An enthusiastic crowd gathered on the Summer Solstice to explore Mbona with Keith Cooper. The gorgeous sunny day meant the views were wonderful – across Albert Falls dam, to Blinkwater, Gilboa and beyond.
We began with a wander through the forest. Keith is an expert on forests so shared plenty of interesting information for us to consider as we walked. The Lemonwood (Xymalos)trees are plentiful, probably because they were not prized for their timber by the piooneer woodcutters as the Yellowwood, Black Stinkwood and Sneezewood were.
His simple definition of an Afro-montane or Mist-belt forest was: Closed Canopy, Multi-strata, a Plant Community Dominated by Evergreen Trees. Really easy for us all to remember. This type of forest is also known as Podocarpus forest as the three Yellowwood species are doninant here.
Keith rattled off the Zulu names of many of the trees and plants, and knew their traditional medicinal uses too. Lovely evocative names like umLungamabele (Knobwood or Zanthoxylum davyi) and umaPhipha ( Cape Beech or Rapanea melanophloes). Very often the Zulu name describes the plant use, like Clivia miniata, for instance, known as umayime as it “stops everything” – used to treat fever and snakebite.
On the forest floor, Streptocarpus, Begonia sutherlandii, Peperonia retusa and Impatiens flanaganiae, were flowering.
Jasmine (probably Jasminum breviflorus) was climbing up the trees. Many ferns, orchids and even Streptocarpus were spotted high up the trunks, obviously getting as much light as possible.
Keith told us that Blue Duiker were once common, but none had been seen for a while now. Theory is that it is due to the increase in Caracal. Special birds which occur here include Guerney’s Orange Thrush and Delegorgue’s Pigeon.
As we emerged from the forest, Keith explained the importance of the ec0-tone in maintaining the forest. This is the vegetation which occurs on the edges and protects the forest from fire. The Karkloof forests are about 600ha in extent, one of the biggest forests of this type in South Africa.
The views across the valley and of the hills nearby were spectacular.
This grassland is known as Festuca grassland and is unusual in the area as usually it occurs in the Drakensberg. We were astonished at the thousands and thousands of Scilla (Merwilla plumbea) which covered the steep slopes. Everyone determined to return next spring to see them in full flower.
Following the path, we rounded the hillside and came across a completely different landscape – facing North West – this was hot, dry habitat. The vegetation changed too – many aloes amongst the dolerite rocks.
We found this tiny white plant tucked beside the rocks, flowering profusely, which no one could identify. Any ideas? Will post on iSpot and see if one of the plant experts can help. There were a few Satyrium, Hypoxis and Alepidea natalensis in flower too.
Keith pointed out clumps of a Merwilla he had discovered, which is yet to be described. Certainly, like no Merwilla any of us had seen before. We look forward to hearing it’s name once described (although this can take years).
What a fascinating morning. A highly recommended walk that takes place on the third Friday of every month. Contact Keith Cooper on 082 574 1958 to book a spot.
Donation: R20 to Karkloof Conservancy