Krantzkloof in your gardenGuides to know and grow five local plant species
Text Kerileigh Lobban Photographs Various
Welcoming Krantzkloof in to your garden
Wanderings through the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve are rewarding on so many levels: the fresh air, the escape, the beauty. And although the stunning views and numerous waterfalls are certainly enough to attract most visitors, the paths that link these featured sites can be appreciated for far more than just a route between viewpoints.
On closer inspection, the trails are bursting with life that is in an ancient and natural balance. There is an impressive diversity of plants (and animals that they attract and support), each serving their unique purpose, and each with a fascinating ecological story to tell. This series of articles is here to introduce you to these stories and also help you bring these species (and a bit of Krantzkloof) in to your own garden. Each featured plant is accompanied by a downloadable and printable factsheet – so you can learn more about the plant, and how to grow and care for it. When visiting Krantzkloof NR again, you will also be able to expand your sightseeing to include these indigenous species and possibly spot the animals they interact with.
Help to protect and conserve
Although most local species are well-conserved in our surrounding reserves, there are a few that have been badly affected by the activities of humankind. For this reason, we will be featuring at least one rare / endangered plant species in each edition to shed light on the plight of some of our surrounding flora. More importantly, our how-to-grow factsheets will help you to care for and propagate these plants in your own garden or home, ultimately helping to expand the range of its otherwise declining population. Of course, this increased plant diversity will attract various wildlife, promote healthier ecosystems and help maintain fauna diversity too. So, if you’ve ever wondered how you can help the natural world around you – this is how!
Five featured flora
Mackaya bella plant
Photo: Alison Young
This plant was assigned the specific name bella which means “beautiful” – and the reason is clear when observing the contrast between the evergreen shrub’s dark green leaves and its white bell-shaped, burgundy-veined flowers. Mackaya bella is semi-shade loving and can be found growing naturally in the Krantzkloof NR, often along edges of streams. It enjoys moist soil and should ideally be planted in a damp part of the garden or near water, otherwise it will require frequent watering to thrive. It makes an excellent potted feature plant, especially in a shady courtyard. Ecologically, the flowers attract various insects but most importantly it plays a role in the life cycle of the Blue Pansy Butterfly (Junonia oenone). Females lay eggs (singly) on the leaves and shoots. Caterpillars feed on the leaves, and form hanging chrysalises on the underside of branches. Male butterflies are territorial and can often be found resting on the ground near healthy, flowering host plants.
Crassula ovata plant
Photo: Kevin Collett
A symbol of luck in many parts of the world, this easy to maintain plant is beautiful without flowers and is exquisite with its rounded heads of sweetly scented light-pink flowers. It enjoys warmer temperatures and is very tolerant of drought, sea spray and wind. The red margins of the leaves, the hardiness of the plant and the gnarled appearance of the stems make Crassula ovata a very attractive indoor bonsai-form pot plant. Beware not to overwater! In the garden, it is highly complementary in rockeries or planted beside a large rock. In Krantzkloof it can be found in full-sun, rocky areas or cliff edges. The flowers attract a multitude of insects and the stems offer favourable and stable sites for wasps to build nests on.
Keep CAM and carry on
Crassulas are one of the unique plant species that have a special adaptation to reduce water loss from their leaves. Plants “breathe” through “pores” on their leaves (known as stomata) – through which they take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and release oxygen (O2). Although this “breathing” is necessary as part of a plant’s photosynthetic process to produce sugars and energy, it also results in water loss because of evaporation; much like we lose water every time we breathe out. Crassulas reduce this evaporative water loss by closing their leaf pores during the day when the evaporation potential is the highest. But then how do Crassulas photosynthesise if they “can’t breathe” during the day? Their special adaptation (known as a CAM pathway) involves them opening their stomata at night – when they take in CO2 and store it in their leaves in an organic acid compound. This compound is then broken down during the day and used in the photosynthetic process. In extremely dry periods Crassulas will not even open their stomata at night. Instead they will re-cycle CO2 within the cells – a process known as CAM-idling. The plants will not be able to grow but the cells will be kept alive and healthy until it rains again.
