A Taste of the Drakensberg
The group soon settled into roughly two camps, the ‘walkers’ and the ‘wimps’. At our morning meeting point to set out on our day’s excursion, there would be the ‘NorthBerg Facehaus’ group doing gentle warming up exercises, jogging on the spot, 50 press ups and that sort of thing. Whereas ‘the rest‘ would be checking they had all their camera equipment and weighing up the option of jettisoning the waterproofs to make room to cram more sandwiches in their backpacks. As my physique falls/flops into the ‘built for comfort, not speed’ category, you can imagine I slumped into the last group. It was more apparent when I later looked at my photographs and there were a number with a long line of people stretched out in a ‘crocodile’ along the trail in front of me – well someone has to be last, and I did take a lot of photographs.
Of the 600 species of Helichrysum worldwide, 245 of them occur in South Africa with 102 species in the Drakensberg, making it the largest genus there. I only knew of them as an annual I grew about half a lifetime ago – ‘everlastings’ as they were quaintly known. They are a fairly strange range of plants but you can see how they are perfectly adapted to the climate. When I mentioned ‘summer rain’ above, you were probably thinking of a nice gentle shower. What you actually get is a monsoon-like thunderstorm with lightening and the works, so you don’t get too many delicate daisy-like flowers as they would get smashed to pieces in the deluge and just rot. Instead you get these imitations made of sterner stuff and able to withstand all nature throws at them. In addition, quite often they have silver hairy foliage to cope with the sun. Whilst a good proportion of them are yellow flowered and, I don’t know why, but they seem less interesting because of it, Helichrysum auriceps had a flower head comprised of what appeared to be very shiny, golden ball-bearings (so shiny it made them very difficult to photograph). There were a number of them that had a low growing habit and were really pretty with loads of flowers. One that we seemed to come across in various places was H. adenocarpum with red, pink or white flowers, which all looked good against its grey woolly foliage.
And finally, I can’t let you go without describing the excitement of seeing Asclepsis macropus, which seems like a drumstick primula head, but in auricula colours of greeny-yellow and fawn, in perfect condition on our last walk. Just a stumble away we found the striking Zalunzianskya natalensis, whose four petals are zingy red on the outside and pristine shiny white on the inside. However, the most impressive plant saved itself till last. We brought the airport-bound coach to a screeching halt when a flash of red, seen the previous day from the coach window, was located and turned out to be Brunsvigia grandiflora, with its bright pink starburst flower heads. What an encore on behalf of the Drakensberg!