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Where the all the chameleons gone?

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chameleon lib

INSLA

There is one creature I would gladly invite into my garden, however, and that is the chameleon. Picture: Candice Chaplin

“We must respect nature wherever we find it. One place to begin is in our own gardens.” – Gabrielle Pucci, president of the League for the Environment, Sicily.

The porcupine has been plundering my garden again, devouring pots of newly planted pansies and other precious things. Living close to nature, as I do, I suppose I should expect this sort of setback from time to time. But it’s hard to bear!

There is one creature I would gladly invite into my garden, however, and that is the chameleon. This unusual lizard, resembling a dragon, seems to have become rare in the Peninsula, alas. Even though the Olive Thrush, which feeds its young on baby chameleons, is not present, and nor do I use poisons, I have seen no sign of a chameleon in the eight years I have gardened in Simon’s Town. Perhaps there is a predatory boomslang lurking in the shrubbery?

Some chameleons lay eggs, but the Dwarf Chameleon, of which there are 15 species in southern Africa, is viviparous.

It produces live young, up to 15 at a time. It can change colour, swivel its eyes independently and shoot out its sticky tongue at great speed and to an amazing length to catch its prey.

This unusual behaviour has led to a number of erroneous superstitions. Some African people regard the harmless chameleon with distaste and even as a harbinger of bad luck. An engaging story that has just been published, Vumile And The Dragon by Claerwen Howie, should lay these fears to rest. As the tale unfolds, children learn fascinating facts about the chameleon to the accompaniment of beautiful illustrations. It is published by Print Matters.

Chameleons are found mainly in Madagascar and Africa. A plant with a similar location, that we should also treasure, is the aloe, which bears flaming candelabras of yellow and orange. This, together with the golden euryops daisy, orange chasmanthe and the spectacular strelitzia, all help to brighten the winter scene considerably.

Aloes are useful accent plants for dry, windy areas. There are two kinds of euryops suitable for the garden. E pectinatus, a native of the south-western Cape, is, like the aloe, drought- and wind-resistant. It has a neat shape and grows to a metre in height. Its relative, the honey daisy (E virgineus), has masses of smaller flowers and grows to half a metre taller. It needs a firm pruning after flowering to avoid lankiness.

Chasmanthes are grown from corms planted in autumn. Generally, they have orange flowers but there is a rarer yellow form also.

These are another delicacy beloved by the porcupine. I have tried planting the corms in a protective basket of chicken wire, with some success.

Finally, we come to the magnificent strelitzia, or Bird of Paradise flower. Los Angeles has claimed it as its floral emblem, even though it originates from the Eastern Cape! Strelitzias grow into quite large clumps with extensive root systems, so require a good deal of space. They resent disturbance and flower well only when established, which takes time and patience. - Cape Argus


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