Lady Luck takes the day Off

 Wednesday dawned crisp and clear  and we were off to hike around Robberg with WAGS.  Bill and I started earlier than the main party and decided to do it in reverse. 

It was interesting, but certainly proved to be a lot more tricky than the conventional route.  It was a spectacular day with good friends,  a turquoise sea with diamonds scattered across it, a bright blue sky and all the plants looking simply too beautiful.  Kathryn made the find of the day, when she spotted Disa hallackii (Hallack’s Orchid – Endangered) in a most unlikely spot.   We all met up afterwards, for a wonderful celebration of 2 birthdays with champagne and the most sumptuous eats.

For over 4 impatient years we have had Erica outeniquae  in our sights, waiting for it to bloom after a massive fire on Ruitersberg. It is unusual in that is a monotype and used to be Eremiella outeniqua. It has 3 lobes instead of the usual 4 and 6 stamens instead of 8 or 4, so it was put in a group all of its own. It is reputed to grow near and on the summit of Ruitersberg.  Four years or so after the last fire, Friday 26th September seemed the right time to go in pursuit of this elusive little plant. We were hoping to meet up with Koos from Ruitersberg Office, but we were told that he was sick ,when we popped into the Cape Nature offices.  We then drove on and parked at the top of the Robinson Pass,  where we divided into 2 Groups.  Jen, Brian and Bill headed for the nek to the west of the summit of Ruitersberg.  They were armed with a map and directions on how to find the plant from Dr Ted Oliver.

The second party went straight up on the north-western slopes of Ruitersberg to see what we could find.  There are a series of kopjes that lead up towards the sheer rock faces above, which were obviously going to prove an effective barrier to getting higher.  We scrambled through the bands of rock lower down, fossicking happily in the Fynbos.   This is looking so good after the excellent recent rains.   We were hoping to find both Lobelia dichroma (Data Deficient) and L. ardisiandroides (Rare), but could find no signs of either plant.

Acmadenia tetragona (Near Threatened) was looking stunning and there were lots of plants on the lower reaches.  Also present lower down, was the grey Aspalathus digitifolia (Finger Cape Gorse – Vulnerable).  Penaea acutifolia (Sharptip Brickleaf – Rare)was present on all the sites  up to an altitude of 954m.  The Indigofera sp. 19 (Rare) was scattered across the northern slopes.  The real excitement for the fossickers, was an Erica that appeared for the first time at about 950metres.  It has a prominent maroon style like E peltata and heart-shaped leaves like E cordata.  Jen has taken a stukkie home to analyse under the microscope.  We should have an id before this Reportback goes out .  This turned out to be a very beautiful form of Erica cordata, which is Least concern on the Red List.

Meanwhile our intrepid mountaineers, who were stalking Erica outeniquae (Outeniqua Heath – Vulnerable) had a decidedly strenuous time traversing  the steep, slippery Fynbos slopes en route to the Nek . In Jen’s words, “It was a heavy 2 hours of bundu bashing to get to the first site on a nek to the SW of Ruitersberg Peak. The slopes were covered with the most beautiful Erica cordata, lovely  Protea cynaroides and Leucadendron spissifolium ssp. fragrans. Imagine our disappointment, when  we couldn’t find a single Erica that  fits the description of E outeniquae. We searched for an hour with no luck. All we got for our considerable effort was Erica intermedia subsp. albiflora (Rare) . We realised that we would never make the top of Ruitersberg and were very discouraged by our failure, so we turned back. You win some, you lose some (as the Sprinboks would say).  We are hoping that this population (one of four) hasn’t been wiped out by the frequent lightening strike fires that occur on Ruitersberg.” On the way down, this party cleared some Hakea, which is starting to appear on the slopes. We hope to send a HAT from the Mountain Club to hunt for it again in the next couple of weeks.

The Boy was excited when he found an Indigofera at the top.  In a  note to Dr Brian Schrire at Kew he says, “We climbed Ruitersberg in the Outeniqua Mountains today and I found what I think is the single foliate sarmentosa subsp you were mentioning.”  Hopefully this id will be confirmed in the near future.   The Indigofera turned out to be the find of the day.

If the last few weeks have been frenzied, that was only the beginning.  On Thursday we will  meet up with Dr Robert Archer of SANBI to show him Pterocelastrus rostratus at Jonkersberg.  I will be in touch with Marius of Cape Pine, later in the day.  We know Robert as “Cassine” on iSpot, where he has been hugely helpful with many id’s and explanations of distinguishing characteristics.  On Friday through until Sunday, we will join the Southern Cape section of the Mountain Club on a 3 day hike in the Kammanassie via Vermaakskloof. Greg of our HAT says, “ It is a reasonably easy walk to the first night’s stop at a pleasant little stream with flat grassy tent-spots. The next day we continue on the jeep-track to the camp-spot below Kammanassieberg, again with water for the night. On the third day we will ascend Kammanassieberg (an extra 500m, energy-levels permitting) and then walk down to the bakkie. Then it is back to the cars and home.”    After a fairly strenuous weekend for the ancients, we will leave at crack of dawn on Monday for 3 days at the Gamka Eco Estate, where The Boy’s family owns a property.  There have been some very interesting finds in the area and we are looking forward to this trip.

The Reportback for next week will reach you eventually, but it will certainly not  be first thing on Monday morning on the 5th of October.

Di Turner

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