Life on the Edge: Saving the Albertina Sisulu Orchid from Extinction

Written by Zoë Poulsen, Photos: Andrew Hankey

One in five of the world’s plants are at risk of extinction, according to the State of the World’s Plants report published by experts at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. We are more than aware of the ongoing threats to our tigers, our rhinos and the other charismatic mammals. But quietly under our feet and in our backyards, often unbeknown to us, many other species are also making their final journey towards extinction, to be known only to future generations from photographs and herbarium specimens.

Top & Above: The beautiful Albertinia Sisulu Orchid (Brachycorithis conica subsp. transvaalensis)

Rainforest giants may come crashing to the ground or go up in smoke, fuelled by the unrelenting demand for making a quick buck from timber or to become monocultures for palm oil. Other species may fall victim to transformation of ecosystems by the scourge of alien invasive plants or quietly disappear underneath another shopping mall, another block of luxury apartments or that perfect house by the sea.

Above: One of the iconic Black (Verraux) Eagles of Roodekraans that also call the Sugarbush Ridges home.

As this habitat loss has happened, scientists and conservationists have risen to the challenge in a desperate battle to come up with increasingly innovative ways to save our biodiversity. Plant species under threat? No worries, we can store it in a seed bank. Habitat under threat? No problem, we can make an offset. Ploughing up critically endangered biodiversity for barley? No problem, we can restore it later…. It is vital that with the plethora of tools now at conservationists’ fingertips we do not become complacent. There is no better alternative in conserving ecosystems and their biodiversity than conserving habitats, making sure they are not destroyed. We cannot keep our species in perpetuity ‘in the zoo’ with no home to return to.

Above: The Critically Endangered habitat of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid at Sugarbush Ridges.

The home of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid is under threat, a home where the iconic Verreaux’s eagles of Roodekraans soar, found adjacent to South Africa’s Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens. Plans to make Sugarbush Ridges an urban conservation area are at risk and the City of Mogale Municipality have instead approved plans for high density housing.

The Albertina Sisulu Orchid (Brachycorithis conica subsp. transvaalensis) was once known from several localities across Gauteng and Mpumalanga. However, urban development has all but wiped out the majority of habitat for this species and it was last seen in 1956. That was until 2007 when a population of c.130 plants was discovered growing above Walter Sisulu NBG, to date the only viable remaining habitat for this species. The Albertina Sisulu Orchid is thus listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the Red List of South African Plants.

Above: Local High School and Proteadal Conservation Association field trip to Sugarbush Ridges, with demonstration of erosion control.

Brachycorithis conica subsp. transvaalensis was named after anti-apartheid activist Albertina Sisulu (also known as Ma Sisulu) in this her centenary year by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. The species was first discovered in 1918, the same year that Albertinia Sisulu was born in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. In 1955 Albertina Sisulu joined the ANC Women’s League and participated in launching the Freedom Charter, the same year that the orchid was named by Kew botanist V.H. Summerheyes. In 1956 Albertina Sisulu marched alongside Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn with 20,000 other women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the same year the orchid was last seen in Gauteng before its rediscovery above Walter Sisulu NBG in 2007. It could not be more fitting that Brachycorithis conica subsp. transvaalensis now be known as the Albertina Sisulu Orchid.

Top & Above: Beautiful butterflies of Sugarbush Ridges.

A team of conservation heroes have now come together to save the home of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid at Sugarbush Ridges, in an effort to bring about conservation of this unique and precious habitat in perpetuity. The Sugarbush Ridges Coalition comprises the Botanical Society of South Africa, one of South Africa’s oldest conservation nonprofits, local community group Proteadal Conservation Association, nonprofit Wild Orchids of South Africa, the Roodekraans Black Eagle Project and Walter Sisulu NBG.

Top: Gladiolus permeabilis, Above: Albertina Sisulu Orchid

The Sugarbush Ridges Coalition team are working towards a vision of conserving the area and home of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid in perpetuity as an urban conservation area. The case concerning the development proposals is imminently due to be heard in the High Court of Gauteng. The Coalition is fundraising for vital conservation management interventions to help achieve conservation goals. This work includes training rangers, fencing, environmental education and clearance of alien invasive plants in addition to fighting unsustainable developments that threaten the integrity of the site. Without this essential work the Albertinia Sisulu Orchid may be lost forever, with the other species that call this place home also losing one more habitat stronghold.

Above: Close up of the exquisite blooms of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid.

