🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Air plant - Tillandsia

This is an epiphyte or air plant. It is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph wire), derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it. Roots may develop primarily for attachment, and specialized structures (for example, cups and scales) may be used to collect or hold moisture.

When this was given to me by a friend, it was a mere three inches long and after about 3 years, is now a whopping twelve inches! But much to my own chagrin, it should have been much bigger by now had I not neglected it, also labouring under the misconception that it didn't need any extra water apart from rain.

This one hasn't developed any roots and is just wedged between a dead branch and the tree trunk. Epiphytic organisms usually derive only physical support and not nutrition from their host.

This one might well be Tillandsia albida, in the family Bromeliaceae (Bromiliad), but I'm not sure. There are over 550 species of Tillandsia (plus many hybrids), that grow in the Mexico, South and Central Americas.

Bromeliad Tillandsia have a life cycle of one plant growing to maturity and blooming. Before, during or after blooming (depending on the species) your plant will start producing young (PUPS), most plants will produce between 2 - 8 pups which in turn will mature, generally within a year and in turn bloom and produce pups.

General Info
  • Tillandsias DO have to be watered, they live 'in' air, not 'on' air. 
  • Tillandsias are NOT toxic to animals, although this does not mean your pet won't eat them, but they will survive the experience, your plant might not. 
  • Tillandsias are NOT parasitic, they do not harm the host tree. 
  • Trim away brown, bent or damaged leaves, this will not hurt the plant. 
Watering is one of the most important aspects of succeeding with Tillandsias, and one of the most misunderstood. Because their common name is Air Plants people tend to think of these plants as needing little or no water (as living on air). This is the biggest mistake you can make. Tillandsias NEED water, although they can survive for long periods of drought, they are NOT GROWING and certainly not thriving in these conditions, they are going dormant and just trying to survive, and will eventually die if water is scarce for too long, though its amazing how long they'll "hang in there" with very little water.

Thoroughly wet your Tillandsia 2-3 times per week; more often in a hot, dry environment; less often in a cool, humid one. They need to be watered (underneath as well as on top) to the point of runoff as though they've just gone through a rain storm, AT LEAST twice a week. The easiest way to achieve this is to actually immerse the whole plant in the sink or a bucket if possible, if not, use a hose or the kitchen faucet to totally wet your plant. Your plant will also appreciate a good soaking for several hours every one to two weeks.

They do not need much in the way of fertilizer - in fact it is better not to give them any fertilizer. Some growers like to give a little liquid fertilizer (diluted 25%) a couple of times a year to assist in flowering and to speed up the production of 'pups' - the baby plants. Do not over fertilize. Also, do not use distilled water when watering as this can cause the nutrients in the leaves to leach out of the plant.

NEVER 'plant' your Tillandsia. Putting a Tillandsia in soil is almost certain death to your plant. If you want it in a pot to look like a normal plant and you need to add some weight to stop it falling over, use gravel, pebbles or any other medium that drains rapidly. If your plant is placed in anything that holds water or moisture and doesn't dry out between waterings it will ROT!!! This is not a good thing!!!

Tillandsia aldiba (Photo Dave's Garden)

Mounting your Tillandsia Tillandsias can be grown basically anywhere, on rocks, in a seashell or on coral, in ceramic or pottery, attached to wood (not pressure treated wood this is impregnated with copper, and copper will kill your plant), in a fork of a tree. Pin them on your curtains, make a wreath, attach to velcro and stick them on your mirror, attach them to a piece of wood and hang the wood in your tree (that way you can bring your plant in when its going to freeze). Glue onto a pebble or decorative stone, attach to magnets, hang on your front door, attach them to a piece of lattice so they can be hung indoors or outdoors, put them in terrariums (great decorations for use with lizards, snakes etc.). About the only limit is your imagination (with a few exceptions).

Reasons Bromeliads Tillandsias Die 

# They were not initially cared for properly (their owner was told they need little or no water).
# Thick- and thin-leaf varieties were combined in the same container (different watering schedules).
# They did not get enough light (they were more than 10 feet from a bright window or skylight).
# They were placed in DIRECT SUN. Garden windows are generally too warm unless they are shaded or facing south (in the Southern hemisphere).


# Don't worry about roots. You can cut them off to make it easier to place them in containers (they will grow back). This also makes it easier to water them.
# Don't leave water sitting in the crevices of big, fleshy Bromeliads - Tillandsias. Shake them off!
# Don't put them in containers that hold moisture around the base (or, let them dry well before returning them to their containers).
# Don't throw Bromeliad Tillandsias away if there is any green left to the plants. Soak them for 24 hours.
# Don't soak the flower while in bloom (prolonged periods of soaking will rot them).
# Don't water plants in clumps as much, as clumped Bromeliad - Tillandsias hold more moisture. # Don't combine thick- and thin-leaf varieties in the same container, since their watering schedules will be different.
# Don't let them freeze!

