Mistbelt grasslands sustain a rich diversity of life, especially when they form part of a complex mosaic that includes also forest, wetlands and rivers and streams.

A high percentage of grassland has already been lost to intensive agriculture and commercial monoculture plantations, and to other human activities and settlement that includes urban sprawl. What remains is under pressure and there are national and regional initiatives and recommendations to manage the various types of grasslands, including mistbelt grasslands.

A variety of wild grasses, South Africa

Grasslands support significant biodiversity, are essential to maintaining water resources sustainably and they conserve good quality soil. They provide forage for stock farming, sustain pollinators crucial to agriculture, and provide many natural resources, such as thatching materials and medicinal and food plants. They are also part of our social and cultural heritage and remain important for human recreational purposes including tourism.

Wild grasses South Africa

Grasslands that have not been significantly transformed are incredibly diverse and are habitat for many creatures, including mammals and birds.

Wild grass seed heads, South Africa

Wild grasses going to seed, South Africa

Grasslands comprise more than a variety of grasses – the vegetation is a rich mix of plants, including many flowering plants.

Wild flowers in mistbelt grassland, South Africa

These photographs were all taken in November and December and showcase summer flowering grassland plants in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Wild flowers in summer grassland, South Africa

Pink flowering indigenous pelargonium in mistbelt grassland

Above and below, Pelargonium luridum, showing some of the variety in its range of pink and creamy white flowers.

Indigenous grassland Pelargonium, South Africa

Wildflowers regenerating after fire, mistbelt grasslands, KZN

Most of these photos were taken in grassland in the Dargle Conservancy a few weeks after a fire. In the photo above the burnt stems of regenerating plants can still be seen. The plant with the spiky flowerheads is a species of Acalypha.

Mistbelt grasslands are characterised by long-lived plants that are adapted to fire. FIre management protocols for different types of grasslands have been established and these should be followed by land managers as burns that are too frequent, too hot, cover too extensive an area at one time, or are done at the wrong time of the season can be extremely detrimental.

Wild flowers in summer in grassland, South Africa

Pink Everlastings in mistbelt grassland

These lovely Pink Everlastings are a species of Helichrysum. There is a close-up below left, and to the right is a species of Ledebouria showing its spiky flowers and large leaves growing flat to the ground.

Pink Everlastings and Ledebouria in grassland

Grassland wild flowers, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

Lovely yellow flowers light up the landscape including the Berkheya species (above left), the Hypoxis (above right) and the Golden Everlasting, another species of Helichrysum, below. I am venturing to identify the genus of each of the plants I photographed, but in most cases deciding on the exact species is beyond my level of knowledge.

Golden Everlastings flowering in grassland, South Africa

Syncolostemon parviflorus flowering in mistbelt grassland, KwaZulu-Natal

Flowering prolifically after the fire are stands of mauve and white herby looking plants called Pink Plume (Syncolostemon parviflorus ).  Thanks to Barend Booysen of Crab Apple for identifying this plant for me – I could not even get to the genus.

Barend and his wife Helen are members of the Dargle Conservancy, which works actively to conserve the environment and biodiversity of the Dargle area. Barend leads monthly walks through the Kilgobbin Forest and associated grassland, and shares his knowledge and insights in a relaxed and engaging way. For more about Midlands Conservancy walks see here.

Purple wildflowers in mistbelt grassland, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

The lovely purple daisy is an Aster bakerianus (am taking a chance on this one) and the purple flower, above left, is one of the Veronia species. Below left is what I think is a Rotheca hirsute and on the right are the delicately blue upturned bells of one of the Wahlenbergia species.

Blue wildflowers in mistbelt grassland in summer

Dry stone walls in grassland in the Dargle area, KwaZulu-Natal

Remains of dry stone walls built on many of the Dargle farmlands by Italian prisoners of war during World War II can still be seen.

Hairbells in mistbelt grassland

Above, the delicate stems and flowers of a Dierama, a member of the Iris family. They are also known as Harebells. Below left are the deep orange tones of the pea-like flowers of the Eriosema distinctum, and on the right, Pentanisia prunelloides.

Mistbelt grassland flowers in summer

Yellow flowers in mistbelt grassland

I photographed more yellow flowers in the form of one of our Buttercups, probably Renunculus multifidus (above left), and to the right, one of many Senecio species.

To see more on grassland flowers in this area visit the blog ‘Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover’: https://christeengrant.wordpress.com/

See also a post on grassland flowers in the spring on ‘Midlands Mosaic’: https://midlandsmosaic.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/spring-grassland-flowers/

The Dargle Conservancy posts each month a fascinating collection of wildlife sightings recorded by members: http://www.dargleconservancy.org.za/sightings.php

All of these sites helped me confirm some of my plant IDs for photos in this post.

Butterflies in mistbelt grassland in the summer, South Africa

Miraculously two lovely butterflies each paused long enough to be photographed. On the left is one of the Browns. Using a guidebook I studied the russet blush marks and the numbers and configurations of eye-spots on many similar species and decided it is likely to be a False Silver-bottom Brown or one of its variants (Pseudonympha magoides or Pseudonympha varii). On the right is a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui).

Mistbelt grassland is vulnerable to overgrazing

Much of the grasslands, including in the Mistbelt, have disappeared having been destroyed and replaced by timber plantations as well as by agriculture. Many grasslands that remain host grazing livestock, including cattle. Mistbelt grasslands are not well suited to heavy grazing.  They can easily be pushed beyond their carrying capacity, and once damaged take a long time to recover and biodiversity is lost.

Cow eating a dandelion

One misty morning, this cow managed to find one flowering plant against the fence of her paddock – a dandelion, which she seemed to relish.

Summer wildflowers in grassland, KwaZulu-Natal

More diverse, lovely and interesting than any cultivated garden, the primary mistbelt grasslands that remain need to be cherished and conserved.

Hats off to all the dedicated individuals and organisations, including the many KZN Conservancies, tirelessly working to preserve our natural environments.

Wild grasses South AfricaSources: 

Pooley, Elsa. 1998. A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Durban: Natal Flora Publications Trust 

SANBI. 2013. Grassland Ecosystem Guidelines: Landscape Interpretations for Planners and Managers. Compiled by Cadman, M., de Villiers, C., Lechmere-Oertel, R. & McCulloch, D. Pretoria: South African National Biodiversity Institute. http://biodiversityadvisor.sanbi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2013_Grassland-Ecosystem-Guidelines.pdf

Posted by Carol

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