It is no lie that 2016 is a drier year than most, and as we come to the end of our winter months the bush is thin and dull. Truth be told; the resilience of nature proves itself in these trying conditions as we have not witnessed the desolation one prepares for with an imminent drought.
Sure, the land is dry and most of the trees are bare, but that is what the lowveld winter is all about. A new beauty of the bush emerges with dusty flatlands, sandy crests and intricately cracked wallows. The Sand River trickles through a now meadow-like riverbed as opposed to plain river sand and attracts grazers to its lush reeds and grass sprouts.
The absence of summer thundershowers brings a fear of bleak emptiness and windswept terrain, but then suddenly Knobthorn Trees begin flowering. These pale yellow flowers soften the landscape as they engulf most of the Knobthorn-covered surroundings. As this is coupled with the silvery-yellow of the many mighty Leadwood Trees while their leaves and pods now dry and lighten, the bushveld takes on a wonder of delicate beauty unique to August/September.
There is one further development at this time of year which breaks the expected dullness and shines of winter colour; it is an otherwise unnoticed small plant with a very well-timed superb flower.
The Impala Lily (adenium multiflorum) is a small, deciduous succulent tree which only grows a few feet tall. As such, it fades away in its surroundings with small waxy leaves during summer, dwarfed by most of the other towering trees and their dense canopies. Quickly though, the leaves drop and the small tree remains bare for the winter and could be mistaken for a dead shrub or stunted plant, an almost “bonsai Baobab”. However, just before winter starts to close, often in July or early August, the Impala Lily reveals its bright white and striking crimson flowers which splash the baron and well-drained sandy areas in which it best grows.
These clumps of phenomenally pretty flowers add the most intense colour to the winter’s end and can really draw anyone’s eye! The dust-lined landscape and neutral colours of brown, tan and grey are foiled by this lily’s pop of pink. The new and sweetly scented flowers provide a welcomed food source for browsers who have been slowly restricted to drying up leaves of other trees and shrubs, and contrary to popular belief they are not terribly toxic. The toxins do exists though, and can cause illness in domestic animals if they feed on the lily’s flowers, but antelope in the wild seem to feed on them in small quantities and remain perfectly healthy.
Most of the lily’s toxicity is found in the latex within its bark and many African cultures have uses for this. Some traditional healers use mixtures of the latex and water as a numbing agent and neutraliser for insect bites and stings from bees and even scorpions. The latex is also said to be an efficient snake bite treatment, although other traditional medicines are usually administered simultaneously. For centuries this latex has been the foundational ingredient for poison-tipped hunting arrows in the Southern African region, as well as a very effective fish-stunning agent, making the lily a necessity for hunters and gatherers in dry winter conditions of the past. The latex has even been used in the treatment of heart attacks and other cardiac complications by consuming specifically small amounts, as it is believed that the mild toxins within the latex steady the heart’s activity.
Other than its medicinal uses, this lily provides for more than just browsers. Primates will use their strength to uproot the sturdy lily and feed on its notably thick and tuberous underground stems which hold it in place and store plenty nutrition throughout the dry winter months.
All in all, the wondrous Impala Lily is a sought-after food source and cultural resource in a time of need, while also managing to inject a splash a splendid colour into the tough times of a dry winter. Even during a drought!