Thursday, July 24, 2014

South Africa 3. Along the South Coast

Here I continue my explorations of the South Africa springtime flora. The organizers of the 1998
A seaside cliff, with and Mesembryanthemum
International Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress, which was held at Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens in Capetown, arranged for several excellent field trips before and after the meetings, and I was an eager participant. The first took us eastward through the coastal fynbos.  Fynbos is the Afrikaaner term for Mediterranean scrub, what we would call chaparral in California. The vegetation is mostly shrubby, but quite varied, as rainfall varies with topography and distance from the coast.  It is an incredibly rich vegetation, even though drought conditions prevail for more than half the year.  Winter rainfall brings the semi-dormant vegetation to life, and flowering amongst the herbs and shrubs reaches its peak in in the spring months of September and October.  This is the home of the many species of Proteaceae featured in Part 2 of this series.  Here we will explore some of the other characteristic genera.

A resident of California or the Mediterranean would feel quite at home driving up to a coastal cliff, for many of the cultivated plants in these regions come from South Africa, including the ubiquitous ice plant.  Here though we face out to Anarctica, though safely removed from it enough to enjoy a pleasant subtropical climate.

Storm clouds gather off of the south coast.
Isolated from other similar vegetation by thousands of miles, the South African flora contains many unique species, and a number of genera that have exploded into hundreds of species here.  Erica is a genus of heathers, for which the blueberry family takes its name.  There are 860 species altogether, but of these 660 occur in South Africa.  heathers are smallish evergreen shrubs, with needle-like leaves and flowers shaped like bells, trumpets and tubes, and ranging in color from red to pink, white and yellow.
Erica regia

An unidentified white Erica.

Erica oblongiflora

Erica mammosa

Another locally mind-boggling genus is Pelargonium, in the Geraniaceae.  Of the 200 species in the genus, most are native to South Africa.  The others are widely scattered in isolated corners of the old world.  Aloes represent another major genus, with 500 species in southern and eastern Africa, Madagascar and the Arabic Peninsula. There are also an abundance of legumes, composites (Asteraceae), Mesembryanthaceae, and Oxalidaceae.  We will see in future installments families that have diversified in drier parts of the country: the Iridaceae, Asclepiadaceae, and the Euphorbiaceae.
Pelargonium fulgidum

Pelargonium cordatum
A brilliant red Pelargonium, apparently a variant or close relative of P. fulgidum.

True Geraniums are quite different from Pelargonium, though in the same family.  Here is
Geranium incanum

Oxalis purpurea

Oxalis pes-caprae

No, this picture is not in sideways.  These are the
massive branches of a giant Outeniqua yellowwood
tree (Podocarpus falcatus) in the Tsitsikamma
Forest. Hanging from the branches is a lichen
reminiscent of the Spanish moss in Florida.
As we traveled along the coast, stopping for numerous wildflower photoshoots, we gradually encountered lusher vegetation. Were stunned, however, as the road descended into a lush forest with massive Podocarpus trees and tree ferns east of the city of George.   We were in the Garden Route National Park in the Tsitsikamma forest, which has all the markings of a temperate rain forest. To the east of this point the rainfall is mainly in the summer, as is true up the east coast of Africa and in the savannas to the north.  Here in Tsitsikamma the winter rainfall patterns of the southwest overlap with the summer rains of the east, and the result is this unexpected verdant forest.

As is my custom, I will forgo further words, and allow the photographs to continue with the story. I have not identified all of these, and some of my identifications may prove to be wrong.  I welcome any corrections!
Aloe arborescens.

Aloe ferox
Aloe ciliaris, the "climbing aloe," is unusual
for its elongate, rambling stems.

A calla lily (Zantedeschia) finds a moist niche at the base of a coastal cliff.

Dimorphotheca nudicaulis is one of many species of the Asteraceae found
only in South Africa.

An unidentified member of the Hibiscus Family

Cotyledon orbiculata (Crassulaceae) is a common sight in the fynbos.

This colorful member of the legume family
(Fabaceae) appears to be a species of Indigofera.

Muraltia heisteria resembles a legume but is in
the Polygalacaeae.
Sutherlandia montana is a colorful legume of the fynbos.

The flowers of Drosera aliciae arise from typical sundew rosettes (above right).

Drosera cistiflora has long, upright stems.

Anisodonta cabrosis a showy member of the Hibiscus family (Malvaceae).

A white-flowered member of the genus
Nemesia, in the Snapdragon family
Tritoniopsis caffra pokes up above the
fynbos  vegetation.  It is a member of the
Iridaceae, about which we'll hear
a great deal more in the next  installment.
A pink-flowered Nemesia

Erica versicolor

Berzelia abrotonoides (Bruniaceae) is a
shrub with dense clusters of small

An orange-flowered Oxalis, probably a
form of O. massoniana

The southern coast of South Africa is probably what much of coastal California looked like many years ago.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Nevada Oasis

I had to be in Las Vegas for reasons unrelated to botany, but as always I brought my camera along, optimistic that outside of the cacophany of glitter and sin there might be something blooming.  Having heard about record droughts in the southwest, however, I didn't expect too much.  I was pleasantly surprised.
Mummy Mountain, part of the Spring Mountain Range sits above high desert
populated by Joshua trees, pinyon pines and junipers.

