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Flowers

 

For visiting flower enthusiasts Malawi is one place you will have a memorable time. Malawi has a great diversity of indigenous wild flowers, due to the wide range of habitats from high mountains and plateaus to tropical evergreen forest and low-altitude woodlands. With such range of habitats in such a small area means many species can be seen in a relatively short period of time. Malawi also stands at a .biological crossroads with species common to the Central, Southern and East African regions.

 

Malawi is particularly famous for its orchids and, despite its small size, contains one of the largest numbers of orchid species of any African country. The current figure is over 400; this includes over 280 terrestrial species, divided into about 30 genera,

Commelina zambesiaca

 

   

and over 120 epiphytic species. Botanists believe that several more hidden specials are yet to be discovered. The majority of terrestrial orchids flower in the rainy season, from November to early April, with a few species (mostly Eulophia) starting at the end of

 
Vernonia poskeana

 

 

The flower of the Albizia gamifera tree

 

the dry season around October. The best viewing time is between January and February.

Some of the best spots for flowers include the Nyika National Park, where montane grassland areas support many terrestrial orchid species and the patches of evergreen forest support epiphytes. Proteas and aloes are found on the
Satyrium atherstonei Disa erubescens  

 

lower slopes. Other highland areas include the Zomba Plateau and Mount Mulanje, where terrestrial and epiphyte orchids occur, as do proteas, aloes, stags horn lily and various tree ferns, plus helichrysums (the dried effect of which gives them the name everlastings). Kasungu National Park is also a good area; the miombo woodland is rich in tree species and the grassy dambos support orchids, gladioli, lilies and everlastings. Other forest areas supporting orchids include Dzalanyama, Dedza and Viphya. In miombo woodland areas, such as Liwonde and Majete, aloes also occur, plus the Sabi star.

 

 

Butterflies in Malawi

Text & Pictures: Joy Le Roux

 

Lovers of nature and wildlife travel for days for the thrill of meeting up with the ‘Big Five’. When the excitement wears off there is even more to thrill in the ‘micro’ world - shape, light and shade, texture, colour, activity; an insect busy at work; a butterfly alighting on a flower; sunlight shining through the grass. This ‘World in a Grain of Sand’ is anywhere, everywhere and always. The ‘macro’ setting on the camera and your search for subject matter will open your eyes and enrich your life with the mystery and beauty of the everyday.

 

Travel Malawi takes you on a journey with Joy le Roux of Kingfisher Cottage in Chipoka. She and her husband are avid lepidopterists (Butterfly enthusiasts). See for yourself!

 

Being a country of diverse natural habitats, Malawi is blessed with a large number of very beautiful butterflies.  It also has quite a number of endemic species, which means that they can be found nowhere else.  Amongst these are Cooksonia aliciae (found at Namizimu), Charaxes martini, Euphaedra murphyi and Cymothoe zombana .   Charaxes chintechi is found only at Nkhata Bay and in the most eastern parts of Zambia.  488 different species of butterflies have been listed and more are being added on a regular basis.

 

Malawi has a few very well known butterfly collecting areas which attract lepidopterists from all over the world.  Among these are Zomba, Mt Mulanje, Nyika Plateau, Nchisi Forest, Namizimu, Nkhata Bay  and Mzuzu.  Although much is being done by those who are passionate about butterflies to conserve the habitats for these beautiful creatures to breed in, the devastation of natural forests all over Malawi is threatening to destroy the habitats of many species of butterflies.  Zomba mountain is a good example of such an area.  Many localities on the mountain where special butterflies were abundant before, no longer exist and have been replaced by maize fields.  Mt Mulanje is another area which is being threatened by illegal and uncontrolled deforestation.

 

Below: Charaxes lay only one egg on a leaf, unlike some butterflies that lay patches of eggs. Larvae go through 5 instars, which means that they shed their skin 5 times as they grow, the last time emerging as a pupa.

 

 

 

A freshly laid Charaxes egg (yellow) and a 2 day old one (brown rim) on pod Mahogany at Kingfisher Cottage. 

