Newsletter Jun 2022

This month’s rather grisly story comes courtesy of lepidopterist Steve Woodall who is renowned for his knowledge of butterflies and his wonderful Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa.

I tend to think of the circle of life in nature as following fundamentally benign principles, but there is another side to nature that can quite give one the shudders.


Photo taken by Steve Woodall in the Palmiet Nature Reserve

This ant has been invaded by a fungus that has taking over its internal organs and is eating it from the inside. The tiny ‘mushrooms’ you see are fruiting bodies that burst out to spread spores to infect more ants. To add to the grotesqueness of the situation, the fact that the poor creature is sitting at the top of a leaf is not coincidental. Internal parasites such as this control their hosts’ behaviour and make them move up to a prominent place where the spores can disperse more easily while the insect dies!

And we think we have problems with viruses! Nature at its most macabre.


There’s not much to do as we wait out the middle of winter except for some mad weeding – helped by some unseasonal rain a few days ago. In about 10 days, we will start pruning some of the shrubs and perennials, followed by mulching and feeding.

Thankfully, there is still a bit of colour to be seen. 

Cyrtanthus mackenii - pink

Seeds on the Psycotria capensis variegata

The glorious Euphorbia leucocephala

Aristolochia (a tad macabre itself!)


Click here to view all the plants in this newsletter on the website.

·        Indigenous plants

The flowers of the Western Cape’s very own waterblommetjie (Aponogeton distachyos) is well known among foodies as a vital addition to winter stews. This is a hardy summer-dormant aquatic perennial that wants full sun and needs to be covered by at least 30cm of water.

Another bog plant indigenous to the Western Cape, Bulbinella nutans is a rare clump-forming perennial with narrow fleshy leaves and dense racemes of yellow flowers in winter and spring that make an excellent cut flower and are loved by bees. Deciduous and hardy, it grows about one metre high and prefers semi-shade.

Cassinopsis ilicifolia is a dense spiny evergreen shrub with lovely shiny green leaves and small whitish flowers in spring, followed by large orange berries in autumn which birds love. Reaching a height of up to three metres, it makes a good screen. Plant in shade to semi-shade.

The Ifafa lily (Cyrtanthus mackenii) hails from KZN and the Eastern Cape. An evergreen hardy bulbous perennial, it has narrow straplike leaves and scented tubular flowers in lovely shades of cream, yellow or apricot from winter to spring. It grows about 15cm high and wants full sun.

·        Exotic plants

Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis is something for those who have a taste for the eccentric. Also known as Buddha’s hand, this is a rare well-shaped 2 m high tree with oblong serrated leaves and white flowers which produce fruit segmented into finger-like sections. Hailing from South and East Asia, it is evergreen and hardy, and likes full sun. It blooms in summer.  The fruit apparently has some culinary uses.

A lovely old-fashioned plant that seems to be enjoying some new popularity, helleborus orientalis is a clump-forming perennial that has dark green leathery palmate leaves and produces nodding cream-coloured saucer-shaped flowers from winter to spring. Evergreen and very hardy, it does well in even deep shape.

Passiflora edulis is a fast-growing fruiting evergreen climber that can reach a height of 4 m and has large interesting white flowers from summer to autumn. We have plants in 10 litre bags which have fruits at the moment.

Seasoned subscribers will already know that our winter newsletters always feature Tradescantia – blushing bride. It flowers in summer but really comes into its own in the colder months when the striking green, cream and purple colours of the straplike leaves become even more prominent. This trailing groundcover is evergreen and very hardy, and is happy in sun or semi-shade.


A few reminders:

·        Shepstone Gardens in Mount View, Johannesburg have open days on 10 and 17 July. For details, contact Annette on 082 879 8962 or Lynne on 082 689 0930.

·        Make sure to protect your plants from the cold snaps that remain ahead of us.

·        The Aloe Farm at Hartbeespoort is holding its annual Aloe Festival until 10 July.  I have it on good authority that the aloes are at their peak now! 

·        Start gearing up for spring; 27 July is “planttyd!”


Happy gardening!


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