Aloe arborescens plant
Photo: Kerileigh Lobban
Aloe flowers are a sunbird’s delight, and if you have the time to spend observing freshly blooming flower spikes then you are sure to see many of these beautiful, energetic birds and their interactions with each other. The flowers, borne during the dry winter months, also offer much-needed oases for many different kinds of insects, making these flowers a truly buzzing hub of life. Flowers of this species come in three colour varieties: the common deep orange, the pure yellow (see the image above) and the unusual bi-coloured form. Aloe arborescens is also a well-known medicinal plant, with numerous benefits in modern medicine as well as important roles in traditional African remedies. Interestingly, Aloe extracts have long been used throughout human history; by the ancient Egyptians (1500s), ancient Greeks and Romans and even by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, 2400 years ago. Although Aloe vera is the more well-known variety, Aloe arborescens can be substituted with the same, and sometimes even better, results.
Indigofera micrantha plant
Photo: Alison Young
A dainty forest legume, with almost all-year round, pretty, white flowers and soft, overlapping leaves that have a fern-like appearance. Long green pods dry to a red-brown colour and shoot their seeds (with a popping sound) as they split along their seams. Indigofera micrantha flourishes in semi-shade conditions but can, given enough time and sufficient watering, become accustomed to sunnier conditions. This plant is ecologically important not only for the food that the flowers provide to insects but especially for its role in promoting soil health; being part of the legume family which are notorious for their symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria. These bacteria form nodules on the roots of the plants and fix atmospheric nitrogen to the soil. The growing plant uses some of this nitrogen but the excess can be used by other nearby plants. Although Indigofera micrantha is not used, some members of Indigofera yield the dye “indigo” which is mainly derived from the leaves, but can also be sourced from the roots.
Geranium ornithopodioides plant
Photo: David Styles
This endangered species is conserved in the Krantzkloof NR, and has a few remaining populations in the province. It prefers forest margins and can be found scrambling along streams. These areas are unfortunately also favoured by farmers and alien invader plant species, which cause most of this species’ habitat destruction and disruption of natural populations. This perennial herb is self-seeding and is distinguishable by its unique leaf arrangement and fine hairs along its stems, petioles and leaves. Its flowers are white or very light-pink with prominent pink veins, and are usually found in pairs on slender stalks that split from the common stalk. Not much else is known about this species except for its existence in a few remote locations, its broad interactions with insects who visit the flowers and its medicinal benefit in treating coryza in children. Further ecological and distribution studies are urgently needed to evaluate the importance and vulnerability of this species. What a tragedy it would be for this delicate, endemic plant to disappear forever in its natural state before we have even fully understood its role in the Krantzkloof NR.
Write in to us and win!
Rod Edwards has kindly propagated 10 healthy plants of this edition’s featured rare / endangered species: Geranium ornithopodioides, to give away.
To win 1 of these 10 plants, email us at email@example.com and share:
1. A helpful gardening tip for growing an indigenous plant that we can feature in our next edition, (a rare / endangered Krantzkloof NR species would be a bonus!).
2. Any interesting plant-animal interaction you have observed in Krantzkloof or in your garden (photos are welcome!)
Stories (and photos) may be shared on our Facebook page – so look out for more exciting articles about “Krantzkloof in Your Garden”.
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About the author
Kerileigh’s interest in gardening began in her early years and has grown in favour of indigenous flora and ecological farming, where she is able to apply her UKZN teachings in Biological Science. She is a devoted animal lover and a passionate advocate for the natural world, with fond memories of a year and a half spent in a tent in a Madagascar forest collecting field data in pursuit of her MSc. These days she juggles scientific journal editing, training in animal rehabilitation, running a co-founded design and media company, Ranga Media, as well as volunteering on the Kloof Conservancy Executive Board.