Shaking itself dry after the winter rains, Table Mountain takes a deep breath in September and explodes into colour. Yellow, purple, white and orange flowers jostle for your attention as you hike, making it one of the best times to see fynbos in its full floral glory.
Teased into life by warmer temperatures, longer hours of daylight and the prospect of pollinators – bees, butterflies and curious-looking long-tongued flies – 60% of the fynbos comes into flower in spring. Visitors to Table Mountain will see great patches of luminous yellow and lime green – conebush proteas (Leucadendron species) in full flower. Many members of the pea family are out now too – their pink, sweet-smelling flowers attracting big-as-your-thumb carpenter bees and over-excited sunbirds.
The larger plants are impossible to ignore but as ever with the fynbos, the beauty is in the smaller detail. Keep your eyes at your feet as you walk the mountain paths for the shocking pink of Oxalis purpurea low on the ground and the day-glow colours of various vygie species – the ice plants. One is particularly impressive: Carpobrotus edulis is better known as a Sour Fig and it treats us to two showings. The flowers first bloom a shade of yellow so bright it’ll burn your retinas; they then turn fluorescent purple. And when it’s done, you can harvest the fruit and make jam from it – sour fig konfyt.
You’ll also see orchids by the dozen – yes, orchids: you don’t have to go to Borneo to look at orchids, the Cape Peninsula is home to a quarter of all ground orchid species south of the Zambezi River and they love to flower now. Dispersis capensis is out – the attractive pink orchid known as a moederkappie or Granny’s Bonnet due to its unusual shape – and so are the yellow-green Pterygodium orchids, often tucked away in the shade of bigger plants with big Satyriums, club-like plants with pungent smells.
Prepare to do some smelling too. You’ll detect all sorts of aromas in the spring air: it could be the sage-like smell of Salvia Africana-lutea (make a tea from it if you’re feeling a bit … ahem … gassy) but it could also be the arresting scent of one of my favourite plants: aasbos – alarmingly pronounced as ‘arse bos’.
I’d better explain. Aasbos is Coleonema album, also called the Confetti Bush thanks to its extravagant show of tiny white flowers. A member of the citrus family, its leaves release a pleasant waft of lemon and liquorice when crushed – you can feel the aromatic oils on your fingers. Anglers who had been using ‘aas’ (a foul-smelling sea creature) as bait for their fishing hooks would end the day by ‘washing’ their hands in aasbos to remove the offensive smell. It also makes a delicious addition to a cup of rooibos tea and I have it on good authority that it adds vooma to one’s life.
And a bit more vooma is never a bad thing, even if it’s from aasbos.