Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: February 2013

Thursday, 28 February 2013

A very pernickety little flower

Remember my post about the fynbos of the Western Cape? I included a photo of a mysterious pink flower that we couldn't identify. My niece Magriet, who's another veldt expert, has come to our rescue. Dankie, Magriet!

Sea rose (Orphium frutescens)

The flower is a sea rose or Orphium frutescens, a perfect example of so-called buzz pollination. Wot dat? That's when an insect, usually a bee, vibrates its wings on just the right frequency, which causes the flower ananthers to vibrate, thus releasing pollen. The sea rose, though, is very fussy. It won't flirt with just any old bee. Nope, it has to be the South African carpenter bee.

Pollen-covered carpenter bee. Image: Wikipedia.

Carpenter bee in a sea rose. Image: Colin Paterson-Jones.

This BBC article has a great headline: Bee is key to flower power. Dang. I wish I'd written that! You can also see a BBC video about this particular South African flower, delivered in a delicious Scottish accent by Professor Iain Stewart, here:

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Plum blossoms at Kameido Tenjin

Just to prove that I've really returned to Tokyo – and to get back into a Japan frame of mind – and after all this is a blog about Japan ...

Where wôs I? I've got jet lag. I can't concentrate.

Just to prove that I've really returned to Tokyo, I went to Kameido Tenjin to immerse myself in the fragrance of plum blossoms. That's the best thing about plum blossoms: unlike their famous cherry cousins, they have a sweet scent.

Plum blossoms at Kameido Tenjin. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Long before frivolous cherry blossoms took centre stage, the shy plum blossom was the most highly revered flower in Japan. The Man'yōshū¹ contains 113 poems about plum blossoms; cherry blossoms enjoy far fewer mentions.

A plum blossom is a symbol of beauty and virtue in women. Traditionally, girls were taught to be pure and noble as plum blossoms, and to stand able and proud despite all adversities. The link between the blossom, purity and strength is probably due to its blooming period: in winter, often at the coldest time² of the year, in the midst of snow.

Since it's believed that the plum tree protects you against evil, it's traditionally planted in the north-east of the garden, because evil is believed to come from that direction.

There's a Noh play called Umegae (梅枝, plum branch) about a travelling priest who visits the town of Sumiyoshi. He stops at a house where he sees many splendid dancing costumes. When he asks about their origin, he's told that they were left behind by a dancer named Fuji, who was killed by a rival. The priest feels sorry for Fuji and recites Buddhist prayers for his soul; then the dancer's wife appears as a spirit who performs a classic dance called saibara (催馬楽) for the priest. All this takes place in an idyllic garden where bush warblers sing in plum trees.

Chapter 32 of The Tale of Genji is also called Umegae Here's a print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicting this specific story:

I've written several posts about Kameido Tenjin as well as the scholar Sugawara no Michizane, who's enshrined here. Here’s some of them:

I went to view plum blossoms on Monday. It was too early to enjoy the full spectacle, but several trees are in full bloom. I predict that the blossoms will be at their best this coming weekend, if you want to toddle over. You can check the progress of the blossoms at this site.

1) The Man'yōshū  (万葉集, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled in the 8th century.
2) I confirm that it's freezing in Tokyo, especially compared to a southern summer. It was 38 degrees Celsius when I left South Africa. I'm suffering, people, I'm suffering.

Approaching the shrine

A trio of Tokyo icons: torii, plum blossoms, Sky Tree

The trellis to the left is a wisteria trellis. It will bloom in April.

Kameido's famous drum bridge with plum branches in the foreground

Rare yellow plum blossoms. Edit added 1 March: Not plum blossoms, but a flower
called ロウバイ or winter sweet. Thanks, Kaori! (See comments below.)

Kameido's omikuji (fortune papers) are pink.

I took this photo for the plum tree next to the shrine. Promise.

I took this photo for the plum trees, too. Promise.

I took this photo for the plum tree. Promise. It's just accidentally out of focus.

I took this photo for the plum ... Oh, never mind.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

South Africa, kingdom of flowers

The mountains of the Western Cape seem to be nothing but blue granite rocks; the veldt appears to consist of uniform grey-green shrubs. That's if you look at it from a distance, but move closer. No, that's not close enough. Squat down, on your knees, and look carefully. See them? Thousands and thousands and thousands of tiny, delicate, unique flowers. Aren't they gorgeous?

Aristea dichotoma. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Orphium frutescens. Look at the cute spider!

Ruellia. This genus is closely related to the petunia.

You're looking at fynbos, the natural heathland vegetation that occurs in the Western Cape, mainly in the winter rainfall coastal areas with a Mediterranean climate. The area is famous for its exceptional biodiversity.

As a matter of fact, it's also known as the Cape Floral Kingdom, and has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Unesco described the 553 000-hectare Cape Floral Kingdom as "one of the richest areas for plants in the world. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa, but is home to nearly 20% of the continent's flora. Its plant diversity, density and endemism are among the highest worldwide, and it has been identified as one of the world's eighteen biodiversity hot spots."

It gets better. Let's zoom in and focus on the Kogelberg biosphere, one of the regions within the Cape Floral Kingdom, where I spent my two-week holiday. Kleinmond, where my family lives, is one of four coastal towns that are situated in the Kogelberg area.