- Constant air circulation -- as the name indicates -- is paramount to keeping your plant happy.
- Air plants need water; from late spring to mid-autumn, mist daily. In winter, mist only once or twice a week and once a month give them a good soaking.
- Fertilize monthly in spring and summer using a low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer mixed at only one-quarter strength. In general, fertilize weakly.
- Although they love warm weather, most air plants need protection from full sun. If it's a type that grows naturally wild on trees, keep it in moist, partial shade. If it is a ground type, such as T. cyanea or T. lindenii, grow it indoors in bright, filtered light and outdoors in partial or dappled shade.
- Don't let an air plant sit somewhere that's colder than 45 degrees; it will die at those temperatures. If you live in Zone 9 or warmer, you can grow an air plant outdoors all year if you keep it dry during the winter.

For more great info on care and on how to revive a neglected plant, read more HERE

Read more on grooming your Tillandsia 

PIC credit 

Airplant Tillandsia with 3 open flowers and daughter plant


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Food from trees - Marula

Perhaps one of the best known wild fruits of Africa come from the highly valued Marula (Maroela) tree – Sclerocarya birrea - which grows in the bushveld and woodlands from Kwa-Zulu Natal through Swaziland, Botswana, the northern parts of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The fruits are fairly large sweet-smelling, greenish-yellow berries containing a large, very hard seed. Inside each seed there are three nuts. In late summer the berries ripen and fall to the ground where the strong scent attracts a plethora of wildlife. Reports of intoxicated elephants and baboons are not uncommon as over-ripe fruits ferment, giving off strong, turpentine-like smells.

The Marula tree belongs to the same family (Anacardiaceae) as the mango, pistachio and cashew nuts, and also the pepper tree (Schinus molle) which is so common in the Karoo where it offers weary travellers some respite from the heat at lay-byes along the Great North Road.

Marulas are deciduous trees; they cannot tolerate frost, seldom grow to over 9 m and have spreading crowns with dense, graceful foliage. The delicate, spiky flowers are either male or female (occasionally a bisexual flower is produced) and are usually carried on separate trees. Only rarely do the male flowers produce a fruit. Insects flock to the flowering trees in summer, their loud humming can be heard some distance away, giving one the feeling of noisy heat.

As a food plant, the Marula is outstanding. The fleshy fruit is tart, thirst -quenching and energy-boosting; it’s very rich in Vitamin C even when fermented. The skin of the fruit can be boiled to make a drink or burnt to be used as a substitute for coffee. By the way, the juice is also claimed to be an aphrodisiac!

The nuts, incredibly difficult to extract from their shells, have a very high energy value, and contain roughly 30% protein and 60% fat; an excellent source of nutrients. They are used by people in many ways, some examples are included in the recipe section that follows.
And now, if you live in the right part of the world and you’re lucky enough to have one of these trees in your backyard, here are a few recipes for you to try:

Marula Jelly
2 kg ripe Marula berries
Sugar (heated in oven)

• Halve the berries, press the pips out into a mixing bowl and squeeze the berries hard over a mixing bowl to extract juice.

• Cover the pips and juice with water and turn out into a saucepan (not aluminium).
• Boil for 15 minutes.

• Strain through a nylon sieve lined with damp muslin.

• Use 250 ml heated sugar to 250 ml stock.

• Heat at a low temperature and stir until sugar has melted.

• Increase temperature and boil for 20 minutes, or until setting point is reached. You can test for this by doing the ‘wrinkle test’. Put a blob of the hot juice onto the back of an ice cube tray. Push with your finger. If the blob wrinkles, it is ready.

• Spoon hot jelly into sterilised jars with screw tops and seal.

This jelly is best served with a rich venison pie or stew.

Marula juice
5 kg ripe Marulas

• Pierce the berries so that the juice can escape and place in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer for 20 minutes.
• Strain through a muslin cloth. Don’t stir.
• Add 7 cups of sugar for every 10 cups of extract . Add lemon juice to taste.
• Bottle whilst still hot, in sterilised hot bottles.
• Date the bottles and store in a cool, dark place. Serve with ice in summer.

