Road Work Botany

South Africa is a country of great diversity: it has some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery in the world, but it also has a large portions which never get into any guide book. I have driven through a large chunk of the latter today, making my way from Johannesburg to Colesberg for the first stop on my trip. Seven hours of driving is not what one particularly wants to do straight after a twelve hour flight.

Photograph of N1 on way to Colesberg
Long road to Colesberg

While the vast expanse of central South Africa is awe-inspiring, it is not engaging to drive through, for the scenery changes only gradually. Fortunately, the drive is relatively relaxed as there are few cars on the road once one leaves the major cities (despite the N1 being the main road between Johannesburg and Cape Town). Breaks are conveniently situated along the way too in the form of road works. Signs give you advance warning of these breaks by announcing 51km of road works ahead, then thanking you for your patience. Patience is needed, for where the road is reduced to a single lane there can be waits for up to 20 minutes while the opposing traffic approaches.

However, this also provides a good opportunity to do a bit of roadside botany. Admittedly, most of the flowers are of the weedy variety and it is notable that many of these weeds are not native either. Most of the colour along the roadside that I travelled today was provided by South American Verbena, both V. tenuisecta and V. brasiliensis (such as the unusual fasciated form below, which I spotted during one of my longer road work stops). It is a reminder of the risks involved with gardening, although in this case it is not a natural habitat that is being invaded.

Photograph of a fasciated flowerhead of Verbena brasiliensis
Verbena brasiliensis fasciated

Anyway, I have arrived at the comfort of Kuilfontein Stable Cottages under the light of the Milky Way to find my first Kniphofia, but more of why I am here and the story of Mr Tuck’s poker tomorrow.

Plant of the day: Gomphocarpus fruticosus – one of the native wayside weeds, which have large inflated seedpods, sometimes used in flower arrangements.

Bird of the day: Paradise Whydah – the disproportionately long floppy tail of the male is totally impractical for chasing the females that flock around him, but a regular enough sight to bring light relief on a long journey.

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