October is when the three indigenous orchids found on Leisure Isle start flowering. Two are aptly named ‘speciosa’ – Latin for ‘beautiful, handsome and showy’. This they certainly are, but in different ways.
The more obviously beautiful Eulophia speciosa is a large, conspicuous yellow orchid which grows on stable sand dunes covered by grasses and fynbos in a narrow band from Wilderness to Transkei.
Judging from the plants which are still growing on the grass covered dunes round Bollard Bay, and those that appear in various gardens – Leisure Isle must have been a riot of yellow in the days when it was home to tortoises, ostriches and buck, and the high sand dunes between the Beacon and Green Hole made wonderful slides for local children.
This orchid is now listed as ‘Declining’ because of the destruction of its habitat and use in traditional medicine.
Two years ago we bought one of these orchids at the Leisure Isle Festival. It is growing happily in full sun, and now has two flowering spikes – so rewarding to see – with individual flowers lasting up to three weeks. Once the flowering has been completed it should not be watered at all. So either plant it in a deep pot which can be moved or make sure it is out of the reach of your watering system.
The curiously beautiful Bonatea speciosa, or green wood orchid, grows along the entire South African coastline, apart from the West coast, in coastal dune thicket or forest.
This too was probably widespread on Leisure Isle before houses were built. Today it survives only in dune thicket at Kingfisher Creek, and possibly in one or two older Island gardens that have not been ‘landscaped’. Unlike the flowers of the Eulophia speciosa which have a very weak scent and do not produce nectar, the Bonatea speciosa flowers are full of nectar and about 20 minutes before dusk release a sweet honeysuckle scent to attract its pollinator, the Cape Hawkmoth. How special it would be to have one of these in one’s own garden.
The third indigenous orchid found on Leisure Isle is of course the glorious carmine Satyrium princeps, growing in the Kingfisher Creek area and extensively described on the Steenbok Nature Reserve website (www. steenboknaturereserve.org.za). To my knowledge it has not been found in any Island gardens. Its preferred habitat is south-facing coastal dunes, which no longer exist on Leisure Isle outside the reserve.
You can find out more fascinating details about indigenous orchids in WR Liltved & SD Johnson, The Cape Orchids. 2v. Cape Town: Sandstone Editions, 2012.
Article by Leonie Twentyman-Jones
Photographs Margaret Richards