The Mbali Collection
Words Shaen Adey, pics Corinne Merry and Shaen Adey
A short drive from Cape Town, along on one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world, lies Kogelberg Nature Reserve, CapeNature’s most prestigious and pristine mountain wilderness. In addition to its spectacular scenery the reserve is famous for its extraordinary plant diversity, with some 1,800 species.
The recently opened Mbali Collection adds to this already very special place. The eight new chic and affordable eco units - five 2-sleeper ‘eco pods’ and three 6-sleeper, family ‘eco cabins’ are nestled in the valley overlooking the Palmiet river.
Built of wood and glass, each has been carefully positioned to make the most of its breathtaking views. The minimalist units are modern, comfortable and stylish, and glass doors and big windows mean they are flooded with sunlight. Each has an open plan, fully equipped kitchen, a lounge with a wood-burning stove for romantic cold evenings and large outdoor decks with built-in braai facilities. Wooden boardwalks meander through the surrounding fynbos and meet at an eco-pool.
Mbali means flower, so it’s fitting that each of the eco pods and eco cabins is named after one of the botanical gems found in this phenomenally beautiful reserve. All the units are magnificent, but if you’re of a botanical bent, perhaps knowing a little bit more about the special flora after which the cabin is named might help you decide where to stay.
Blue Stars: Nivenia stokoei. Other common names are Kogelberg blue stars, blousterretjie and Stokoe's bush iris. Amazingly all ten subpopulations of this plant occur within the Koegelberg biosphere. The plants have woody stems, fire resistant underground caudex (rootstock) and form clusters of 20-40 vibrant blue flowers. They are pollinated by flies and long-tongued bees. If you want to spot this rare endemic in bloom the best time to visit the reserve is between mid January and March.
Golden Star: Paulidia capensis. These sun-loving plants mainly flower in spring. The blooms only open in the warmer parts of the day (generally 11am-4pm) and don't open in cold or wet conditions. There are five vulnerable or endangered species, of which the Paulidia capensis has the largest and most striking flowers with dark eyes at the base of their tepals (centre). It is confined to the lowlands of the south western Cape and threatened by habitat loss due to both agriculture and housing development.
Silver Pagoda: Mimetes argenteus, a member of the Proteaceae family, it is defined by its characteristic silver leaves and is also commonly known as the silver-leaved bottle brush and vaal-stompie. This rare, red listed plant is endemic to the Western Cape, ranging from the Hottentots-Holland mountains to the Franschhoek and the Riviersonderend mountains. The plants are not fire resistant but their symbiotic relationship with ants encourages their survival. Ants store and disperse seeds underground and do not eject them once they've eaten the elaisomes, a nutrient and protein-rich coating. Further ensuring seed dispersal, the mimetes tend to only release their seeds after 4pm, when ants become active. They flower from March to June and are mainly pollinated by the Malachite Sunbird, Lesser Double-collared Sunbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird.
Strooiblommetjie: Phaenocoma prolifera, commonly known as the Cape everlasting, Rooisewejaartjie, and Strooiblommetjie. They flower from September to March and are restricted to the Western Cape. The name Phaenocoma is derived from the Greek word phaino which means "to shine", and coma, "hair" referring to the shiny bracts, which do indeed look a bit like a shiny wig. It's easy to see why it's named prolifera (which means ‘to grow in number rapidly) when looking at the patches of pink growing on the mountain slopes. Flower heads contain 800 to 1000 individual flowers with very showy bright pink, papery bracts (which look like but aren't petals). They are often used in the dried flower industry.
Chincherinchee: Ornithogalum thyrsoides. Other common names are star of Bethlehem, wonder flower, tjienkerientjee, tjienk, wit tjienk and viooltjie. Their distribution extends from Namaqualand to the Cape Peninsula and all the way to Caledon and the Agulhas Plain. In Greek ornis means 'bird' and gala means 'milk', hence the white flowers are referred to as 'bird’s milk'. And when the stalks rub together they make a chinking sound, hence the Afrikaans name tjienkerientjee, translated to chincherinchee in English. The bulbs produce long lasting flowers, which can be seen from late spring to mid summer. Their longevity makes them highly prized in the cut flower industry. They are however poisonous to cattle and horses.
Pink Sugarbush: Protea stokoei, part of the Proteaceae family, this flowering shrub is endemic to the Kogelberg and Groenlandberg around Elgin and blooms in winter from May to October. Listed as endangered they are serotinous, meaning their seed heads remain unopened and seeds are only released after fire. They take around seven years to reach their first flowering, which means they are threatened by too frequent a fire. Fortunately their rocky outcrop habitat generally protects them and fires skip past. They have sweet nectar liked by sugarbirds, which are their only known pollinators.
Sundew: Drosera capensis. With at least 194 species, sundews are the largest genera of carnivorous plants, and occur naturally in the south western Cape in marshes, along streams, permanent seeps or damp areas of fynbos. They flower in December and January but their flowers open briefly and only in good sunlight. Insects are drawn to the glistening dewdrops on their leaves only to be trapped by the sticky fluid secreted by the glandular cells and subsequently digested. Interestingly they can be pollinated by insects, but are usually self-pollinated.
Pic: Chris Vynbos
Impepho: Helichrysum petiolare, also commonly known as the licorice plant, is native to South Africa. Other common names include the silver bush, everlasting, herbal helichrysum, bedding helichrysum, kooigoed and kruie. It grows in drier conditions, sheltered slopes and forest margins of the Western Cape (Cederberg and Jonkershoek mountains), Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. It is a water wise plant, with its silvery leaves reflecting heat and hairs also reducing water loss. Flowering in December and January, the strong scent attracts various insects including honeybees. It's the bundle of herbs often seen in Rastafarian medicine kits, and if you've ever slept out you'll know the lovely smell its bedding makes. The fact that it’s an insect repellent is an added benefit!