Grysbok Environmental Education Trail
The reserve is dominated by St Francis Dune Thicket vegetation, which is characterised by clumps of thicket occurring within a matrix of Dune Fynbos, where typically buchu (Agathosma stenopetala) and ericas (Erica chloroloma) are present.
The Cape Recife dunefield (which includes the NMMU campus) is one of two dunefields in the Eastern Cape that supports Dune Fynbos. Fynbos typically grows on poor, stony mountain soils and on infertile coastal sands and limestone. It is a sparse to dense shrubland; most shrubs are small-leaved (translated to English the Afrikaans word Fynbos means “fine bush”) and relatively short (> 2m). Fynbos is characterised by the presence of Restios (reeds), Ericas and Proteas (although the latter is not typical of coastal fynbos).
The Thicket clumps are classified as Algoa Dune Thicket and Milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme) and candlewood (Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus) trees, and waxberry (Morella cordifolia) shrubs are common. Characteristic species also include the dwarf cape beech (Rapanea gilliana) and the rare succulent (Cotyledon adscendens). Look out for the markers along the trail, which identify some of the more common plant species.
At one time, almost 25 % of the reserve was heavily infested with the Australian Acacia cyclops (Rooikrans) and A. saligna (Port Jackson) species. Thanks to the Working for Water Programme, much of the reserve has been cleared of these exotic species. Although the majority of trees have been coppicing, the eradication of these invasive species, however, requires ongoing follow-up programmes to ensure that all emerging seedlings are removed.
Here is a list of some of the more common and interesting plants that can be seen on the trail.
This bushy tree grows up to 5 m high. It can be easily identified by the deeply grained bark and by the slight camphor smell of the crushed leaves. The leaves are green above and grey below. The flowers appear in winter (Mar.-Nov.) are creamy coloured; the seeds are covered by white fluff.
This is another bushy tree reaching about 4 to 5 m in height. The leaves are dark green above and whitish with dense hairs below. Creamy white flowers appear in late winter and look like miniature Scottish thistles. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. The fruit is a nutlet with a brownish covering of hairs. This tree is well adapted to living in dunes because the branches can set down roots as they are covered with sand from moving dunes. In this way the tree can keep pace with sand inundation.
Milkwoods are typical of coastal bush, but are also found in the south Cape forests. The leaves are quite thick and a dark glossy green. The edge of the leaf rolls in underneath and this characteristic can be used to identify it. The leaves also often have blisters or galls, caused, believe it or not, by a virus! It is called Milkwood because of the white latex which appears when a leaf or twig is broken. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, but the fruit is easy to spot and turns dark purple in summer. The tree also has a characteristic rancid scent during summer.
This is an exotic invader species!
Rooikrans means "red wreath" and is so called because of the red ring or aril around the seed. This plant can grow up to 7 m tall and forms very dense stands. It was first introduced from Australia to stabilise the dunes on the Cape Flats, and was then introduced here for the same purpose. Because of the lack of natural predators here, it soon became a pest species. It is very difficult to remove from an area. Its seeds germinate quickly after fires, it is resistant to ring barking and it produces a huge seed bank every year.
It was introduced for the same reasons as was Rooikrans, namely to stabilize moving dunes, and has spread widely since. After much testing, a predatory wasp from Australia was introduced. It seems to be making headway in destroying this pest plant. The wasp lays eggs in the twigs and reproductive parts of the tree and causes galls. Enough of these galls will prevent the tree from flowering and producing seeds. Note the gall ringed in the linked picture.
The Everlasting is a highly branched shrub, up to 50 cm tall. It bears clusters of white flowers with yellow centres. The white "petals" are actually the flower bracts, while the yellow centre comprises many small flowers. The flowers appear in spring and make a pretty feature in many gardens. The plants are called Everlastings because the flowers dry well and retain their shape and colour for many years. Many people believe that this shrub has magical properties and can be used to protect a house from lighting strikes.
This is a perennial shrub which grows up to 40 cm high. The leaves are bright green and very prickly, hence the name "echinata", which means spiny. This flower is very common in Dune Fynbos and anywhere where dunes have been stabilised. It is also endemic to the Eastern Cape.
This twiggy bush can grow up to 4 m high, but is usually about 1 to 2 m high on the Trail. The leaves are tiny (10 mm long) and are densely clustered on the stems. This bush carries flowers throughout the year, although they are at their best in the late winter. During summer, the seeds disperse and the flowers lose their brilliance. It is one of the dominant shrubs of the coastal vegetation. The flowers rae mainly whote, but pink and reddish variations can be found.
Bitou forms a large bush with bright green roundish leaves. The young leaves are covered by fine cobweb-like hairs. This bush has flowers for most of the year, but with the best show in spring. It has a profusion of small juicy purple berries, which make it a favourite of birds.
This orchid consists of two or three membranous leaves the size of a saucer, which hug the ground closely. From this it sends up a tall (40 cm) stalk which bears the flowers. The stalk appears from about August, and the flowers open in September and October. They range from pink to red in colour. The flowers last for about a month and then the entire plant dies back. The bulb rests during summer and sends out leaves during winter, which is also the period of highest rainfall.