If you look at this map, it's indicated by number 2.

Credit: Wikipedia

It's a narrow coastal plain that's squeezed between the ocean and sandstone mountains that were created 300 million years ago. They're home to more than 1880 species of plants, including 77 species within the Kogelberg area that occur nowhere else on earth.

To put things into perspective:
  • This is the most complex biodiversity spot on our planet. The second richest is the South American rainforest.
  •  The entire United Kingdom has only 22 endemic species.

So I'm justified in saying it's just a tiny bit very special, this place at the southern tip of Africa.

Most of the flowers are small – so small that you need a macro lens to capture their beauty – but others are big and colourful enough to turn the veldt into a cheerful quilt. Different species flower in different seasons, which means you can enjoy them throughout the year. I'm not a fynbos expert at all, but fortunately my sister Thea and my niece Magriet are both boffins. After I'd taken hundreds of photos, they sat with me (and the Field Guide to Fynbos) or emailed me and identified them all. I told them about my fellow bloggers in Nara as well as Minoru-sensei, who all love flowers.

The protea is arguably the most famous flower of the Western Cape.


I took most of my photos in the mountains behind Kleinmond and in the Harold Porter Botanical Garden. They're not very good; neither the camera nor the camerawoman was up to the task!

I went on several walks, but let me tell you about the first one with Thea. She's done every hiking trail in South Africa, climbed mountains all over Africa and completed the Inca Trail in South America, so I should've known what I was letting myself in for when she said, "I'm going for a walk tomorrow morning at six. Do you want to come along? Just remember it's my daily exercise."

No worries, I thought, I walk a lot myself. No problem.

Ha bloody ha.

It was still dark when Thea, Kibo and Kleinsus (youngest sister) set out. Thea maintained a brisk but easy-to-follow pace on the level ground. When we reached the foot of the hill …

She calls it a hill. I call it a mountain. What do you think?

Sunrise over Kleinmond and Walker Bay

When we reached the large heap behind Kleinmond, she slammed her engine into first gear and took off, leaving me coughing in her dust. I observed her ascent with growing alarm. "Heck, no, this won't do. It's a matter of honour. I'm ten years younger* than she is!"

I gritted my teeth, grabbed my camera and galloped after her. Halfway up the slope my knees were tofu. Not abura-age (firm tofu), but kinugoshi (silken tofu). Fortunately, at that exact moment, Japan's seven lucky gods took mercy upon my soul and showed me a particularly pretty fynbos that I absolutely had to photograph.

That took about five minutes, so I could catch my breath.

After that I managed to spot another fynbos every ten meters.

Finally I staggered onto the crest, where Thea was waiting, smiling serenely like a Buddha on a mountain top. "I'm sorry," I puffed, "but there are so many flowers and I really want to take pictures for everybody in Japan and … Gaaa! Look at that view! How did I get up here?"

"There are more flowers on that side," Thea said, pointing downwards.

I gazed at the abyss, and the abyss gazed back. Uh-oh. Experienced hikers will know that while it's more tiring to walk uphill, it's downhill that really tests your thigh muscles, which have to act as your brakes.

There she goes, always way ahead of me, drat!

Suffice it to say that downhill I discovered new fynbos species that haven't even been documented yet, and therefore required meticulous attention and painstaking photography.

This was the downhill bit. That's my shadow.

I also wanted to tell you about veldt fires in the Western Cape, but I'll save that for later. I end this post with lots of photos for the flower enthusiasts. Thea identified the flowers for me, so you can rest assured that everything's correct.

Dankie, Thea, vir die stap en die kennis!

* I'm a so-called "laatlammetjie" or late-born lamb, in other words, a child that follows several years after its siblings. My sisters are ten and eight years older than I am. I was my parents' third attempt at a boy, but it sort of flopped and turned into just a tomboy.

Sewejaartjies (Afrikaans), everlasting (English), Phaenocoma prolifera (Latin)

Leucospermum or pincushion. This is a miniature version that's barely as big
as a finger nail.

Vaalstompie (Brunia laevis)

Baardprotea or bearded protea

Aulux cancellata (male plant)

Aulux cancellata (female plant)

Klaas Louw or klouterbos (genus Athanasia)

Perdekapok (Lanaria lanata)

Tiny sewejaartjie. It's really, really tiny. Latin name: Lachnospermum umbellatum.

Sewejaartjie. This specific type is called a strooiblommetjie or little straw flower.
Latin name: Edmondia sesamoides.

Wawielspinnekop or garden orb web spider

Harold Porter Botanical Garden, with mountains on this side and ...

... the sea on this side.

Veertjie or little feather (Phylica pubescens)

Fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis)

Klipblom or stone flower (Crassula coccinea)

Plakkie or pig ear (Cotyledon orbiculata)

Mountain with rooiheide or red heath (Erica cruenta)


It's called a coffee bush because it smells like coffee! It belongs to the genus Brunia.

Nivenia stokoei

Leonotis leonurus

Cape sugarbird

The view from the restaurant in the Harold Porter Garden, and ...

... the view towards the sea.

Kibo the snake catcher drinking water, using a rock as his bowl.

I wish my sister had read this sign!
Lots of big tortoises in the veldt, hence that sign.


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