Dune Surprises

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones

Photos: Margaret Richards

Brenton beach

The beach walk from Brenton to Buffels Bay is one of the most popular and well-loved walks in the area. It is particularly rewarding at spring low tide when the sand is hard and easy for walking or cycling.  There are always interesting sea creatures to observe, as described by Esther in her ‘Brenton to Buffels Beachcombing’ in 2015.  A pair of Black African oystercatchers is usually busy foraging or the female nesting (depending on the season), as are a pair of tiny White-fronted plovers, their little legs a blur as they scurry across the sand. Once we saw a small group of visiting Sanderlings hunting for crustaceans on some rocks in the surf. The beach changes constantly. Winter storms cause the sand to be scoured out, exposing the ‘dinosaur’s spine’ of rocks with its fascinating shapes and pools. Then the next storm puts all the sand back and the rocks are hidden once more. You never know what you will find.

Children slide down the steep back dunes, dash in and out of the waves, or play on the beach. Fishermen stand patiently hoping for success, but seem not really to mind if they never catch a thing. But few people explore the low front dunes halfway along the bay. Here one finds glimpses of another world. Intriguing tracks of little creatures can be seen, perhaps a mongoose, some sort of small buck, and possibly a little mouse.

Cat’s Claw

Weird and wonderful flowers emerge in spring.  The spectacular crimson or pink flower of the Cat’s claw (Hyobanche sanguine) pokes straight out of pure beach sand. No leaves or stem are visible, so one wonders how it survives in such a harsh environment.   It is actually a root parasite so draws its nourishment from the roots of a host plant, notably Passerina shrubs (also known as Gonnabos), to which it has attached itself. The origin of its Afrikaans name ‘Wolwekos’ is unknown but, according to botanist John Manning, may refer to the flower’s resemblance to scraps of fresh carrion. Then there are delicate little white nemesias with dark mauve veins in its throat;  creepers such as Monkey rope (Cynanchum obtusifolium) twine around the other plants, producing clusters of little pale greenish flowers and seeds suspended from a parachute of fine white hairs ready to fly off in the slightest breeze.  Healthy plants of mauve Wild cineraria (Senecio elegans) emerge from the ash which has been washed down from the burnt hillside above.

Monkey rope seedpod
Wild cineraria

It is interesting to discover that the common names of many of the plants growing on the dunes have the names of vegetables, perhaps indicating that they were eaten by the early inhabitants of the dunes. For example, there is Dune spinach (Tetragonia decumbens), Dune parsley (Dasispermum suffruticosum) and Veldkool (Trachyandra ciliata). The familiar Beach pumpkin (Arctotheca populifolia) which forms a silvery-grey-leaved mat over the dunes has bright yellow flowers, and doesn’t seem remotely edible. Maybe the rapid and enthusiastic growth reminded people of the growth of pumpkins. Apparently the hairy leaves can be useful as tinder to start a fire – hence the Afrikaans name for the plant ‘tonteldoek blom’, along with the usual ‘seepampoen’.

Spring is a magical time and many travel far and wide to see the beautiful spring flowers and gardens, perhaps forgetting that we have little gems of our own just round the corner.