What’s blooming on Table Mountain?
Dominic Chadbon, The Fynbos Guy, is a hiking guide who specialises in birds and botany. English-born, he came to Africa in 1991, working as a safari guide in Botswana before coming to Cape Town and instantly falling hopelessly in love with Table Mountain.
Shaking itself dry after the winter rains, Table Mountain takes a deep breath in September and explodes with colour. Yellow, purple, white and orange flowers jostle for your attention as you hike up Platteklip Gorge or meander across the Table Top, the blooms teased into life by longer, warmer days and the prospect of pollinators – bees, butterflies and curious-looking long-tongued flies.
Sixty percent of the fynbos (the vegetation type that covers these mountains) flowers in spring, and this year is no exception. Starting at Tafelberg Road, visitors to the Table Mountain’s Cableway will see great patches of luminous yellow and lime green – conebush proteas (Leucadendron species) in full flower. Many members of the pea family are out now, too – their pink, sweet-smelling flowers attracting droning carpenter bees and over-excited sunbirds.
The big plants make a bold statement and are impossible to ignore but as ever with the fynbos, the beauty is in the smaller detail. Keep your eyes at your feet as you walk the mountain paths for the shocking pink of Oxalis purpurea low on the ground, and the day-glo colours of various vygie species.
One is particularly impressive: Carpobrotus edulis is better known as a sour fig, and it treats us to two showings. The flowers first bloom a shade of yellow so bright it’ll burn your retinas; they then turn brilliant pink. And when it’s done, you can harvest the fruit and make jam from it – sour fig konfyt.
You’ll also see orchids by the dozen – yes, orchids: you don’t have to go to Borneo or Woolworths to look at orchids. The Cape Peninsula is home to a quarter of all ground orchid species south of the Zambezi River and they love to flower now. Disperis capensis is out in September – the attractive pink orchid known as a moederkappie or granny’s bonnet due to its unusual shape – and so are the yellow-green Pterygodium orchids, often tucked away in the shade of bigger plants.
Prepare to do some smelling, too. As you step out of the cable car, you’ll detect all sorts of pungent aromas in the air: it could be the sage-like smell of Salvia africana-lutea by the drinking fountain (make a tea from it if you’re feeling a bit ... ahem ... gassy) but it could also be the arresting scent of one of my favourites – the aasbos (alarmingly pronounced as "arse bos"), scattered across the table top.
I’d better explain. Aasbos is Coleonema album, also called the confetti bush thanks to its extravagant show of tiny white flowers. A member of the citrus family, its leaves release a pleasant waft of lemon and liquorice when crushed – you can even feel the aromatic oils on your fingers. Anglers who had been using "aas" or red bait (a kind of smelly marine worm) would end the day of fishing by "washing" their hands with aasbos to rid themselves of the smell. It also makes a delicious addition to a cup of rooibos tea, and I have it on good authority that it adds woema (grunt) to one’s life.
And a bit more woema is never a bad thing, even if it’s from the aasbos.