We had an unexpected invitation to spend last weekend in the southern Drakensberg mountains, to which we spontaneously said ‘yes’. Morning walks were a delight and I share here some of the treasures, mostly flowers, that we enjoyed seeing in the grasslands.

After abnormally prolonged and heavy rains the grasslands in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains are unusually green even by summertime standards. The trees visible in the photo above are exotic imports – few indigenous trees occur in the montane grasslands although  small natural forest patches do occur in sheltered ravines and gullies usually along the banks of streams.

Nestled in the grasses is the most incredible array of wildflowers – the more one looks the more one sees. Identifying mountain flowers is not my forte but I have given it a go although mostly I have got stuck at the genus level – assuming I got even that right!

I was delighted to see the small sprays of flowers of a relatively tiny Polygala species, though they were difficult to photograph waving in the the breeze in bright sunlight. The photo doesn’t convey the small size or delicateness of the flowers. I think that it is Polygala hottentotta.

I don’t recall having noticed this lovely little plant before, with the silver leaves setting off the mauve flowers so wonderfully. I think this is a silvery sopubia (Sopubia cana).

This pretty white flowering herby plant is tantalising familiar, but I am darned if I can remember what it is nor have I managed to find it in my wild flowers field guide although it must be there!

There were patches where these lovely little wild lobelia brightened up the grasses as they nodded and waved in the breeze. Another challenge to photograph but they are so pretty I included this pic nevertheless. I think this is Lobelia flaccida.

A bee was visiting the flowers of a small ground creeper that is one of several species known as wild cucumber. The question that I cannot settle though, is it a species of Cucumia or Coccinia? A forager would need to know for sure as the fruits of some species are poisonous, and for others the leaves may be cooked and eaten as a spinach.

Belonging to the sorrel family, this is likely an Oxalis – possibly Oxalis semiloba?

As the summer progresses the grasses are starting to go to seed. This is a fenced piece of grassland where horses sometimes graze.

I was very happy to see this ground orchid, which is known as blushing bride (Satyrium longicauda).  Its tuberous root is edible. Although there are indigenous epiphytic orchids in South Africa, most of our orchids are ground orchids, most notably Satyrium with 40 species occurring in the country, and Disa with 70 species occurring.

When we were walking near a stream this river frog (probably Afrana angolensis) crossed our path. Due it its very long hind legs relative to its body size it can hop surprisingly fast and far. It has beautiful eyes reminiscent of tiger’s-eye semiprecious stones.

One of the Wahlenbergia species, this flower is a lovely blue-mauve colour. Usually each plant has several flowers but as they were bowing and rocking in the breeze most of my group photos had at least one blurry flower, so I settled for this photo of a single bloom.

Another Oxalis in the morning sunshine – this one is a lovely rosy colour. The soil near the stream was pale and clay-like. Run-off turned the water in the nearby stream slightly milky.

Also on the path near the stream this dragonfly was using the seedhead of a grass stem as a vantage point.

More wild lobelia with an oxalis flower lurking in the background.

I was very smitten by this small low-growing Erica with its flowers like minute bells. There are over 620 species of ericas in South Africa with most species occurring in the Western Cape fynbos regions.

Because of all the recent rains there was standing water in sections of the grassland making some sections of the pathway a little boggy, but this water was standing alongside the path so no muddy boots for us.

On seeing this plant I thought it must be one of the terrestrial orchids. It is likely one of the disas and is perhaps Disa stachyoides, but the photo is not really clear enough to be sure. 

Here is a closer look, though the harshness of the sunlight makes it a bit too contrasty to get a clear photo.

Another white flowered plant that I have been unable to identify. If anyone knows what it is please do let me know!

This plant had a slightly mysterious quality. The flowers were not yet fully open. There is a chance that it is Eulophia zeyheriana. There are 42 species of Eulophia, another genus of mostly terrestrial orchids, occurring naturally in South Africa.

There are over 244 Helichrysum species occurring in South Africa, including the one pictured above, which I guess is the monkey-tail everlasting (Helichrysum herbaceum).

Above is another cluster of Helicrysum flowers taken from above where the flowers are more open.

Any comments or corrections on the identification of the flowers that I photographed would be very welcome.

I have decided to post fortnightly instead of weekly on naturebackin. I need to spend less time at a computer or phone screen. After all, it is hard to let nature back in when not actually outdoors! So my next post will be around the second Thursday in February. I hope to see you then!


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

Also I have learnt a lot about wild flowers from Christeen Grant’s blog Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover

Posted by Carol