It was reported in the Press that September 2015 was the hottest September worldwide since record keeping started some 138 years ago. In our neck of the woods, it certainly was the driest September we have experienced since we started the nursery some ten years ago.
It is now crucial to select plants that shows a high resilience to changes in rainfall and temperature. Many plants in the Grasslands of South Africa have this characteristic. The Grasslands are an environment associated with extremes when it comes to weather. It would therefore be logical to start looking for plants from this biome. It can include trees, shrubs, succulents, perennials, grasses and bulbs. In fact, a good mix is probably the way to go.
The most obvious and maybe desperate choice would be Aloes. It is certainly a good choice for some environments. Make sure that you select Aloes that also flower in summer to ensure colour and nectar throughout the year. Just ensure that the summer flowering Aloe you select is drought tolerant. Aloe reitzii is a good choice for a summer flowering specie. Many hybrid species with extended flowering times are also available.
Other succulent plants that can be considered are the Bushy bulbine (Bulbine abyssinica), Highveld vygies (Delosperma species) and the Khadi root (Khadia aethiopica) to name a few. More shrubby ones would include the succulent bush senecio (Senecio barbetonicus), Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) and the Beesvygie (Ruschia hamata).
But succulents are certainly not the only choice. Many Grassland species have adapted to drought spells by developing large underground rootstocks where moisture is stored. These rootstocks also protect them from frost and fire. Examples are the Curry bushes (Gnidia ssp), Cat’s whiskers ( Becium obovatum), Dolls’ protea (Macledium zeyherii ) and the wild carnation (Dianthus mooiensis).
Most bulbous plants from the Grasslands also show high levels of resilience. There are many species to choose from. Exceptions are bulbs associated with wetlands and seepage zones such as Cyrtanthus breviflorus.
One of the most beautiful is certainly the Grass lily (Crinum graminicola). The flowers are short-lived but even the leaves are attractive. Other unusual ones are the Ground lily (Ammocharis coranica), White squill (Schizocarpus nervosa) and the Blue squill (Merwilla plumbea).
A selection of Grassland plants will be incomplete without some grasses added to the mix. Although some of the current landscaped sites reflect only a few species, some really outstanding grasses are now becoming available to the trade. Sizes vary from very small (Sporobolus stapfianus) to medium-sized (Eragrostis gummiflua). Boat grass (Monocymbium ceresiiforme) is particularly striking during and after flowering. But this is a topic for another day.
Even after the little rain that we have received this season, the trees in the veld around Gauteng are green and productive. A friend told me that honey production has not been affected at all. That implies that many of the trees are in flower. The reason? A deep root system. We tend to install an irrigation system and water our plants fairly regularly. This is the way to set them up for failure when their resilience should be high.
Smaller trees or large shrubs that can also be considered is the Cork bush (Mundulea sericea), the Cape Myrtle (Myrsine africana) the smaller plane trees (Ochna pretoriensis, Ochna serrulata). If you can get hold of it the Karoo boerbean (Scothia afra) is a must.
Many plants from other regions are also well adapted to drought conditions that occur in the Grasslands, such as the crane flower (Strelitzia reginae) from the Eastern Cape and the dwarf coral tree (Erythrina humeana) from Mpumalanga and the eastern seaboard. One that also deserves more attention is a small shrub, Dyschoriste rogersii. It is very drought tolerant and has a very long flowering season. Butterflies love it.
When it comes to drought tolerance, it is important to note that we are looking for plants with a high resilience. Drought tolerant plants are different to plants that require dry conditions such as the Aloes from the Karoo and Northern Cape.