Table Mountain hiking: In search of elusive orchids – 17 February 2014

When it comes to floral delights on a Table Mountain hike, one of the finest must surely be an orchid in bloom. The month of February sees no less than three species on display: the Cluster Disa (Disa ferruginea), the Blue Disa (Disa graminifolia) and the Red Disa (Disa Uniflora), also known as the Pride of Table Mountain. On days when the mountain is covered in cloud and there are no views to be had, hunting for orchids in the shifting mist is a great opportunity so savor the mountain’s dainty delights. Disa typically grow in the mist belt of the mountain, preferring damp habitats like the fogbound summit, marshy depressions and along shaded stream banks. Hiking Table Mountain allows you to cover more ground, maximizing your chances of finding orchids. Prime habitats of the Red Disa include Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine and the Window Stream along the Smuts Tracks. Blue and Cluster Disas mostly occur on the summit plateau, conspicuous among the nondescript grassy summit vegetation. You don’t have to be a botanist or avid gardener to appreciate the beauty of these exquisite flowers: I know many hard-boiled mountaineers who would readily hunker down beside an orchid to appreciate its singular beauty.

All orchids are rare, but some more than others. A few species remain dormant underground as a bulbs, sometimes for up to 30 years, triggered into flowering by the heat or smoke of a fire and therefore seen only after a burn and then only  in a few locations on Table Mountain.

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