Not your everyday encounter with flora and fauna

July 17, 2014

constantia2Grahamstown, South Africa apparently is situated at the crossroads of four biomes, or animal and plant groupings based on climate and geography.  

What that means is what you typically see around town in terms of bushes, birds, and animals does not quite match any other place around.  

As such, I am learning the pluses and minuses of such biodiversity.

The Rhodes University website states, “In terms of biodiversity, four main biomes meet around Grahamstown, namely, Eastern Cape thicket, grassy fynbos, semi-arid karoo, and sourveld grassland.”  It’s got a little bit of desert, a little bit of mesa, some nice hilly shrubs and flora and fauna that take some getting used to.

molemounds1The first thing I noticed that was different were these mounds of dirt in the grass or lawns.  Were they ant hills? No because when I stepped on one, nothing really came out.  But they do look like a groundskeeper’s nightmare.  I was told they are indeed a nightmare for people who like pristine lawns as they are mole hills, the detritus of those burrowing creatures.  Where do they put what they dig through? They put it up top in these mounds.  So images of Bill Murray and “Caddyshack” pop into my head with Kenny Loggins singing to accompany my thoughts. Whack-a-mole anyone?  And to be completely transparent, I’ve never seen a mole, just what it leaves behind.

And then there is the weather. It is winter and last week I know the temperatures got down to the low 40s F and high 30s F.  But then the sun was up and it was inching around 70.  The other day my apartment was chillier than the air outside so I opened up and let the 70-degree breezes in This is winter? I think not.

Nor are we talking about breezes here.  This place gets some pretty powerful wind guts that rattle the windows and knock open the wood gate to my front-door sidewalk if I am none too careful.   So wind chill does play a factor in the weather here. But unlike at home where heavy winds are usually accompanied by storms (rain, snow, sleet, thunder) the blustery weather MAY bring cooler temps but not the teeth-chattering storms.  Cool.

birdsofparadise1What this weather does bring is some pretty unique flowering plants.  For example, the birds-of-paradise plant, or Strelitzia reginae,  I’ve seen at home-and-garden show or botanical exhibits, but never just walking along the street.  But they’re indigenous here and pretty neat.  I passed this one bush of over 2-dozen blossoms last week heading to Natl. Arts Festival events but a picture of it this week shows some of the blossoms have shriveled up.  Still, an impressive piece of flora.

redhotpokereditdAnother seemingly ubiquitous plant around campus is the “red-hot poker” plant or Kniphofia. At least I THINK these plants are red-hot pokers although the flowers are more orange-colored than reddish.  The leaves of these bushes look like long aloe leaves but they are flowering and found alongside fences and flower beds.

birdsnests1Finally, now that I have an office on the first floor (one up from the ground floor) I have a great view of the hills and a wonderful tree full of birds’ nests.   I haven’t seen many, if any, birds in these nests.  But there’s a slew of them and on these tree branches that have some very sharp and nasty thorns that appear to be at least 1-1.5 inches long.

I am hoping that next week the birds, along with the students, will migrate back and let me see just what they look like.

In the meantime, I will luxuriate in my most recent plant discovery: a lime tree on my apartment property!  lime3As I was walking back from the supermarket (and yes, I am doing lots of walking as I do not have a car), I noticed a young girl and her mother picking something off the tree at the corner of the property by the driveway parking space.   I stopped and checked the tree out later to find nice plump green limes (or very very unripe lemons but detect lime scent when cut open).   A pleasant surprise from the biomes!



About janetkolodzy

Janet Kolodzy is a Professor of Journalism at Emerson College, Boston, MA. After a career as a print and broadcast journalist, she has been teaching about the practice of convergence journalism, which encourages the use of a mix of media storytelling tools to help journalists inform audiences.
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