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Botanical Beauties, Birds and Butterflies

Botanical Beauties, Birds and Butterflies

One of my greatest personal pleasures is the abundance of wildflowers to be seen in the Little ‘Berg and Midlands in spring and summer. Even winter in the Little ‘Berg has its special blossoms: the golden Leonotis, blood flowers (Haemanthus) and Natal bottlebrush sheltering near the sandstone cliffs, or the delicate Natal crocus which may appear out of the ashes after the veld has been burnt. It is no wonder that many Drakensberg flowers have joined the ranks of cultivated garden plants and can now be found in many parts of the world. But for me, wild flowers in their natural environment have a special mystery and joy. For example, the cultivated agapanthus is large and beautiful, but it does not match the pleasure of seeing the smaller wild ones with their more intense colour, in patches of blue on green mountainsides.

A good place to see expanses filled with wild pink watsonias in flower in January/February is Nhlosane Mountain at the top end of the Dargle. There is a good path leading to the summit starting at Everglades Resort and the plants cover much of the slope.

Highmoor is a great area for flower-spotting. If you walk from the office and parking ground out along the jeep track and keep going without turning off to the dams on the right, the track continues and crosses the “moor”, a gently undulating area where the Cascades Stream begins. In a wet summer this may be very damp in places and the grass starred with tiny lobelias and nemesias; in winter, following a fire, I have seen it dotted with yellow crocus breaking out of the hard dry ground.

The warm slopes facing towards Giant’s Castle hold many flowers although you may have to look among the grasses for many of them, like the tiny morea or the geranium and pelargonium species. Rocky outcrops hold families of helichrysum, clumps of watsonias and bright yellow euphorbia. Other lovers of grassland but normally found among shorter grass on poorer soil are numerous ground orchids which mostly flower in summer. On cooler, damp slopes a look between grass clumps can reveal surprising things: fantastic fungi, such as the rare sky-blue one we found by chance in the Sani Pass area, or a strange mixture of star-fish and flower (in appearance) on the slope between Highmoor and Kamberg.

The Little ‘Berg is home to a variety of Protea shrubs and the blooms of these attract wonderful birds such as the malachite sunbird and sugarbird. In fact, the Drakensberg and Midlands region is wonderful for birders, offering opportunities to see vultures in the mountains and cranes and waterfowl in the dams and pans in the lower areas. Patches of indigenous forest offer other ‘specials’ – ferns, impatiens, stunning yellowwoods, hard pear, ironwood, while for birders there are woodpeckers  and the rare Cape parrot to name just a couple.

And we must not forget the other beauties: butterflies and dragonflies. There are some excellent field guides if you want to take this seriously but it is perfectly good to just enjoy their colours and activities. Sometimes even a little research and greater understanding of what you see can double the pleasure of being “out there” walking or sitting near a clear stream.