Sunday, 29 May 2016

Syzygium australe

Syzygium australe, with many common names that include brush cherry, scrub cherry, creek lilly-pilly, creek satinash, and watergum, is a rainforest tree native to eastern Australia. It can attain a height of up to 35m with a trunk diameter of 60cm. In cultivation, this species is usually a small to medium-sized tree with a maximum height of only 18m.

The leaves are opposite, simple, lanceolate from 4–8 cm long. Flowers are white and in clusters. The dark pink to red fruits are edible. Closely related to the Eugenias, I planted mine specifically because Grey Louries are purported to be fond of the fruit. Just a kilometer away from us there are Louries in abundance and yet they don’t visit my garden at all. It doesn’t seem to have helped, my Syzygium is 10 years old already and nary a Grey Lourie! But I do enjoy this tree’s shiny foliage and those lovely berries. Flowering time is early summer. In early autumn, red to purple roundish fruits are produced. They are about 15 mm in diameter and are tipped with a persistent calyx.

The genus Syzygium has many medicinal properties. Eugeniin extracted from the buds of almost all species of this genus has antiviral activity against the Herpes simplex virus. Bark infusions of this plant are said to ease pain and coughing.

Purported to be evergreen, mine frosts down every winter and every spring I anxiously await the new greenery, relieved when at last it makes its appearance.

One thing about planting a non-indigenous species of tree, is that no birds are interested in the fruit and don't even use it for nesting. The Mynahs are just about the only birds I ever even see visiting it. But it is a lovely ornamental tree for the garden.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Striped Grass Mouse

Besides beautiful flowers, gardening brings so many other pleasures! Visiting and resident birds, other wildlife like hedgehogs, tortoises, guinea fowl, partridges, bees and other insects, the odd snake and this lovely little Striped field mouse.

A Striped Field mouse Rhabdomys pumilio : Common name - Four-striped grass mouse. Streepmuis in Afrikaans) in my garden. He's quite tame as I often put out seeds for them, and here I was within a meter from him. He was actually very disgusted, drying himself off as I had accidentally gotten him wet while watering the garden with the hosepipe.

Very disgruntled at being wet!

I tolerate these lovely little creatures (unlike rats!) as they are totally harmless and very rarely venture into the house where, however, they can be quite destructive! I've only ever seen this pair in my garden and was actually hoping to see little ones scurrying about!

Rhabdomys is a largely Southern African genus of muroid rodents slightly larger than house mice. 

Here they are snacking on some sunflower seeds I put out for them in my garden. 

The Striped Mouse, so named because of the four longitudinal black stripes down its back, is an opportunistic omnivore, and has a varied diet. In certain areas they are mainly granivorous, while in others they may eat more plant material than seeds. They also enjoy a wide variety of other vegetable matter and insects.

The striped mouse helps to pollinate many Protea species, as pollen clings to its head while it is feeding. When the mouse moves off to feed on other neighbouring flowers of the same species, it carries the pollen with it, thus assisting in the fertilization of these flowers. They normally excavate a burrow at the base of a grass thicket, ensuring that the entrance is well hidden, and lining the chambers of their burrows with soft, leafy debris; alternatively, they construct a ground-level nest under cover of dense stands of tall grass.

Striped Mouse forage by day, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, and are often seen among the tall grasses growing on the perimeter of cultivated land. In central Africa, where striped mice are also found, they breed throughout the year, but in the south the breeding season is usually confined to the summer months (September to May).

During the breeding season the adult females appear to be territorial, with limited home ranges which probably overlap the large home ranges of the males. There are from 2 - 9 young per litter.

Some Info from "EcoTravel"

Location : My garden in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa
Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom 


Sunday, 22 May 2016

Praying Mantids in my garden

Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom 
Taken in my garden, Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa

Over the year the visitors to the garden vary according to the season, the weather, the heat, rain, food, shelter, breeding cycle and probably other conditions we can’t know or measure – we don’t know it all, that’s for sure.

This Praying Mantis (Mantidae Stagomantis) was so well camouflaged that I almost missed her. If it wasn’t for a slight movement of one of her front legs, I would never have seen her.

This gardener’s friend is a voracious little predator and feeds on harmful insects like aphids and fruit flies, with the adults graduating to flies, butterflies and crickets. Some species even eat small hummingbirds, frogs, lizards, and mice.

