able to safely navigate the 60 kilometres of (sometimes muddy) dirt road. Fortunately there were no incidents along this road and we rejoined the tar road at Shadow Mountain Inn. It is always a magnificent spectacle driving down through Barkly Pass. Just before we reached Elliott, we came across a population of Nerine in flower. Although these turned out to be the relatively common Nerine appendiculata, it was still a rewarding sight. We were to see several more of these populations along the R56 route back home and the end of a very enjoyable and rewarding trip. 

Many thanks should go to Brendan for his enthusiasm which culminated in this workshop being organised.

Nerine appendiculatum

Participants: Brendan C, Graham G, Kate G, Sharl S, Vathiswa Z, delegates from the Rhodes area, delegates from the Matatiele area.