This blog comes from Cape Town, one of the world’s most beautiful cities at the south-western tip of the African continent.
Herbarium specimens indicate that Moraea aristata is a northern Cape Peninsula endemic. It was recorded adjacent to Table Mountain between the present day Cape Town CBD and suburb of Rondebosch. Like sister species in the Peacock Moraea group, it prefers heavier soils and would have been found growing on Peninsula Shale Renosterveld, and likely also in nearby similar vegetation types.
It is that wonderful time again, when the intense red orchid Disa uniflora (Red Disa or Pride of Table Mountain) come into bloom. There is no South African flower that shouts ‘summer’ to me more than this. They grow on stream banks, next to waterfalls and on wet shady precipitous cliffs from the Cape Peninsula eastwards to Bredasdorp in the Overberg and northwards to the Cederberg. The genus is named after Queen Disa, a character from Swedish mythology who according to legend presented herself to the King of Sveas wearing only a fishing net.
The genus Protea is one of the most well-known and charismatic of the Cape Floristic Region’s (CFR) Fynbos Biome. The King Protea (Protea cynaroides) is South Africa’s national flower. Proteas are exported as cut flowers all over the world, prized for their beauty, diversity and longevity. They are often depicted in artwork and are popular garden plants. Members of the genus are also known as sugarbushes.
There are many stories of species only just holding on against extinction. One that stands out is that of Moraea aristata. This enigmatic Irid has long been admired. First described in the mid-18th Century by colonial botanical explorers, it quickly found its way into European collections, many of which still persist today. Historical records indicate this Peacock Moraea has always been a narrow endemic. Its natural distribution is the flats adjacent to Table Mountain, between present day Cape Town CBD and Rondebosch.
I grew up a winter baby, born in February in the northern hemisphere. Childhood birthdays were days for hot chocolate, tobogganing in the snow and soggy visits to the zoo watched by various bemused creatures hiding from the horizontal Westcountry rain. Six years ago I moved to Cape Town and suddenly the seasons were ‘back to front’ and my birthday moved to mid-summer and the hottest time of the year. It also now coincides with the flowering of one of the Cape Floristic Region’s most spectacular orchids – The Pride of Table Mountain or Red Disa (Disa uniflora).
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the last in the world of your kind? There are many species who have experienced this fate in the hands of people. The most famous of these is Lonesome George, a giant tortoise of the Pinta subspecies from the Galapagos Islands. Despite the best efforts of conservationists, when Lonesome George died in 2012 at the age of approximately 102, the Pinta Island subspecies of giant tortoise died with him. I was lucky enough to meet Lonesome George at his last home at the Charles Darwin Research Centre during a stint of volunteering in the Galapagos Islands during my teens, and it is a memory that has stayed with me.
Cape Town is situated on the rugged and mountainous Cape Peninsula, stretching from the iconic profile of Lions Head, Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak in the north to the Cape of Good Hope in the far south. Table Mountain was voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the natural world.
What makes the Cape Peninsula so special?
The Cape is characterised by a type of vegetation known as fynbos, a Mediterranean climate shrubland that is both fire prone and fire dependent. Fynbos is renowned for its phenomenal plant diversity with a total of more than 9,000 species of vascular plants in an area less than the size of Portugal. The Cape Peninsula has 2,285 plant species and Table Mountain alone has almost 1,500 species in just 57 square kilometres.
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There are many environmental organisations based in Cape Town and beyond that require the services of volunteers to undertake their work. So if you have a little time to spare please get involved.