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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Strelitzia nicolai

(Camera Canon EOS 550D - Sheffield, Ballito, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa)

The Natal Wild Banana (Strelitzia nicolai) grows up to 12m high and 4m wide. It is an evergreen tree with multi-stems that form dense clumps.

The stem is woody and smooth in texture. It is light to dark grey and marked with old leaf scars. Attached to the stem by long, thick leaf stalks are the enormous, opposite leaves that are shiny and grey-green, with blades capable of reaching up to 2m in length. These tear in the wind and come to resemble giant feathers.

Camera Canon EOS 550D - Sheffield, Ballito, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

The inflorescence is composed of a dark blue bract, white sepals and a bluish-purple "tongue". The entire flower can be as much as 18 cm (7.1 in) high by 45 cm (18 in) long and is typically held just above the point where the leaf fan emerges from the stem. Flowers are followed by triangular seed capsules.

Pic from Wikipedia

The flower of the Natal Wild Banana is a typical Crane Flower inflorescence, up to 500 mm long. The flowers of this tree have white sepals with blue petals and consist of 5 purplish blue, boat-shape sheaths.The whole flower resembles the head of the bird, with a white crest and purple beak. The tree flowers throughout the year with a peak in spring-summer. The inflorescence is compound (more than one flower).

The seeds are black in colour, with a tuft of a bright orange woolly aril on the lobe. They are produced mostly in autumn and winter, March to July. The easiest way to propagate this tree is from root suckers, but it will also grow from seed.

Restricted to evergreen coastal forest and thicket of eastern South Africa from the Great Fish River northwards to Richards Bay. It is also considered native to Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and is reportedly naturalized in eastern Mexico.

Strelitzia Nicolai is among the few plants which have been verified to contain the pigment bilirubin, which is usually found in animals.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Lala palm (Hyphaene coriacea)

This is my first gardening post since moving to the North Coast, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, almost 9 months ago and at last I am actually learning about some of the weird and wonderful fauna and flora that surrounds me here. I say weird (and wonderful), because it is SO unlike the Gauteng Savannah landscapes of browns, yellows and oranges. Here everything is tropical, very green, and grows in such abundance that, if you close your eyes for too long, you will immediately be overgrown!

Lala palm (Hyphaene coriacea)

This is the beautiful indigenous Lala palm (Hyphaene coriacea) which is a very slow-growing, ascending or prostrate, evergreen palm tree eventually reaching a height of 6 meters or more. I have always admired these awesome indigenous, very KwaZulu-Natal palms. There are some beautiful specimens all over Ballito, but this one is inside the estate or gated community where I live, and the grey fans contrast beautifully against the rest of the lush green surrounds.

The plants flower from November to February, so that is something I still have to look forward to! The fruit takes two years to ripen and this can stay on the palm for a further two years, before falling. Elephants and baboons eat this fruit (luckily we do not have ANY elephants or baboons inside the estate! but we do have Vervet monkeys, and I'm wondering if they also eat the fruit...?), and therefore disperse it to various regions. Apparently, in this manner, the fruit can take only a month to germinate. Birds like to nest in these Lala Palms, because it is quite spiny, so detracting the predators. There is a big craft market, that the fibre of this Palm supports, such as, baskets, mats, etc. A palm wine is also made from the sap and is a source of Vitamin B.

Plants succeed in moist tropical climates where temperatures never fall below 10°c, the average annual rainfall is 1,500mm or more and the driest month has 25mm or more rain. They can also succeed in drier areas with an annual rainfall as low as 250mm and one month or more where rainfall is below 25mm.

Plants grow well in full sun, even when small but prefers growing in alluvial sands. Found in the wild on poorly drained, light, dry soils of low fertility. It is a suckering palm, forming a clump of trunks. Dioecious, both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required.

P.S.: This palm was identified for me by Sasha Ireland on the FaceBook Group "Dolphin Coast Neighbours".


Saturday, 17 February 2018

Today ...


It has been 6 weeks since we sold our smallholding in Gauteng and moved down to the North Coast of KwaZulu Natal (South Africa) (ONLY 6 weeks??!! feels like a life-time!) and it has taken me all this while to find my feet, gather my thoughts and feel as if I once again belong somewhere. The biggest thing about moving from a place where you have lived for 43 years is seemingly losing your 'identity' - an identity tied to the bird life you studied for so many years, an identity tied to the grass, trees and the very soil you were walking on, an identity tied to "your" plants and birds and insects and little animals nurtured in your garden for so long.


I open my eyes in the mornings and in stead of hearing the Cape Robin-chat singing on my patio, I hear the exotic sound of the Burchell's Coucal outside my window, the sound of the surf pounding on the beach in stead of traffic whizzing past my front gate, and when I rise and go for an early morning walk, I see tropical (and unknown!) vegetation in stead of veld grass and Bluegum trees. A big a change as you can ever imagine!

Yes, it has taken me 8 weeks to get into the swing of things in this new life we have chosen and although I was, and still am, mourning the loss of my pets (my chooks will forever be ingrained in my heart), I now look forward to discovering all that is new in this exotic coastal location; insects I have never seen in my life, the names of the trees and plants which thrive in these hot and humid conditions and finding out which succulents like to grow here!


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