Note the distinctive flattened top.

 

A third instar Charaxes castor flavifasciatus larva just after shedding its skin

 

When a Charaxes larva is fully grown, it finds a safe place to pupate and spins a patch onto which it attaches its tail end.  It curls up and after about 2 days, sheds its skin to reveal the pupa.

 

 

 

A final instar Charaxes castor flavifasciatus larva on its silk pad on Pod Mahogany at Kingfisher Cottage

 

 

 

A Charaxes larva ready to transform into a pupa

 

 

When the pupa is freshly formed, it contains a soupy fluid.  How amazing that after a week or so, a fully formed, exquisite butterfly emerges!  Our Creator is truly almighty.

 

A Charaxes bohemani pupa

 

The larva of Euxanthe wakefieldi on Afzelia quanzensis at Kingfisher Cottage

 

Although much is being done by those who are passionate about butterflies to conserve the habitats for these beautiful creatures to breed in,the devastation of natural forests all over Malawi is threatening to destroy the habitats of many species of butterflies. Zomba mountain is a good example of such an area.  Many localities on the mountain where special butterflies were abundant before, no longer exist and have been replaced by maize fields. 

 

Mt Mulanje is another area which is being threatened by illegal and uncontrolled deforestation. Butterflies and their habitats should be conserved and protected as it is a natural treasure which can earn Malawi precious revenue through tourism.  Destroyed habitats CAN be restored, although it takes years of dedication and hard work to achieve.  A small-scale example of this is Kingfisher Cottage in Chipoka, where a bare sand dune with only a few thorn trees here and there, was transformed into lush gardens.  

 

Charaxes are attracted to feed on

fermenting banana.  Charaxes brutus

enjoying a treat

 

Charaxes jasius saturnus(R) and Charaxes macclounii  feeding on the syrupy excretions of Ravinella flowers in the gardens of Kingfisher Cottage

 

Flowering plants were used to draw butterflies from habitats in close proximity and indigenous trees and shrubs that had been totally wiped out in the area, were

re-established in large numbers.  Now, five years later, numerous species of butterflies that were no longer seen in the area, are breeding

Papilio demodocus mating in the gardens of Kingfisher Cottage.  They breed on the lemon trees in the

back yard

prolifically on the property. 

 

Amongst these are Charaxes violetta, Charaxes bohemani, Charaxes protoclea azota and Euxanthe wakefieldi.  These stunning butterflies all breed on

re-established Afzelia quanzensis or Pod Mahogany.  Charaxes macclounii breeds on the indigenous bamboo that was established along the river.

 

By planting nectar-rich flowers in your garden you will attract butterflies.  You can even incorporate larval food plants into herbaceous borders and attract butterflies to actually breed in your garden.  The common lemon tree, for instance, is a larval food plant for various Papilios and is something everyone likes having near the kitchen. 

 

 

A freshly emerged Acraea zetes that grew

up in the garden

 

 

 

The stunning little Axiocerses bambana

 

 

 

Fermenting fruit like bananas can be placed strategically to allow you to have a better look at the Charaxes that like to feed on it.  Take time to look around you and you might be surprised at how many different butterflies you see!  Walk in the veld and observe them laying eggs on their food plants and then search for the larvae. What a thrill to find them and raise them so you can watch the whole miracle of metamorphosis!  Become a butterfly enthusiast and do your bit to help conserve this natural treasure by sharing your passion with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A butterflying trip in the beautiful rainforests of Mount Mulanje

 

Beautiful forests like these still exist in Malawi but sadly, inadvertent deforestation to clear

areas for maize fields is gnawing away at them and they are becoming smaller and

smaller at an alarming rate.

 

 

Example of habitat destruction in the

foothills of Mt Mulanje

 

 

A stunning pupa found in the veld on a Butterflying trip to Mzuzu.

 

 

Part of the Butterfly Collection at Kingfisher Cottage showing some of the Charaxes that breed on the property

 

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