And then there are some interesting traditional African recipes (gleaned from the The Evaluation of the Marula Project in Bushbuckridge in Limpopo Province, prepared by Felicia Chiloane and Jackson Phala)

Put biltong (dried meat) and kernels in a mortar. Stamp until it is well mixed. Remove the mixture and place it in a bowl. Pour a spoon of marula oil over the mixture. It is now ready to be served.

Braai maize meal until it is brownish in colour. Put maize meal into a mortar, add kernels and a bit of salt and sugar. Then stamp all the ingredients until well mixed. Serve.
Last, but not least, you could always brew your own beer!
From "Biophile" Magazine - Issue 18 (Copyleft)



Friday, 19 July 2013

Mollie has shed her skin

Mollie's skin hanging outside on a tree

My resident Mole snake (Pseudaspis cana), Mollie, has shed her skin. While walking in the garden, I found it amongst the tall grass at the pond, where she obviously had slithered against the stalks to get rid of it. It was in one piece and beautifully intact and when I laid it out on my TV top, it was just over 1½m long. I had it displayed there for a couple of weeks but was forced to take it out to the garden as my housekeeper refused to go near that area to clean it!

Snakes generally shed their skin several times a year, and young growing snakes shed even more frequently.  A shed skin is much longer than the snake that shed it due to the fact that the skin covers the top and bottom of each scale. If the skin is shed intact, each scale is unwrapped on the top and bottom side of the scale which almost doubles the length of the shed skin. While a snake is in the process of shedding the skin over its eye can become milky. This impairs the vision of the snake and as a result most snakes will become more aggressive due to the snake feeling more vulnerable.

Mollie has been living at my pond on and off for the past few years and is a most welcome resident  as she keeps my garden free of rats. She comes and goes as she pleases and sometimes I won't see her for weeks on end, like now in winter. She does have an old rat hole in the pond area that she prefers to frequent and I'll often see her lying in the sun just in front of it.

Whether shedding their skins or not, Mole Snakes, which are not poisonous, are normally aggressive, much more so than the harmless Brown House Snake for example. When being approached, Mollie rears up like a Cobra and hisses, which often confuses people and can spell disaster for this harmless species. Her yellow colouration (and they can be black as well) is also similar to that of some cobras, but she does not have the large tell-tale hood cobra's are so renowned for.

Cape cobras are Africa’s most venomous cobra and Mole snakes, although they can give a painful bite,  are non-venomous. If you find a snake while walking outdoors, enjoy the encounter by taking some photographs but give the animal some respect and leave it be. Unless there is the potential for conflict there is no reason to prod, poke or harass a snake in any way. Doing so is literally asking for trouble.

The way to tell the difference between these two species is to look at the size and shape of the head. The mole snake spends much of its life underground; it’s a burrowing species with a relatively small elongated head and pointed snout perfect for this lifestyle. The cape cobra has a broad head and an almost rounded ‘cheek’ or temporal area.

The mole snake (Pseudaspis cana) is a species of snake in the family Colubridae. It is native to much of southern Africa, and is the only member of the genus Pseudaspis. In the south of South Africa mole snakes tend to be black or dark brown, while in the north they are brown, reddish brown, yellow or grey. Mole snakes hiss loudly and strike when threatened. Average size 1.2 – 1.6m but may reach lengths of 2m.


Monday, 15 July 2013

White-backed Vulture

Africa’s most common large vulture, the white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) is an accomplished scavenger that feeds on the carcasses of Africa’s large animals and is one of a group of 8 species occurring in Africa. Its plumage is dark brown with black skin on the neck and head, making the white lower-back, for which it is named, even more prominent.

 Watercolour on Bockingford 300gsm 

The white-backed vulture has black eyes and a strong, slightly hooked black bill, contrasting with its pale crown and hindneck. As they age, the plumage of white-backed vultures becomes paler and plainer, especially the female’s; conversely, juveniles are darker, with lighter brown streaks on their feathers.
Info from Arkive

Vultures have historically been grouped with other raptors on the basis of their overall appearance. Often seen soaring high in the sky, they are often mistaken for hawks or eagles.

However, it has recently been determined that the seven species of New World vultures are more closely related to storks than to the hawks and eagles with which they were originally grouped. Unlike all other raptors, vultures are not birds of prey. They feed solely on carrion, preferring animals that have been dead for two to four days. African White-Backed Vultures have no natural predators, except humans.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Ground-scraper thrush (Psophocichla litsitsirupa)

Well, I'm beside myself! I've just noticed a pair of Ground scraper Thrushes in my garden this morningl! Now this might seem like an ordinary event to you, but I haven't seen them since we moved from our last smallholding almost seven years ago. I am SO hoping that they will be staying!