Help us save the home of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid by donating to the vital conservation efforts of the Sugarbush Ridges Coalition. More details on how you can help can be found here: https://www.thundafund.com/project/eagles

We thank you for your support.

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Spotlight on Pelargoniums: Stalwarts of the Waterwise Garden

In 2015 South Africa experienced its driest year since records began in 1904. On average we receive just 497mm of rainfall per year, far below the global average. As climate is changing we are forecast to receive yet hotter and drier conditions with more extreme drought events becoming more frequent, alongside greater pressure on our water to supply a growing population. Although the risk of ‘Day Zero’ becoming a reality is still fresh in the Western Cape’s collective memory, as dam levels have risen the perception has grown that the drought is ‘over’ and the temptation is strong to quietly slide back to our water wasting ways. No more is that the case than in our gardens.

Top: Pelargonium betulinum Above: Pelargonium exstipulatum

The most successful gardens are those that grow with their environment rather than against it. We need to move away from that traditional European idea of a garden as a sweeping green lawn with pampered roses and pots full of pansies. Having a drought proof garden does not have to mean living with a sea of prickly cacti or installing plastic turf. There are many plants that, once established, can survive a dry summer with little or no additional water. These should be the stalwarts of the waterwise garden.

Top: Pelargonium quercifolium Above: Pelargonium fruticosum

The genus Pelargonium has many members that make beautiful but bomb proof additions to the garden. No less than 219 species are found in Southern Africa and the genus name is derived from the Greek word ‘Pelargos’ in reference to the similarity of the shape of the seed to the beak of a stork. Their long flowering season provides ongoing colour and interest long after the many spring blooms have finished their annual display.  We took a walk at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens to explore the sheer variety one can consider growing.

Top: Pelargonium coronopifolium ‘fragrans’ Above: Pelargonium panduriforme

Pelargonium betulinum is known for its large and attractive blooms, which are deeply veined and vary in colour from white to purple. The leaves are sometimes used medicinally for coughs and other chest ailments by being placed in boiling water and the vapour from the steamed leaved then inhaled. It can be propagated easily from softwood cuttings and is both wind and drought tolerant, also making it suitable for coastal gardens.

Top: Pelargonium greytonense Above: Pelargonium capitatum

Pelargonium fruticosum has delicate finely divided leaves and at up to 450mm in height is suitable for a smaller space in the garden. It produces delicate pink flowers throughout the year, peaking from September to November. This species is propagated easily from seed or cuttings. Regular watering is required initially after planting but one it is established will be tolerant to both drought and windy conditions.

Top: Pelargonium inquinans Above: Pelargonium suburbanum

Another easily grown and adaptable member of the genus is Pelargonium quercifolium, also known as the Oak Leaved Pelargonium. It is relatively fast growing and can reach up to 1.75m in height, flowering from August to January. This species grows well in both sunny and semi shaded areas of the garden. Pelargonium quercifolium has been used in the treatment of hypertension, rheumatism and heart disease. The dried leaves remain aromatic and can be used in potpourri.

Top: Pelargonium ternatum Above: Pelargonium citronellum

Pelargonium citronellum is also known as the Lemon-Scented Pelargonium. The strongly scented leaves can be used as a culinary herb, crystallised for use in puddings, used in potpourri and in finger bowls. Flowering takes place from August to January. It grows well in both full sun and light shade.

Why not consider making space for Pelargoniums in your garden? More detailed cultivation tips can be found at http://pza.sanbi.org

Professor Neil Crouch awarded the Botanical Society’s Marloth Medal

Written by the KZN Coastal Branch, Photos: Di Higginson Keath

Professor Neil Crouch was presented with the Marloth Medal in a light-hearted ceremony at the Durban Botanic Gardens on Monday, 22 October.  The presentation was convened to coincide with the visit to Durban of new national Council Chair of the Botanical Society, Mrs Marinda Nel.

The Marloth Medal is awarded to any person, professional or amateur botanist, who has produced significant literature of a popular nature to stimulate public interest in the indigenous flora of southern Africa.  The medal commemorates Dr Rudolph Marloth, pharmacist, analytical chemist and botanist who published much on the flora, his most famous contribution being the Flora of South Africa, which appeared in six magnificently illustrated volumes between 1913 and 1932.

