It’s almost that time of the year. The beginning of in 5 months time it’s the start of the annual spring wildflower season, surely one of the wonders of the West Coast. And after a good rain and little wind, this year promises an amazing display.
Reports are already coming in of carpets of flowers in Namaqualand and along roadsides and vacant plots from Saldanha to Yzerfontein and Darling. The good news is that Grotto Bay and the West Coast, Tankwa Karoo and Blaauwberg national parks’ best viewing period is from the last two weeks of August until mid-September and could last until the end of October in some areas.
Known for carpets of neon yellow, orange and white spring flowers take along flower, insect and bird guides, get up close and you can learn some amazing facts, not only about the flowers but also their pollinators and predators.
Botanist and author of some of these guides John Manning says that in many cases the long-term survival of the wildflowers depends on the continued existence of these specialist pollinators. Some flowers use smell while others are delicately decorated to attract or scare pollinators. Bees, butterflies, and wasps, often heavily laden with pollen, emerge for a short period in spring. They have developed intimate pollination associations with the local plants.
Flowering at present and easily overlooked is Ferraria uncinata, spider lily. About knee-high, get closer and smell the vanilla scent. These brownish flowers with yellow frills use this scent to attract pollinators.
While on your knees you might hear a Toktokkie tapping a rhythm on the ground to locate and attract a mate in between scavenging on dead plants or animal remains.
Slow-moving and flightless Foam Grasshoppers, rooibaadjie, feed on poisonous milkweeds and rely on chemical weapons for protection. Their brilliant scarlet and shiny black stripes serve as a warning to potential predators that it is toxic. It is known to be fatal to dogs if eaten.
The common Painted Lady butterfly has eyespots to startle would-be predators as it settles on the ground to bask in the sun with wings spread wide.
Angulate Tortoises are one of the smaller reptiles to favor sandy, coastal habitats and succulent scrublands. Best not to pick them up as they secrete the contents of their bowels and this liquid can stain your skin or clothes and also leaves them dehydrated.
More good news is that the flowers are at their best when the sun is high in the sky, between 10.30am and 3.30pm. Don’t go bloom hunting on a rainy or cloudy afternoon and make sure the temperature is at least 18 degrees. Flowers face the sun so get out of the car and walk around, while treading lightly, not unnecessarily trampling plants and never pick flowers or bulbs.
Karen Watkins started out as a travel writer and photographer supplying articles for numerous newspapers and magazines including Indiwe, Country Life, Go, Good Taste and others. Joined Independent Newspapers Limited in 2007 to work one year with Special Projects writing marketing copy before joining the Constantiaberg Bulletin as a multi-media journalist writing news and taking pictures until May 2019. And now she is writing for West Coast Way