They were residents there, loving the loose leaf litter that I left in the garden the gardener had strict instructions that leaves were not to be raked away. I also had a 'wild' garden on the one side, with logs, wild grass and loose leaves where they would usually be found.

They become very tame, standing very erect and motionless, watching one working in the garden, ducking down and running a couple of paces from time to time, standing erect once again when they stop.

They are carnivorous and their diet consists of insects and they would also take mince when offered it.

The Ground Scraper Thrush is found from Southern to Northern East Africa. Within South Africa it is absent from the far Western and Southern parts. They normally stay resident within an area, but some evidence of seasonal movement in the Northern Cape and surrounding areas have been recorded, with influxes late in the rainy season. Other sources suggest at least partial disappearance in winter.

They build a cup-shaped nest, sometimes on a branch quite close to the ground, using vegetation, mud and spider-webs and it is lined with feathers or leaves. Three or four eggs are laid and are incubated for 14 to 15 days. They are bluish with lilac and red-brown spots and blotches.

Since I started the new garden here in 2005, I've been keeping a close record of all the birds as they started moving in - some first visiting for a while and then, as my trees grew bigger, moving in an making it their home, much to my delight.
So I am utterly pleased that this pair has taken up residence here!


Nature's most wonderful treasures

The sea and coast holds a great fascination for most of us, and walking the beach can unearth the most wonderful treasures, from smooth glass to round pebbles, pieces of driftwood and, of course, the most collectible, shells. Unfortunately for these wondrous living creatures, this spells doom, as people will go to great lengths and pay hefty prices for these little creatures, which results in the harvesting of a living infrastructure which will not last forever.

 And living proof of this is the fact that, walking the beach does not often turn up many shells, and in some areas, none at all. I have sketched some of my beach finds, but nothing can portray the beauty of some of these as well as the living specimen.

I personally never buy shells from any shops and only collect what I can find on the beach and my collection dates from many years ago of collecting on the beaches of our North Coast (KwaZulu Natal, South Africa).

Camera : Kodak EasyShare C195
Pencil and ink sketches with colourwash

Today, many of our shell species are endangered, including the beautiful Cowrie shell. Unfortunately, people’s love of the cowrie shell has pushed some species toward extinction. Instead of collecting them, it would be far better to admire them where they are or look at pictures of cowrie shells. 


Saturday, 6 July 2013

Staying inspired

I don't know about you, but it can be hard to stay inspired this time of the year. It's cold outside. It gets dark really early. And gets light really late. I'm an early riser and, as much as I love winter, the cold and long darkness can put a damper on creativity. Especially out in the garden.

Image from Pinterest

So each day I spend a couple of hours searching for inspiration on the internet or scratching around in my store room, trying to find something that I can use in the garden. Isn't the image above absolutely adorable?! I've even gravitated towards my husband's workshop, looking for an old car body that I can utilise like this.

But one needs quite a bit of space to utilise an old car body like that, not very practical or so easy to execute, I mean, who is going to carry it to the garden for me? So in the meantime, all I've come up with is an old wooden wheelbarrow, which I can visualise filled with pansies,  and an old vintage seed planter, which is badly in need of some wood protection for the handles and a coat of paint on the metal parts.

I placed them in the garden and now contemplate the next move. Pansies first and then out with the paint. I can't wait to tackle these two (small) projects and maybe follow up on some other ideas I came across, like this old door and frame somewhere in a corner of the garden.

Or a whole lot of terracotta pots (I'm just MAD about terracotta pots!) placed on top of the wall surrounding my garden. But who will be getting up the ladder to be watering them...?

But first, I'm going inside to warm up with a nice cup of hot coffee! Enjoy your Saturday!


“May I a small house and large garden have;
And a few friends,
And many books, both true.”
― Abraham Cowley

Friday, 5 July 2013

July inspiration - amazing Winter

Winter is actually SO amazing. Crisp, clear colours, the bluest skies of the year and the nights are SO black, showing off the beauty of the sparkling stars.

And don't you just love snuggling under a warm blanket in front of a cozy fire, maybe with a good book or just chatting to someone, or maybe watching TV while sipping a cup of hot chocolate? And what about those awesome winter clothes - beautiful coats and warm boots and scarves?

Snow here in South Africa rarely happens, but when it does, it just adds to the enchantment of winter, sending everybody scurrying for those coats and boots we don't often get a chance to wear here.

So here's to hot chocolate, cozy fires and beautiful boots and scarves! Let's enjoy them during our 1 - 2-month, short-lived Winter!



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