The Greater Kruger National park is teaming with life. Leopards, lions, elephants and the like usually take centre stage during any safari but the bush is so much more than that! This week I have decided to focus on the gorgeous flowers that the Timbavati is home to at this time of year.
We have had some great rain over the last week, with over 40mm failing so far. This rain and the changing climate in general suddenly spurs all manor of life into action and suddenly the bush is alive with colour. This is something I would like to document as often we think of Africa as a stark and unforgiving wilderness but the effects of summer on the areas around Tanda Tula are truly mesmerising.
The African weeping wattle
These stunning trees are just starting to come into bloom at the moment and the riverbanks are awash with their bright yellow flowers at this time of year. The “weeping” part of the trees name comes from it being what we call a “rain tree”, these are trees are great hosts to spittle-bugs – small creatures that bore into the stems of the plant to harvest sap. Of course when something is eaten, waste is produced and when enough of these bugs are present it can give one the impression that the tree is weeping. Due to their lovely soft leaves, this species is often referred to as the “toilet paper tree”.
The crinum lily
Crinum lilies are almost most notable after recent rains when they pop out of the ground, as beautiful white flowers that can eventually turn to a pink candy-like stripped wonderment, after lying dormant as a bulb underground during the dry wintery months. These bulbs prove to be a great source of food for elephants. I have had a number of great sightings of the large beasts when attempting to find, dig up, pick up and eat the large bulbs. Often curling their trunk into somewhat of a fist and then lightly tapping the floor until a hallow point is herd. They would then make use of their enormous feet to kick soil out of the way in order to dig them up. However, then the conundrum occurs. How does an elephant get the sometimes American football sized tuber from the ground to his mouth? Well, he eventually resorts to gently rolling the treat all the up his leg, over his chest and somehow into his mouth
The Mopane Pomegranate
This is definitely one of the most striking plants to see when in flower! I guess what makes them so dramatic is that they are often the very first to show this much life, right at the end winter, when nothing else is. Suddenly there are bright yellow hives of activity, dotted around the Timbavati. The insects who happen to be active at this time of year are drawn to it like, well, bees to honey. Finally, a ray of hope that summer is coming!
Being somewhat rare really does help these trees stand out just when the time is right. In the distance, sometimes deep in the bush you can make out the vibrant purple flowers of the tall and somewhat slender Tree Wisteria. Finding one in full bloom before the baboons get to it is an awesome find while on safari. I haven’t tried eating one myself yet but if baboons like them, then I am fairly tempted after all their taste in fruit has never lead me astray before.
The Baboons Tail
This plant could be the lead character in its very own “Ugly Duckling” type story. Afterall it follows a very similar path. For most of the year the Baboons Tail lays perched at the highest and coarsest parts of the rolling Kruger landscape as a dry brownish-blackish tough and tail like scaly cucumber. Tough enough to presumably transport a burning ember embedded in its hollowed out core. Only after rain it becomes so much more than that, when it graciously sprouts a number bright green leaves before making way for a stunning white or lavender coloured flower
The Ground Lily
I don’t think I have ever had a group of guests at Tanda Tula Safari Camp that have allowed me to just simply drive past one of these flowers and generally the stop involves everyone getting off the vehicle to get a closer look at this alien like puff of red and pink protruding from the coarse sand of the many sodic sights in the area. They occur in much the same way as the Crinum Lily, in that they grow from a large underground bulb. However, their leaves are most loved by the many hungry herbivores. This is evident due to their short and squared trimming. The flower luckily doesn’t seem to appeal to hungry grazers.
I hope you have enjoyed this short piece on just some of the flowers that begin to emerge at this time of year. There are still many more to come and I look forward to sharing some information based on my experience as well some ecological and traditional medicine information. The season is just getting started!
Always remember, when in nature, no matter where you are, to stop and smell the roses.
Until next time, happy snapping