Osyris forms a large bush or small tree up to 5 m tall. It is easily identified by the leaf pattern. The leave alternate and crowd on the twigs, giving them a squared appearance, especially when the bush grows in hot area. In more shaded areas the leaves are spaced further apart. The flowers are small, greenish and inconspicuous, but the fruits are large and change from green, through red to dark purple when ripe. This is another favourite of the birds! The bark can be used for tanning hides, and the berries can apparently be used for dying the hair of horses and cattle.
The Wax Berry forms a low-growing, erect shrub growing up to 50 cm on the Trail. The brown flowers are borne in spring and by late summer the small wax-covered berries are plentiful. The berries themselves are purple, but have a grey waxy coating. This wax may be melted down and used. This wax was an important source of candle wax for early European settlers.
Although the Coast Olive can grow up to 7 m tall, on the Trail it is low growing and forms dense stands on stabilised dunes. One can just imagine what was going through the mind of the person who named this plant "exasperata"! This plant has a mealy bug feeding off it.
Steekgras grows up to 0.5 m tall. It is easy to recognise because the seed heads are feathery and the dried leaves coil. The grass often has a soft bank of dry curly leaves at the base. When these are collected they can make a soft comfortable bed for camping and also make excellent tinder. The softness of the dry leaves is in strong contrast to the name which means "sticking" or "sharp" grass.
This is a rambling plant which can form an untidy bush on its own. On the trail, however it is often seen growing among other plants and using them as a support. The leaves are glossy green and are divided into 6 to 8 leaflets arranged like the fingers on a hand. The fruits are quite unusual and are borne in clusters on short stalks.
Dune String is very common on the trail. It can form a tall gangly bush up to 2 m tall. It has very small triangular leaves which press closely to the stem. For most of the year it is a uniform bright green plant, but during the spring it bears clusters of reddish flowers. It is called dune string because bark strips were woven and twisted into string and lengths of rope in the past.
This bush forms thick impenetrable thickets. It grows to about 2 m high. The modified stems, which initially appear as thorns, later sprout leaves to continue the growth of the plant. The flowers are small and white, but the fruit are quite large and conspicuous. The root of this plant is reputedly used in beer as an aphrodisiac, and other parts of the plant are commonly used for chest pains and snake bite.
There is not much information available on this bush. It seems to have a limited distribution as it appears only to occur in Dune Fynbos, where it is very common. It bears small greenish flowers and has a plentiful crop of green to dark purple berries.
Garlic Buchu often betrays its presence on hot days with its heavy, sometimes unpleasant aroma. It is a member of the citrus family and thus has many aromatic oil glands in the leaves. As can be seen, the leaves grow close to one another, and the tip of the stem forms a little ball of leaves. The flowers attract many different insects, from beetles to bees.
Many of the slender green creepers found in southern Africa are commonly called Monkey Rope. This particular Monkey Rope is very common on the trail. It winds around plants and can be a problem as it chokes other plants and can deprive them of sunlight.
This attractive little shrub is often cultivated for gardens and several varieties are available. It belongs to the Citrus family and has a very pleasant smell, reminiscent of thyme or sausage spices. It bears numerous small white or pink flowers from August to late October, which makes the bushes appear as if they have been strewn with confetti.
Dodder is a parasite which can cause great damage to other plants. Here it is seen climbing over some Restios. The flowers are small (2-3 mm), green and generally inconspicuous. The fruit appears in spring and is green, thin skinned and juicy. It turns bright red, and is eaten and thus spread by birds.
The Cross Berry is a large scrub that can grow to an untidy tree. The flowers are delicate and pink-mauve in colour. The fruit appear as lobed berries, with 2, 3 or 4 lobes. The fruit is brown and sometimes sticky when ripe. It can be eaten by humans and tastes like dates. This plant has a variety of uses, e.g. the Zulus use it as medicine for childbirth and to alleviate impotence, and among the Xhosas it was used to make spear handles. The berries can also be made into a delicious jam to be enjoyed by all!
This little shrub is very common on the trail, but like so many fynbos species, it does not seem to have a generally accepted common name. It belongs to the Jujube Tree Family, so we call it the little Jujube or klein drogies when we take children out on the trail. The flowers are small, white and woolly and are similar in shape to the small bell shaped ericas. The fruit become dark red to black when ripe and seem to be enjoyed by birds.
There are several members of the Rhus family found on the trail. The sap of these bushes is a mild irritant. Most of them, the Crow-berry included, have small green to white flowers and dark berries.
These highly unusual bulb plants are found on one section of the trail only. They usually occur in grassland, so it is quite strange to encounter them in one of the most densly vegetated areas of the trail. The flowers are borne on long stalks that grow out from a central point. When this inflorescence dries out, it is often snapped off by the wind and blown about, thus spreading the seeds.
Despite its beautiful flower, this little bulb plant is poisonous. It usually occurs farther inland in dry clay soils. Many farmers try to eradicate it as it can kill sheep and goats. It is also found only on one part of the trail and has a short flowering period from August to September.
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