Top: Mrs Marinda Nel, Chairman of Council, congratulates Prof. Neil Crouch on his award. Above: Professor Neil Crouch wearing the Marloth Medal

Prof. Crouch was nominated by Professors Gideon Smith and A. E. (Braam) van Wyk , for his work across a broad section of our flora, including ferns, succulents and medicinal plants.  Prof. Crouch has written or co-written ten books and over 330 papers, chapters or other publications. His research work has been matched by a great interest in field work. He has served as the Scientific Editor of PlantLife and is a Trustee of the Botanical Education Trust.

Prof Crouch graduated from UKZN : Pietermaritzburg in 1989 with a B.Sc. in Botany and Biochemistry. This was followed by a Ph.D in plant physiology also from UKZN. Whilst busy with his lab-based research, he explored his interest in field-based natural history, and wrote a field guide to the ferns of Ferncliffe Nature Reserve. Following his PhD, the National Biodiversity Institute (now the South African National Biodiversity Institute) employed him as their ethnobotanist. He continues to be based at KZN Herbarium on the Berea, now as Deputy-Director, Biodiversity Economy.  At the same time, he is an Honorary Professor in the School of Chemistry and Physics at UKZN.

Top & Above: The Marloth Medal awarded to Neil Crouch.

Mrs Nel commended Neil on how his botanical skills had translated into books for the benefit of all.

On accepting the medal Prof. Crouch thanked BotSoc for considering him even though he was not a BotSoc member. He said that it was through interactions with other people that he had become excited about plants and had wanted to share the information with others. People like Geoff Nichols, Ian Garland and Elsa Pooley had passed on their passion to him. He had enjoyed collaborating with all his many co-authors, such as Gideon Smith, and John and Sandie Burrows. He acknowledged all those he had worked with and thanked them, remarking how even a small interaction can have a big impact.  He hoped to see others ‘picking up the torch’ in the future and speaking and writing on behalf of local plants and their environment.

Neil’s wife, Tanza, an entomologist and ceramic artist, and father-in-law, Dr. Richard Clark, were there to support him. Geoff Nichols and Richard Boon among other friends and associates created much merriment with their witty comments.

Perfect Pincushions: Introducing the genus Leucospermum

Spring has well and truly sprung in the Cape Floristic Region. After the winter rains the fynbos has come to life, alive with a diversity of stunning blooms and full of busy pollinators. Some of the most spectacular of these are known as the ‘Pincushions’ with such strange looking flowers that one might be forgiven for thinking they have come from outer space.

Leucospermum muirii (Albertinia Pincushion)

These are the Leucospermums, which are part of the Proteaceae, one of the three key families that typify South Africa’s famous fynbos vegetation. The blooms of Leucospermums are recognised by their unusually long, stout and colourful styles that are the ‘pins’ of the pincushion. Unlike their other Proteaceae relatives, Leucospermums have small inconspicuous bracts around the flowerheads and tooth shaped margins at the end of the leaves.

Leucospermum cordifolium (Orange Pincushion)

Members of the genus range in size from huge shrubs to low growing prostrate species that grow along the ground. The larger more upright species are pollinated by sugarbirds and sunbirds whereas the more prostrate ones are pollinated by rodents. After seeds are set they are often predated by rodents. Those that survive are collected by ants, attracted to a fleshy appendage on the seed. The ants carry the seed underground where they are safe from predation. There they will stay until the next fire moves through the fynbos, allowing the seeds to germinate and the next generation of Leucospermums to grow.

Leucospermum harpagonatum (McGregor Pincushion)

The genus Leucospermum has a total of 48 species, the majority of which are found only in the Cape Floristic Region. There are however two species (L. rodentumand  L. praemorsum) with a range extending north into Namaqualand, two species (L. gerrardii and L. innovans) in Kwa-Zulu Natal and one (L. saxosum) in Mpumalanga northwards into Zimbabwe. The most important centre of diversity for the Leucospermum genus is the Agulhas Plain, where there are a total of 30 species occurring.

Leucospermum heterophyllum (Trident Pincushion)

The plant collections at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens showcase a rich diversity of different members of the genus, many of which are flowering now for visitors to enjoy. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Leucospermum cordifolium, with their large and spectacular orange blooms. This species is a popular and easily cultivated garden plant that is used in the cut flower industry all over the world.

Leucospermum oleifolium (Overberg Pincushion)

Leucospermum fulgens, easily recognised with its large fiery red and orange blooms, comes from limestone fynbos in the eastern Overberg. Sadly as a result of inappropriate fire management and loss of habitat to alien invasive plants, it is Critically Endangered in the wild. Kirstenbosch NBG provides this species and many others with a safe home should the worst happen to its wild population.

