Ever since watching Major Leslie James Hiddins’s (aka ‘The Bush Tucker Man’) television shows back in the 90’s I’m totally fascinated by whatever resources nature provides man to survive. I’ll never forget the Major driving around in his Perentie – talking with that Aussie twang about everything edible from underneath his trademark Akubra hat. The episode that stayed with me most is about Burke and Wills, the famous explorers who died of starvation in The Cooper surrounded by ample quantities of Nardoo or Desert Fern – used by local aborigines as an important food source and given to the explorers to eat. They first consumed it without a problem and soon after started to collect and prepare their own. Despite the consumption of substantial quantities they grew weaker and thinner and developed tremors of hands, feet and legs and a slowing pulse. By not following or observing the correct recipe – roasting the spore cases before grinding them into a fine powder – Burke and Wills developed a disease known as Beri-Beri or Thiamine (Vitamine B1) …
The last couple of weeks the weather has changed significantly with longer dry periods and temperatures rising in the thirties again. This time of the year is called Kambarang in the Nyungar calendar – the season of birth. The warming trend transforms nature around us with animals starting to show more activity while flowers explode in all sort of colours and shapes. In wildflower country a spectacular floral display erupts including Balgas, Banksias, Kangaroo Paws and Orchids. A very good place to witness this spectacle is Lesueur National Park, with over 900 plant species – of which many endemic to this region – one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots along with places like Sundaland in South East Asia, the tropical Andes in South America or the Cape Floristic region in South Africa. Important landmarks in this National Park are the laterite mesas that are called after members of the Hamelin’s Naturaliste expedition in 1801 – Mount Peron, Mount Micheaud and Mount Lesueur. The trails that surround those flat-topped mountains lead through the exceptionally diverse Kwongan heathland, home …
Common Donkey Orchids (Diuris corymbosa) are some of the easiest recognisable Australian orchids due to their large ‘Donkey ear-like’ petals. These orchids flower between August and October, and with the first specimens blooming on the sandy soils of the Darling scarp the first signs of spring have finally arrived. According to the Nyungar calendar this time of the year is called Djilba – the growing season during which a massive explosion of wild flowers in Australia’s South West is happening. In anticipation of this botanic spectacle it would be an understatement to say we are getting a little excited!
The combination of ample winter rain and plenty of sunshine gets the first wildflowers blooming. Not even two weeks ago there were only a few Hovea’s to be seen, now the bush is full with them; Prickly Hovea’s (Hovea chorizemifolia), Tree Hovea’s (Hovea elliptica) and Devil’s Pins (Hovea pungens) – a royal purple spectacle.
The splendid firewood Banksia (Banksia menziesii) is a rather gnarly tree of the Proteaceae family that grows on the sandy coastal plains of Western Australia’s mid and central west regions. It flowers in autumn and winter after a lengthy process in which the inflorescence changes from a bare brown cone to a spectacle of more than thousand brightly coloured flowers.
As a profuse producer of nectar the Parrot Bush (Banksia sessilis) attracts many birds as for example Honeyeaters, Black Cockatoos and Ringneck or Twenty Eight Parrots. If the latter would eat the nectar the local Nyungar people knew it was safe to use the wood for message sticks and its spiky leafs for trapping fish. Nowadays this tree is highly valued for the beekeeping industry.
A flowering Impala Lily (Adenium multiflorum) is a colourful beacon in the dry wintery landscape of southern Africa. The plant contains a highly toxic latex which is used for both hunting and medicinal purposes. Some species – amongst which the summer or Swazi Impala Lily – are harvested to such an extent that they are now listed as endangered. While commercial gathering for the horticultural and traditional medicine market, urbanisation and agriculture have almost wiped out the entire population in certain areas, the Kruger National Park forms a save heaven for this beautiful plant. It features abundantly in Skukuza, Letaba and Shingwedzi rest camps, where its stunning pink colour will certainly overwhelm you.