Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The stink of Paradise

My house reeks of something VERY dead.
And for once my poor housekeeping skills are not to blame.

At night the sweet, cloying stench is so powerful it makes my head throb. No, one of Silver's post-prandial snacks didn't escape to expire behind the refrigerator. And Magic hasn't been dragging carrion home again.
In fact, the odour isn't even seeping from the roof, home to a Large Predatory Beast. I hear this ogre devouring rodents and bats regularly, but I haven't had the courage to poke my head through one of the (scarily numerous) gaps in the ceiling to see what it is. Ignorance is bliss, or so I tell myself.

Baby animal: a very dwarf dwarf mongoose.
This is Galadan from Ecthelion.
So why the smell?

Because it's a jungle out there.

Since the rains have come, the bush has turned into a lush, verdant tangle, vibrant with birdsong and flitting butterflies. It's the closest thing to Paradise I can imagine. Baby animals of every kind peek wide-eyed from the undergrowth, and the trees and shrubs are scrambling to send their come-hither signals to potential pollinators.
Here are some of their efforts.

The buffalo thorn (Ziziphus mucronata) is popular with the religious: Christ's crown of thorns was woven from a species of Ziziphus, and the local Zulu and Swazi people traditionally believe that the twigs can attract, and carry, the spirit of a deceased person.

The silver raisin bush (Grewia monticola) will be covered in small, orange berries come February. Although dry and current-like, these fruits are scoffed by almost everyone (jackals, baboons, guinea-fowl, vervets, peckish zoologists).

Seasonally appropriate, the sickle bush (Dichrostachys cinerea) is decked out like a Christmas tree.

My first encounter with a sickle bush occurred in Melbourne when I was a mere teenager. I blush to admit that I was filching sprigs of labelled plants from the Botanic Gardens to fraudulently fulfil a Botany assignment on plant identification (oh come on, my abiding passion was Zoology!). Accustomed to the flowers of the ubiquitous Aussie wattles (golden fluff, creamy fluff, yellow fluff... ) I was blown away by this plant. Of course, here in its native land, the sickle bush is considered an invasive weed because it enthusiastically transforms disturbed ground into impenetrable thickets.

The weeping wattle (Peltophorum africanum) is not for the squeamish. It's named after the constant mist of pee which rains down from its foliage. Who does the peeing? Tiny, sap-sucking 'cuckoo-spit' insects (Ptyelus grossus).

With all these plants madly competing for pollinators, it pays to stand out. And the lowveld cluster-leaf certainly does that. This tree isn't content to just lay on copious amounts of nectar. In the evenings it widens its client-base by pumping out perfume: a sickening odour of decay. Unfortunately my front yard is ringed by these trees.

The stinky culprit: the lowveld cluster-leaf (Terminalia pruniodes).

Whom is it hoping to attract?  Hyenas?


  1. Wow. Now I'm dying to know what's feasting up on your roof. =) There was a line of carob trees on my walk home from high school that, although it didn't smell like carrion, did reek of something biological and past it's prime so I power walked by as fast as I could. Sorry you're adrift in the scent!

  2. Ah, rainy season in southern Africa. Good remembrances (apart fom that stench...). Especially while we're having a thick blanket of snow here up north.


  3. I am so glad I have not come across the lowveld cluster leaf!! Oh come on please take a look and see what is up in your ceiling :-) Diane

  4. Biobabbler,
    Thankfully I can breathe easy again now (as far as the smell goes, as the trees only produce the pong for a few days) but I'm still a bit anxious about my ceiling-denizen... Am I brave enough to look?? I'll keep you posted.

    I don't envy you your snow regardless of how 'Christmassy' or picturesque it might be. Give me sunshine, flowers, butterflies and baby animals any day!

    I'm toying with the idea of beast-hunting in my ceiling but it might destroy my peace of mind for ever more. There are a lot of things that I just don't want to find!


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