Leucospermum hypophyllocarpodendron subsp. hypophyllocarpodendron

There are several members of the genus that have flowers that change colour almost like chameleons as the blooms age. Leucospermum oleifoliumflowerheads are initially yellow, turning a rich orange and then intense crimson red as the flowers age. Leucospermum heterophyllum has flowers that are lime green after they open, changing to a deep wine red over time. Often flowers of different colours are present on the same plant as the flowering season progresses.

Leucospermum heterophyllum (Trident Pincushion)

Why not come and visit Kirstenbosch and see for yourself? Entry to all South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens is free for BotSoc members. The Kirstenbosch Nursery also has a great selection of Leucospermums so garden waterwise and indigenous and consider giving a home to one of these beautiful plants.

Six ways to give back to the environment this Mandela Day and beyond

Mandela Day calls on us all, every day, to make the world a better place. Each year on the 18th July we look back on what has been done,and forward to what will be done. This year we celebrate 100 years since Nelson Mandela’s birth. All are encouraged to contribute 67 minutes of public service. One minute is given for each year of Mandela’s 67 years of public service,starting in 1942 when he first started to campaign for the human rights of all South Africans.

“I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses. We must never forget that it is our duty to protect this environment”. Nelson Mandela

What are you going to do for your 67 minutes of service? Not sure where to start? Here we offer up some suggestions on how you may want to get involved in serving your community and giving back to your environment.

JOIN A LITTER CLEAR UP

 

Litter: The bane of the life of any environmentalist. We are all far too accustomed to the convenience of packaged foods and other goods. Once that packaging has served its useful purpose in life it usually either ends up in landfill or often becomes environmental pollution. For starters, litter is unsightly and an eyesore. Nobody wants to see it polluting their local nature reserves or national parks. Far worse are its impacts on public health, wildlife and watercourses. Often it will end up finding its way into the sea, impacting on marine life too.

The good news here is that here you can make a difference. For Mandela Day there are many organised litter clearing events happening around the country,to the benefit of our communities, rivers, mountains, nature reserves, national parks and wildlife. Many community groups also have regular cleaning events to clear litter pollution in our wetlands, waterways and on our beaches. Check out social media platforms for more information on events happening around the country and consider lending a hand. Conservation and environmental action starts at home so find out what is going on in your area or start your own initiatives.

CLEAR SOME ALIENS

 

So what is all this talk of ‘aliens’ that has been in the media before and during the current drought? One may be confused into thinking we are referring to extra-terrestrial life here. In fact,alien invasive vegetation comprises plants that have been introduced from overseas that have become invasive in our own ecosystems,outcompeting our local indigenous flora,choking our river systems,often becoming a fire hazard and guzzling far too much precious water that could be filling our dams. There is no doubt,they need to go.

Many of our local community groups are taking action here, so check out their social media platforms to find out where and when and get involved.

PLANT A GARDEN

 

With the current drought and impacts of a changing climate making their presence known, now is a more important time than any for us to realise that growing indigenous and gardening waterwise is a necessity rather than a choice. Growing a water guzzling European style garden with swimming pools,sweeping lawns,roses and hydrangeas needs to be a thing of the past in our water scarce country. Perhaps a garden in your local community is looking dead and sad following several dry summers and needs cheering up?

If there is a communal outdoor space you know that needs some love,why not donate some indigenous plants and work with and support the owners in making them grow. Not only will it benefit the people that use it but also the local wildlife too. 

JOIN A FRIENDS GROUP

 

Do you use a green space in your community regularly for recreation? Chances are your local park or nature reserve will have a Friends group. Friends groups are a strong force for community conservation and a place to volunteer your time and skills to the benefit of your local environment.

They liase with the main management authority for the space and might get involved in alien clearing,litter picking, environmental education, restoration work, conservation planning, organising talks and walks and much more. Your membership fee will go to helping support their work in conserving and making that green space that you use the place it is. Why not consider volunteering too? Get involved, attend events and consider serving on their committees for a rewarding way to give back to your community.

SHARE

Raising awareness about the importance of conserving and protecting our environment is a key way to inspire others to get involved. So don’t keep quiet about your efforts, share them with your friends and networks on your social media platforms. Our partners at WESSA (Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa) are inviting you to join the #WESSAChallenge and pledge your 67 minutes for a better environment, then post a pic of you,your family and friends doing your bit for the environment this July. 