The “leaf” on her back is actually her wing! I photographed her in one
of our blue Gum trees (Eucalyptus) on our smallholding in Tarlton, South

By and large many people regard insects with horror as either pests or revolting creepy-crawly creatures to be avoided or worse still, squashed without mercy. Infamous as they may be, insects play such a vital role in the food chain and the global eco-system of the planet that without them, life as we know it, would cease to exist.

The Praying Mantis (Mantidae Stagomantis – Afrikaans “Hottentotsgod”, literally meaning the god of the Khoi) is named for its prominent front legs, which are bent and held together at an angle that suggests the position of prayer.

Generally, mantises are good for the garden. They’re part of a solution to a pest problem, but they eat beneficials, too. And if nothing else is available, they’ll eat each other! So if you plan having one as a pet, have separate housing for each praying mantis you intend to keep!

The praying mantis is the only insect capable of rotating its head by 180 degrees, and this, combined with very keen eyesight, is used to observe both predators and prey. Incredibly the mantis’ powerful vision extends over 50 feet. And as if this wasn’t enough they also have hearing abilities that exceed the upper limit of human hearing.

Organic gardeners who avoid pesticides may encourage mantises as a form of biological pest control. Did you know that tens of thousands of mantis egg cases are sold each year in some garden stores for this purpose! During autumn, praying mantis females deposit a sticky egg case on the underside of a leaf or on a twig. If the egg case survives winter, the offspring, called nymphs, emerge in late spring or early summer. The nymphs have voracious appetites and typically cannibalize each other if they don’t have an adequate supply of aphids and other small insects. Egg cases are commercially available for placement in landscaping.

She was following my every move as I
moved around the tree to get the best shot. Her little head turned with
every movement I made, seemingly staring me right in the eye all the
while, yet not making the slightest move in case she might give away her
position, perfectly camouflaged amongst the leaves. She chose a good
spot, as her wings looked exactly like the leaves of the Karee she was resting in.

I really am always thrilled when I find a Praying Mantis in my garden – these insects are real characters and are not intimidated easily! When I tried to move the leaves to get a better shot, my finger was summarily grabbed and I got a quick nip for my efforts. That didn’t hurt, but the front legs holding onto my finger certainly would have crushed and fatally injured any insect unlucky enough to venture close. I had quite a time convincing her to let go so I could carry on photographing!

Uittreksel uit Siel van Hottentotsgod

Haar koppie draai al in die rondte opsoek na iets sappigs om die honger pyne te stil. Def is ‘n hottentotsgod wat al ‘n paar winters oorleef het hier in die bos geweste. Sy verlang ook nou al baie na haar mannnetjie wat sy al lank terug opgeëet het. Hy sal mos ook nou al trots gewees het op die kleingoed van so by die hele ses. Met haar voorpoot veeg sy ‘n insek traan uit die oë wat altyd waaksaam moet bly. 



Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Just before winter, tightly packed

Take some Echeverias (E. imbricata), plant too many in one terracotta pot, have lots of rain and you have a scene of each plant doing its best to be the biggest!

I have found E. imbricata to be a fast grower, producing healthy plants and actually spreads like wild fire. Although succulents are renowned for the fact that they can grow in poor soils and are drought tolerant, this Echeveria thrives in a good, rich potting soil and lots of water, as long as it also gets lots of sun.

Unfortunately they are not very frost tolerant and every winter I bring those that are in pots into the house for winterizing. This is not ideal, as they tend to get leggy searching for more light and results in me cutting them down and replanting them every spring. Yep, I know that sounds a bit excessive, but the alternative is dead or frost-damaged plants that hardly ever recover before the next onslaught of winter.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

The dustbin chicks

One of Solly’s hens (one of only 4 left after a mysterious disease killed about 20 of his chickens) hatched out six little chicks, leaving another 11 eggs un-hatched when she left the nest at about 6am. About an hour later, I saw a tiny chick stumbling from the nest, still wet from emerging from the egg. Mommy and her crew of six had already disappeared somewhere into the garden, so once again I had a little chick to tend to.


I brought her inside and kept her warm in a basket of grass with a hot water bottle and a towel throughout the day and that night. Early the next morning I saw Mommy and her babies just outside my studio window and quickly rushed outside with Dottie (she has two little black dots on her head) and put her down in front of Mommy, who immediately clucked encouragingly and little Dottie quickly responded by running towards her and under her warm tummy.

