Here’s a year-round fynbos guide to Franschhoek’s Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve courtesy of Fiona McIntosh.
If you’re a fynbos fan, add a walk in Franschhoek’s Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve to your bucket list. Situated at the top of the Franschhoek Pass, a ten-minute drive from town, the reserve has diverse fynbos and, according to fundi Dominic Chadbon, aka The Fynbos Guy, “is a great mix of dry and wet-type mountain fynbos in different stages of post-fire recovery.” It’s certainly one of the best Western Cape venues for specialist fynbos trips and makes a great contrast with the flora of the Cape Peninsula. Half the plants in Mont Rochelle will be different to those you’ll see in prime Cape Town fynbos viewing spots like Table Mountain or Silvermine.
Looking for West Coast flowers? Take a look at our flower report.
Here are some of the treats to look out for over the coming months.
Spring to Early Summer Flowering
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Commonly known as the Arum Lily, it is actually neither an arum (the genus Arum) nor a lily (genus Lilium). It’s generally found in marshy ground and is usually accompanied by a tiny, endemic frog, Hyperolius hopstocki, which sometimes hides in the flowers of arum lilies during the day. If you want to experience what it is like to chew a mouthful of glass shards, then have a raw Arum Lily rhizome for dinner; it’s a lot better after you boil it. The leaves were used as wound dressings and are supposed to dye wool various shades of yellow.
Flowers mainly in spring/early summer from August to January, but with odd flowers appearing at other times of the year.
Producing white or pink flowers, Wild Scabious or Bitterbos, is very hardy and cold-resistant, so grows well on the rocky slopes of the reserve. Scabious was used in Europe to treat scabies but this one has different uses: the leaves and roots were used as medicine for colic and heartburn and the dried and powdered roots as talcum powder for wee bairns.
Flowers from August to February.
Big stands of Marsh Butterfly Lilies are found along the watercourses of the reserve: it loves the swampy ground. One of the species that has been flowering abundantly since the fire three years ago, rooikanol or bloodroot bears tall, showy spikes of star-shaped, deep yellow flowers in spring.
Flowers in September/October.
More commonly known as the Little Painted Lady or Kalkoentjie, its best seen in the first few years after a fire. This delicate gladiolus is recognised by its fairly large white flowers, the three lower tepals of which have distinctive red markings, which are guidelines for the plant’s pollinator – long-tongued flies.
Flowers in September/October.
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Growing on mountain slopes between 300m and 1400m above sea level, the Franschhoek, wax or porcelain heath produces spectacular displays of delicate, porcelain-looking pink flowers during summer. The shiny, wax-like texture gives a false impression that they are sticky. This showy heath was cultivated in England in Victorian times (they were crazy about Ericas) before it became well-known in South Africa.
Flowers from October to January.
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One of 15 tree species listed in the reserve, the Witels or White-alder produces many small, white or cream-coloured sweetly scented flowers. Its wood is prized for making durable furniture and boat keels. It is said to be a very important honey tree for bees in the Knysna; honey bees love its flowers, that yield especially tasty honey.
Flowers in midsummer, from December to February.
The striking red mitre aloe, so named because of its resemblance to a bishop’s ceremonial headgear, is abundant on a rocky koppie on the Aalwynkop trail.
Flowers from December to February/March.
Also known as Volstruisie (little ostrich) in Afrikaans, alluding to the resemblance of the clustered flowers to a clutch of ostrich eggs, this fynbos shrub is a Cape endemic. It has clusters of fluffy white pompom-like flower heads that open soon after the first rains, and knobby fruits all year round.
Flowers from late autumn to winter, March to June.
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Commonly known as Basterboegoe or false buchu, this shrub’s leaves release a citrus scent when crushed. It bears a profusion of star-shaped purple, pink or white flowers.
Flowers from mid-autumn to early spring, May to September.
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The Brown Afrikaner grows mainly on clay slopes and ranges from drab yellow to lilac in colour. It releases its strong, sweet scent both day and night.
Flowers in May/June.
Winter to Spring Flowering
Not dissimilar in appearance to the Little Painted Lady, with delicate white or pink flowers streaked with red on the lower tepals, this little gladiolus has popped up all over the place after the fires. The origin of its Afrikaans name lapmuis (cloth mouse) is a mystery to me. If you have any ideas, let me know on Facebook.
Flowers mainly from June to October.
One of the Ground Proteas (‘acaulos’ means ‘without stem’), its unusual flowers have an even more unusual smell: rising bread. The pungent, yeasty smell attracts its pollinators, which are – amazingly – mice and other rodents. Rodent pollinators are an exceptionally rare event in botany but reasonably well-established in fynbos. Mont Rochelle is a great place to see these.
Flowers from June to November.
This particular plant encapsulates the First Law of Fynbos: Afrikaans has better names for plants than English. The ever-sticky Sundew is a Snot Rose in Afrikaans and one of several carnivorous plants in fynbos; its sticky leaves trap insects, which then die and are converted into nutrients for the plant. Growing on sandy slopes or temporary seeps, it produces purple, mauve, yellow, red or white flowers with a characteristic dark green eye. Drosera gets its name from the Greek word, droseros, meaning dewy and refers to the sticky dew-like excretions its leaves produce.
Flowers around August/September.
The King Protea knocked the Sugarbush off its perch as South Africa’s national flower in 1976 and is a classic resprouter, growing back thick and green after it has been razed by fire. Its big flowers contain diverse communities of insects. The flower bud of Protea cynaroides resembles that of the globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus), which led the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who devised a classification for living organisms based on the level of similarity between them, to give it the species name cynaroides.
The Common Sugarbush is abundant in the reserve. The flowers produce a lot of nectar, which attracts birds and bees. Before sugar cane was grown in Natal, this was a source of local sugar. Simply turn the flower head upside down when it is in bloom and sugar water will drain out, as sweet as a cool drink. It was also used to make cough syrup palatable.
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Words Fiona McIntosh
Photography Siegfried Schäfer; Dominic Chadbon; Fiona McIntosh