Disa zuluensis – A Rare Find

Today I am admiring my precious collection of dried orchid pickings – a bunch of flower stems that have been carefully cut from the main plants, taking the utmost care not to disturb the plant or any future growth, leaving a mark no bigger than that of a small Oribi antelope having an early morning pallet cleanser… These live samples have all been worked from in their fresh form, some already a framed watercolour illustration, others sketched and eagerly awaiting my paintbrush.

Seeing these delicately dried specimens takes me back over 6 years, to where my mother and I ventured through wet grasslands and stony ridges in the heart of Mpumalanga, searching for indigenous orchids. At this point we have already been on the excursion for three full days, generously guided by our very apt nature conservationist who has specifically been appointed for the task. This particular misty afternoon, just the two of us were revisiting an area where my mother had spent many childhood days of discovery and memory-making.


We have heard of a particular orchid that could occur in the larger area, but so rare and endangered that its few known locations are being protected. But my mother could recall a vague memory, a hazy image of a solitary pink flower she was sure to have noticed so many years ago…thus, driven by our instincts, we ventured through a crisp drizzle to the secret valley. And to our greatest delight, there we found the treasure – two beautiful Disa zuluensis plants leaning over a cool stream, flaunting their beauty in full bloom!


What a rare find, what precious piece of information to guard! Despite a seemingly challenging point of access to get the perfect angle, no time was wasted making rough sketches of the specimen, before we rushed our way back through a slightly heavier downpour.


Ever since the discovery, time has passed and life has kept me occupied, but I finally got around to finishing the painting. Looking at the illustration now, it takes me back to that very special encounter, where I can evoke the smell of the surrounding grasses, the wet soil, the breezy drizzle. It has in a way become a symbol of four generations of my maternal lineage and namesake, and it is with a grateful heart that I offer this painting to my mother, and in honour of the women from whom I descend.

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