Dottie (top right) with some of the other chicks 

Mommy and all seven babies enjoying the lawn

I kept watch for about an hour until I was satisfied that she was able to keep up with the rest of the clan, feeling relieved that it had all worked out well. Sometimes chicks imprint on me too quickly or the mother refuses to take it back, then it’s a case of looking after a little chick for many weeks before it is ready to join my girls in the garden. Over the past two days they've all grown in leaps and bounds and Mommy is an absolutely perfect mother, calling them to the food I put out and first letting them have their fill before she has anything herself.

Mommy calling the chicks for a tit-bit 

Now, here's the thing. On Tuesday afternoon we disposed of all the other eggs that were left over and threw them in the dustbin in the back yard. Two days later, as I passed the dustbin, I heard peeping! Looking inside, I saw that two chicks had hatched. I was gob-smacked! Upon closer inspection of the rest of the eggs, I noticed that one had a hole in it and heard peeping coming from within. I gathered up the two babies and the egg and rushed inside, immediately getting the two chicks onto a towel with a hot water battle. The egg was still peeping, so I carefully removed all the shell and found a perfectly formed little chick struggling to get out. I gently cleaned it and also put in on the hot water bottle with the other two chicks.

The two "dustbin chicks" with the one I took out of the egg warming up on the towel and hot water bottle

The three little "dustbin chicks" getting warmed up 

The chick in the centre (I named her Snoodles) is the one I took out of the egg

I constantly checked the temperature inside the towel to make sure it was not too hot also often stroking the third little chick and talking to it. After about half-an-hour it raised it's little head and opened its eyes! I was thrilled! It also struggled up to stand, stretching its little legs for a second or two before settling down between the other two chicks again.

After about four hours it was dry and quite alert, moving about and taking an interest in its surroundings, snuggling close to the other two.

I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, Mommy will accept the two older little dustbin chicks but the one I took out of the egg still has a long way to go and I doubt that it will be able to keep up with the much older chicks, so it looks like I've got a few weeks ahead of me tending to this little one.

Hens lay eggs over a period of time and sometimes those laid first, hatch first. When she left the nest, some of the other eggs might have been on the point of hatching and I think the dustbin acted like an incubator, it was standing in the morning sun with the lid on and it was quite warm inside. If she had stayed on the eggs just a day later, probably some more would have hatched.

Well, I DID put the first two dustbin chicks back with their Mommy one morning and she accepted them immediately. Of course they were cold and she immediately called them under her warm feathers. I will keep an eye on them to make sure they keep up with the rest of the crowd. The third little chick which I took out of the egg is still a bit weak, so I doubt she will be joining the flock, ever.


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Agapanthus beauty

This past summer my Agapanthus praecox put up a beautiful show and the more I stole the flowers for vases, the more they produced.

This species makes excellent cut flowers. Cut flowers, whether purchased from the florist or cut from your own garden, will last much longer in the vase if the vase been cleaned with hot soapy water to eliminate bacteria and fungi and then rinsed thoroughly. Normally one would remove lower leaves from the stem so there will be none in the vase water, but Agapanthus have beautiful long, leafless stalks, making it an ideal flower for the vase.

Flowers are living things, and like us they need food for proper growth and healthy colour, especially in a vase, so do se a commercial flower preservative. You can also add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or bottled "Real Lemon," 1 tablespoon of sugar, and a 1/4 teaspoon of bleach in a quart of warm water. Add another 1/4 teaspoon of bleach to the vase every 4 days.

This evergreen indigenous species comes from the winter rainfall Western Cape and all-year rainfall Eastern Cape and shed a few of their old outer leaves every year and replace them with new leaves from the apex of the growing shoot. The deciduous species comes from the summer rainfall Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Free State, Lesotho, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Mozambique, and grow rapidly in spring with the onset of the rains, and then lose their leaves completely and lie dormant during winter.

Family: Agapanthaceae (Agapanthus family)
Common names: common agapanthus, blue lily (Eng.); bloulelie, agapant (Afr.); isicakathi (Xhosa); ubani (Zulu)

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Life's treasured moments

A treasured moment - my Rattail Cactus flowering on a window sill


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