Metalasias on the dune

The Metalasias flower in winter on the dune between our house and the see. At first, when we had just moved here in spring 2019, I was a botanical ignoramus. I didn’t know the common names of fynbos plants, never mind their botanical names. I couldn’t place them in plant families, nor knew about plant kinds. I didn’t know anything about Strandveld vegetation, pollination, propagation or conservation. All I knew was that my new surroundings were stunning and wanted to learn everything about it. I started with the most common – the Metalasias.

Metalasias

They all looked the same from a distance. All had papery flower heads and short needle like leaves. It was easy to overlook slight differences. I scrutinized them, took photos, paged through field guides and iNaturalist observations and identifications. I helped Pearly Beach stalwarts (Anke and Dianne) put flowering specimens in the Herbarium, a custom that has prevailed since the early 1990’s.

Early winter – Metalasia flower head with closed pointed papery bracts

Then the penny dropped. Use what you have. I smelled. I saw form, colour, repetition, I touched, I experienced seasonal changes and the harsh conditions of the weather. Never have I seen so much beauty.

In autumn, Metalasia muricata was covered in multitudes of slightly pink, creamy or white papery bracts. Each small bract contained a floret. Grouped at the tip of each stem, together it indeed made up one flower head. The leaves were needle like and shaped like lances with hooked tips, pointing mostly upward in tufts. Seen from a distance these shrubs looked woody underneath with verdant growth on top. The whole plant was similar in shape to a single flower head.

It smelled of honey. It was a formidable presence growing up to 3m tall.

There was another kind of Metalasia that grew behind the dune on limestone. I now know it as Metalasia densa. It formed smaller rounder bushes of upto 1.5m tall. Its leaves were more densely twisted. Even the flower heads were more dense, filled with brownish papery bracts. Before the first cold in May arrived, these bracts popped open and reddish florets showed their faces here in the great above.

The next surprise was when I discovered that each little floret had grown into an elliptical fruit, crowned with thread like bristles known as the pappus, which helped the fruit be dispersed by wind.

The Metalasias known as ‘Blombos’ stood determined the whole of winter long, enduring the cold winter wind and rain. Dishevelled, they glowed like candles at dusk, until every last fruit was safely dispersed.

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