DONATE

Feeling too pushed for time to squeeze in any volunteering? Why not consider making a donation to a charity of your choice to support their vital work?

At the end of it all, don’t forget that every day should be a Mandela Day. Make time to serve your community and help protect and conserve your local environment. Community conservation is a critical force and anyone can make a difference.

Wildflower Wonders: Where to find the best blommetjies this Spring

This winter, after three long and dry years in succession, the rain came. The drought’s impact has been pervasive, affecting the economy, agriculture, tourism and much more. Above average rainfall this June has provided some respite and improved dam levels, but we are far from out of the woods yet.

However, good winter rains are making it increasingly likely that we will have some wonderful displays of wildflowers this spring. Already there are beautiful carpets of Oxalis giving their winter display along our road verges. We have hand-picked for you a selection of our favourite places to go and experience the Cape’s world famous wildflower displays. All of these stunning places are within five hours drive of Cape Town, easily accessible on a weekend for those of you with limited time available.

NAMAQUALAND 

Nieuwoudtville

The small town of Nieuwoudtville lies at the top of the Bokkeveld Escarpment, five hours drive north along the N7 from Cape Town. It is not without reason that it is known as the ‘Bulb Capital of the World’. The town is home to Hantam National Botanical Gardens (NBG) one of South Africa’s newest NBGs, run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Hantam NBG is 6000 Ha in size encompassing Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld, Nieuwoudtville-Roggeveld Dolerite Renosterveld and Hantam Succulent Karoo.

This unique range of untransformed habitats makes this the place to see many of the rare and special plant species known from the Bokkeveld Escarpment. The garden has nine different hiking trails that allow those of differing levels of fitness to explore as they please. Members of the Botanical Society enjoy free entrance to this and all of South Africa’s NBGs. Additional tourist information for the area can be found at www.nieuwoudtville.com

WEST COAST

West Coast National Park

West Coast National Park lies on the coast between the small towns of Yzerfontein and Langebaan just 1.5 hours drive north of Cape Town. The park is a mix of Strandveld and Hopefield Sand Plain Fynbos.  During August and September visitors to the park are rewarded by the most spectacular displays of flowers in the Seeberg and Postberg sections of the Park. For the more energetic the two day overnight Postberg hiking trail can be done, with an overnight stop (bring your own tents) at Plankiesbaai. Bookings and tariff information can be obtained from Geelbek Information Centre on 022 707 9902. Entrance to the park is R76 for South African Nationals and residents (with ID) and free for Wildcard Holders.

Tienie Versfeld Nature Reserve

Tienie Versfeld Nature Reserve is 20 Ha in size and found just outside the Swartland town of Darling, an hour north of Cape Town. The reserve was formerly part of a farm that was donated to the Botanical Society by Marthinus Versfeld. Marthinus’s sister Muriel was one of the founder members of the Darling Wildflower Society. The reserve is open all year round, but the most spectacular blooms can be seen during the spring season from August to September. Entrance to the reserve is free.

Waylands Farm Wildflower Reserve

Also near the beautiful town of Darling is the fantastic Waylands Farm Wildflower Reserve. The reserve was founded by Fredrick Duckett in the early 1900s and is home to more than 300 different plant species, many of which are geophytes. The reserve forms an integral part of the farm and is grazed from late November to the end of April each year. The spring flower season reaches its peak from the end of August to early September.

CEDERBERG 

Ramskop Wildflower Garden

Three hours drive north of Cape Town on the N7 is the small town of Clanwilliam, which lies at the foot of the Cederberg Mountain chain. Adjacent to the municipal campsite on the banks of the Clanwilliam Dam is the beautiful Ramskop Wildflower Garden. There are more than 300 species of different wildflowers to be seen, and spectacular views down over the dam and up to the Cederberg mountains beyond. Entry is R25 and the gardens are open until 4:30pm during August and September. (Info: 027 482 8000).

Biedouw Valley

 

The Biedouw Valley is one of the Cederberg’s hidden wildflower gems. It can be reached either via Calvinia or the Pakhuis Pass from Clanwilliam. The Biedouw River is one of the tributaries of the Doring River. The valley is bounded by the Biedouw Mountains to the north and the Tra Tra Mountains to the south. The name ‘Biedouw’ refers to the common plant name ‘Bietou’, although there are several plants that go by this name so it is not clear to what species the name originally refers. In spring local farmers restrict livestock grazing in the area to further enhance the stunning wildflower displays. 

