Cameron & Rhoda McMaster's

A Botanical Tour of the Eastern Cape 2006

The following article is a report of a recent botanical tour to the Eastern Cape in early 2006 lead by Cameron McMaster. Anyone interested in future tours are welcome to contact us.

   Most lovers of South African flora visit us in spring (August/September) for the Cape and Namaqualand flowers, and so miss the wonderful offerings of the summer rainfall regions in the East of the country. The months of
December to February are the best time for summer rainfall flora in
South Africa. This year, after copious rains, the Eastern Cape was looking
particularly beautiful and the wild flowers were spectacular.

   Our group consisted of Lauren and Scott Ogden, landscape artists from Colorado/Texas, Dan Johnson of the Denver Botanic Gardens, Pat Kirwin from San Marcos, Texas, Laurel Voran and Jonathan Wright from Chanticleer
Gardens, Pennsylvania and Ellen Hornig of Seneca Hills Perrenials, Oswego NY. We visited many special little destinations well off the usual tourist routes and stayed mostly on farms and in small villages so as to be be right in the countryside. Each day the hikes or 4X4 excursions were to areas that would have been inaccessable to ordinary tourists. While the farm accommodation was excellent, it came at a fraction of the price of the 4 and 5 star establishments used by tour operators, making the tour most affordable.

   We covered all the major vegetation types in the East Cape from Valley Thicket and Karroo/Namib vegetation to Alpine grassland and Sub-Tropical coastal flora. We started off in Port Elizabeth, our first stop being a private game reserve in the Somerset East district where the first sighting was a group of Ammocharis coranica in flower and thousands of Drimia altissima with their meter high spikes of flowers as well as a number of Crinum
macowanii in flower. The highlights here were the rare cycad Encephalartos lehmannii in a deep ravine and many species of antelope. The next day a visit to the Waainek Wild Flower Reserve on the Bosberg mountain above Somerset East was rewarded with hundreds of the rare Haemanthus carneus in flower, a species that grows only in this locality. Other sightings included
Cyrtanthus macowanii, Eucomis autumnalis and Encephalartos cycadifolius.

   On the third day en route through the Karoo via Bedford and Cradock to Tarkastad we saw Nerine huttoniae, Haemanthus montanus and various
Aloes, Gasterias and Haworthias. Our next destination was the montane and alpine grassland in the Barkly East and Rhodes districts. Near Dordecht we came upon some spectacular bright red Brunsvigia radulosa. The mountains were very rewarding, the lists of sightings were long. Of the bulbous species the most interesing were Gladiolus dalenii, oppositiflorus, saundersii and
edulis. Dierama robustum was flowering everywhere. We came across a strong population of the magnificent orange orchid, Disa porrecta and huge stands of Kniphofia caulescens and K. porphyrantha. Other pokers we saw
included Kniphofia northiae, ritualis, linearifolia, triangularis, stricta and
parviflora. The mountainsides were covered with large populations of
Asteraceae such as Berkheya purpurea, B. multijuga, Senecio macrospermus and many Helichrysums. One of our hikes was to rock shelters with magnificent San Rock Art which is widespresd in the Eastern Cape. One of the rock panels depicted a hunting lion - a very unusual subject. At Rhodes we found a population of Haemanthus humilis hirsutus in seed.

The group at Balloch 25th January 2006

A break to admire the scenery, Balloch 25th January 2006

   Going south we stopped at Satan's Neck near Engobo where we were
privileged to find the rare endemic Crocosmia masoniorum in flower. It was quite spectacular festooning the cliffs next to a small waterfall. The ground orchids were numerous at this site - including the large and impressive
Pterygodium magnum.

   We spent four days in the Cathcart and Stutterheim districts covering
various habitats including rocky outcrops, river banks, grassland, thicket and
afro-montane forest. Worth mentioning are Dierama pulcherrimum and Dierama atrum, Nerine filamentosa, Brunsvigia gregaria,
Haemanthus humilis humilis and Hesperantha huttonii and a dark blue form of Agapanthus campanulatus. Highlight of this area was a hazardous 4X4 trip with Neil and Carmen Potter up very steep roads to Moonstone Mountain where we hiked over the mountain to some pristine grassland on the other side. I have called this hike "The Moonstone Magic Cycad Trail" since it is the only place in South Africa where three species of Cycad occur together -
Encephalartos frederici, E. princeps and E. caffer. We also saw three species of Cyrtanthus in flower - C. obliquus, C. macmasteri and C. macowanii, as well as Scadoxus puniceus, Haemanthus albiflos and some very large
specimens of Boophone disticha.

Laurens Tour (1)

Laurens Tour (2)


   A visit to the seaside resort of Kei Mouth afforded the opportunity to see large pristine populations of both Clivia miniata and Cliva nobilis in riverine and dune forest, although only a few C. nobilis were in flower at this time of the year. Here we also saw Scadoxus membranaceus. On a grassland walk there were spectacular orchids - Disa polygonoides, as well as Albuca batteniana and Gladiolus ochroleucus which are endemic to the East Cape Coastal region. It was fascinating to find Gladiolus guenzii growing on the beach in sea sand at Kei Mouth.

   On the journey to our last destination in the Grahamstown region, we stopped in the Keiskamma River Valley and were fortunate to find
Cyrtanthus sanguineus in flower in a hot and dry stream bed and some
magnificent epiphytic orchids in full flower - Mystacydium capense. On the second last day we hiked through the riverine forrst in the Kap River Nature Reserve where there was another population of Clivia nobilis. Here we also walked amongst the animals which were very tame - zebras, giraffe and
numerous antelope species. On the final day we visited the Ecca Pass Nature Reserve where we were accompanied by local expert, Tony Dold, curator of the Schonland Herbarium in Grahamstown. This reserve consists of succulent thicket vegetation. He showed many of the local endemics including Bergeranthus species, Haworthias, Euphorbias, Faucarias and Ceropegias. We also saw many Strelitzia regina, some specimens of the local cycad, Encephalartos trispinosis and some Crinum macowanii in flower and in seed. On the final leg back to Port Elizabeth we stopped for Haemanthus coccineus which had just burst into flower at Colchester.

   The East Cape not only has spectacular flowers but a wide variety of
habitats and magnificent scenery - well worth a visit at any time in the spring and summer. A spin off is the opportunity to meet with the local farmers and nature lovers, all of whom are very hospitable and anxious to show you all they have to offer on their farms.

Also see-
Andrew Lanoe's account of the East Cape Tour in February 2009

In search of Wild Nerines April 2010

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