The South African autumn is plucking from the peach tree its leaves; they lay like flecks of gold on the grass.
On this clear autumn evening in South Africa, as if in concert, all across the Overberg, the rolling hills are being sown with wheat and barley—the prelude to one of the most beautiful sights in the world: fields blown by the wind!
Friday, out among the hills in the company of my mother was a joy. March is the beginning of autumn in South Africa. It arrived with showers of rain and lilies unique to the Western Cape province. The lilies are unusual in that they flower suddenly, straight from the bulb—not a leaf in sight—giving the impression that they were stuck into the ground rather than emerged from it. The leaves follow later, once the flowers have died—as if they are an afterthought.
The Paintbrush lily
The first of these we encountered was the blood-red Paintbrush lily, Haemanthus coccineus. There was a cluster on one side of the dirt road verge, another against a sheer drop where the road crossed a channel, and even more, scattered at the foot of a steep hill. Never before have we seen so many of these flowers; so red are they that from a considerable distance, we were able to spot another cluster at the far end of a small field, later on.
The Belladonna lily
The second kind was a much smaller group of four Belladonna lilies, Amaryllis belladonna, of which only one was in bloom; the rest had already flowered and produced fruits. They stood in a meadow, one I had passed through a week ago—it was thanks to my mother that I spotted them, this time. In Afrikaans1, they are aptly named the Maartblom, “March-flower” (pronounced “maah-Rt-blom”, with a trilled “R” and a shortened version of the “o” in “or”).
The Chandelier lily
The third was the Chandelier lily, Brunsvigia orientalis2. These were the first “straight-from-the-bulb” lilies I ever encountered, this time last year. Where there were three then, there were now five. I did not photograph them because they were already in the later stages of flowering and so not very arresting, but I include a photograph from last year’s sighting instead. The flowerhead dries out, breaks off in one piece and rolls in the wind to disperse its seeds.
- Afrikaans is the native language of the Western Cape province.
- Possibly Brunsvigia litoralis, a slight variant.