CAPE TOWN  

Rondebosch Common

 

Rondebosch Common lies at the heart of Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs. This 40 Ha site is of international conservation importance, being one of the last fragments of Critically Endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, a highly biodiverse vegetation type that only occurs in the greater Cape Town area. It is home to around 250 plant species.

The site is under the custodianship of City Parks and their work is supported by the Friends of Rondebosch Common, affiliated with the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA). Each spring the Friends run a series of walks lead by dedicated volunteers to see the spring flowers on the Common. All are welcome and becoming a Friend is encouraged to support the valuable conservation work taking place. More information can be found on the Friends’ Facebook group.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/Friends.of.Rondebosch.Common/

 

#SecretSeason: Winter at Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens

As winter arrives at the Cape, temperatures fall and the winter rain starts it can be tempting to spend all your time tucked up inside away from the cold. Winter is the time to make the most of those beautiful sunny days in between the rain, perfect for getting out and about without the summer heat. Now is the time to experience the beauty that is winter in this part of the world.

Above: The rugged and scenic beauty of the Du Toits Kloof Pass between Paarl and Worcester on the N1.

Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens (NBG) is located next to the small town of Worcester, an easy 1.5 hour drive from Cape Town and closer still for those based in the Winelands. It is a scenic drive along one of the most beautiful sections of the N1, travelling through the rugged mountains of the Du Toitskloof Pass. At this time of year huge waterfalls can be seen tumbling down rock walls from high above. While travelling through the pass from the Cape Town side, one can see the vegetation change from the Mediterranean climate fynbos to the more arid climate adapted Worcester Robertson Karoo.

Top: Aloidendron ramosissimum Above: Ruschia maxima

Karoo Desert NBG showcases the rich diversity of unique and extraordinary flora that come from the more arid parts of South Africa, including the Richtersveld, Succulent Karoo and Klein Karoo. The garden is 154 hectares in size, of which 11 hectares are cultivated and the remainder is natural vegetation. There are two hiking trails that allow visitors to explore the wider landscape beyond the more formally cultivated areas of the garden.

Above: Flowers and open seed capsule of Cheridopsis pillansii

The shorter Shale Trail is around 1km in length with the main winter highlight being the orange and yellow flashes of colour in the veld from flowering Aloe microstigma. The Grysbokkie Trail is 3.4 km long and will take visitors steeply up into a kloof above the gardens and ascends from the Worcester Robertson Karoo vegetation up into the Breede Valley Renosterveld above. Those who make the climb are richly rewarded by the views from the top of Beacon Hill (526m) over Worcester and the surrounding landscape.

Above: Pelargonium echinatum

Winter is a time when many plant species from the arid and semi-arid vegetation types that are represented at Karoo Desert NBG come into bloom. This is particularly true of the huge variety of different Aloes that are grown here. The huge and striking quiver trees (Aloidendron dichotomum, Aloidendron ramossissimum and Aloidendron pillansii) produce many bright yellow inflorescences between June and August that are often visited for nectar by sugarbirds and sunbirds. The blooms are pollinated by ants and bees.

Above: Euphorbia dregeana

Also worth looking out for is the Giant Mountain Vygie (Ruschia maxima) with its delicate pink flowers. This plant blooms most of the year and makes a great waterwise addition to arid and semi-arid gardens. In the higher reaches of the garden the pale yellow blooms of Cheridopsis pillansii can be seen in contrast to the silver leaves of this plant. This plant is one of several species named after botanist Neville Pillans (1884-1964), succulent enthusiast and eminent collector of Stapeliads. Pillans was formerly a member of staff at the Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town.

Above: Nymania capensis 

Visitors to the garden are often intrigued by the strange shaped pink seed heads of the Chinese Lantern Tree (Nymania capensis). These allow the seeds to be wind transported away from the parent plant, where they can be blown into the shelter of a nurse plant, allowing germination of seeds once rain has arrived and conditions for growth are suitable.

Top: Aloiampelos tenuior Above: Euphorbia caurulescens

Here we offer just a taster of what this extraordinary garden has to offer during these winter months of colour. As with all our National Botanical Gardens, visitors to Karoo Desert NBG enjoy free entrance throughout the year. Make the most of your membership and enjoy exploring South Africa’s rich plant diversity as showcased in our stunning gardens.