Before going I checked online for a rainfall map for Nevada, and noticed that just east of Las Vegas there was a bright green spot surrounded by the expected red and orange.  On closer inspection this turned out to be the Spring Mountains, home of the Toiyabe National Forest. With several peaks ranging from 10,000 to nearly 12,000 feet in elevation, this isolated range catches rainfall that otherwise would probably blow on by and evaporate somewhere over the desert.

The Nevada desert is brightened by its own red hibiscus,
Sphaeralcea ambigua.
The approach to the mountains proved to be quite fruitful for wild flowers.  Bright red globe mallows were abundant along the road, though not fully open, along with desert paintbrush and the sunflower-like Packera glabella.   Mormon tea shrubs, Ephedra torreyana, were also in "bloom," shedding pollen from their tiny cones.

Packera glabella, a member of the
sunflower family, Asteraceae, is
common along Nevada roadsides. 

Ephedra torreyana is Mormon tea.  It does not provide the
drug ephedrine, which is found only in Asian species.

There seems to be a species of Indian Paintbrush nearly everywhere in the western U.S.  This appears to be Castilleja chromosa.
Further up the slopes, I found Lesquerella tenella in the mustard family, Cryptantha tumulosa, Astragalus amphioxus, and a shrub in the genus Amelanchier blooming. Large ponderosa pines dominated the forest.
Ponderosa pines are the grandest of the western pines,
dominating mid-elevation, semi-dry forests everywhere.
One of the currants, Ribes malvaceum, blooms in the spring,
with berries to follow later in the summer.

The mustard family, Brassicaceae, can be counted on
for fields of bright yellow. Here in southern Nevada is
Lesquerella tenella.
Cryptantha tumulosa mingles with Ponderosa pines
in the Spring Mountains.

The locoweed, Astragalus amphioxus, puts out its first
blooms of the spring.
The further up we went, the earlier the season.  The road to Mt. Charleston ends about 8000 feet in elevation. The pines here looked more like lodgepole pines, with their finer bark.  Aspens were flushing out with fresh green leaves while grasses and sedges were popping up in force.  About 3 PM, we were forced off the mountain by a mini blizzard - yes real snow flurries in early May!  That is not uncommon in the west, but I really wasn't expecting it within an hour's drive of Las Vegas.
Around 8000 feet in elevation, aspens were just putting out their new green leaves.  It was at this point that it began to snow.

Monday, March 31, 2014

South Africa 2. The Fabulous Proteaceae

A beautiful species of Mimetes, which I've seen
identified as either M. cuculloides or
M.  fimbrifolius
The spectacular South African spring owes much of its glory to the flowering trees and shrubs of the Proteacaeae.  This is an  odd family related most closely to the sycamore (Platanaceae) and lotus (Nelumbonaceae) families.  Strange bedfellows indeed!  The Proteaceae is strictly southern hemisphere and most diverse in Africa and Australia, with about 80 genera and 1600 species.  Australia has many colorful species of Banksia and Grevillea, as well as edible macadamia nuts.  We'll get to some of those in a later installment.  In South Africa, the diversity of this family is almost too much to contain within a single blog posting.

In bud, the flowers of Protea cynaroides
are enclosed in a cone-like series of

The flowers of the Proteaceae are mostly small, with tubular, nectar-filled bases, and most often grouped into compact heads. Many are surrounded by petal-like bracts, turning them in to compound flowers resembling those of the sunflower family. The Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden has a comprehensive collection, but many can be seen in the shrublands of the Fynbos in the region around Capetown. As is my custom, I will allow them to speak for themselves.  Enjoy!
The bud of Protea cynaroides opens like a large
sunflower to reveal the many small flowers packed inside.

One has to view the mysterious, dark, Protea nana  from below
to see its flowers. It is pollinated by rats attracted by its yeasty odor.
Protea scolymocephala looks like a member of the sunflower
family (Asteraceae) until you examine it closely.
Most members of the genus Leucospermum, like the
L. glabrum pictured here, do not have enclosing
bracts as do the  Proteas.
A pure yellow form of Leucospermum
The outer flowers of Leucospermum reflexum form a skirt at the base of
the flower head.
In Leucospermum oleifolium several small flower
heads share a bed of yellowish bracts.
In Leucodendron, like this L. elimense, the yellow-white
 bracts are conspicuous, but the flowers are not.
Leucodendron argenteum has green bracts and yellowish flowers.