Growing a dream: A learning hub for Overberg Renosterveld

Found in the lowlands at the heart of South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region, the lowland renosterveld of South Africa’s Overberg is one of the most biodiverse and yet most threatened habitats on earth. Large herds of game including black rhinos once roamed these landscapes, but today they have been hunted out and just 5% of this imperilled ecosystem now remains, the majority having been ploughed up to make way for intensive agriculture.

The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) is a small nonprofit dedicated to halting the renosterveld’s spiral towards functional extinction, with the aim of conserving this highly biodiverse ecosystem through working alongside landowners across the region. In 2014 WWF-SA purchased the property Haarwegskloof and it was handed to the ORCT to manage and conserve. The ORCT is an organisation that has always dreamed big: Thanks to a successful crowdfunder, funds were raised to turn the derelict farmhouse into the world’s first research and visitor’s centre for renosterveld, aptly located by the world’s largest surviving area of lowland renosterveld.

Located in the eastern Overberg, Haarwegskloof Renosterveld Reserve is the jewel in the crown for this vegetation, its extraordinary flora and wildlife as well as a space for visitors to learn more about why we need to conserve it. The research centre offers a home away from home and space to collaborate for a lively cohort of postgraduate researchers working hard to grow our knowledge on renosterveld ecology and conservation management.

It is now more than five years since the Renosterveld Reserve and Visitors Centre was founded at Haarwegskloof. The ORCT has another dream for the place, and they need your help. The Trust is now raising funds through another crowdfunding initiative to develop a learning hub on the reserve, with a focus on environmental education. The aim is to grow the Centre to invite school children and other interested groups from the Overberg and beyond to learn about the ecology and biodiversity of renosterveld, raising awareness about the challenges facing threatened ecosystems across the globe.

Why is this such an important initiative? One of the keystones of effective conservation is raising awareness about what we are seeking to protect so that others are aware of its importance. To do this most effectively we need to reach and inspire as many people as possible, no matter their age, interests or background.

It is widely acknowledged across the environmental sector that children who participate in outdoor nature-focused activities are more likely to develop a positive attitude towards the environment as adults, encouraging them to implement change within their daily lives to benefit the environment. It also plays a key part in training the conservationists of tomorrow, inspiring them through immersion in the natural world. Given the state of the earth that our future generations will inherit, it is crucial that we prepare our children with the skills to become the problem solvers and decision makers of tomorrow. The time to act is now.

If you would like to help the ORCT to develop a learning hub for children at Haaarwegskloof Renosterveld Reserve, more information can be found here:

https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/renosterveld.

We thank you for your support.

Let’s Meet Lady Tait: Profile of an Artist

Last week the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society were proud to launch the special art exhibition ‘Full Circle: Lady Tait returns to Kirstenbosch’ in celebration of botanical artist Lady Cynthia Tait (1894-1962), bringing a selection of her exquisite watercolour paintings back to South Africa where they are on show in the Richard Crowie Hall at Kirstenbosch NBG from 16 January until 15 March 2020. The exhibition is curated by Mary van Blommestein of the University of Cape Town’s Irma Stern Museum. But who was Lady Tait? We take a closer look on the BotSoc Blog.

Above: Selected Proteaceae artwork by Lady Cynthia Tait on show at the ‘Full Circle’ exhibition.

Lady Cynthia Tait (nee Grenfell) was born in 1894 and was the 6th of 7 children born to  British Naval Captain Hubert Henry Grenfell and Eleanor Kate Cunningham. Her grandparents Algernon and Maria de Guerin Price Grenfell were from the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, off the coast of Normandy in France. Cynthia and her siblings had a large extended family on Guernsey and spent many happy childhood holidays on the island.

Top & Above: Selected artworks by Lady Cynthia Tait featured in the exhibition ‘Full Circle’.

Lady Cynthia’s first husband was Admiral Sir William Eric Campbell Tait, who was commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy, South African Army and South African Air Force for the South Atlantic station, with headquarters in Cape Town. For the first few years her husband was posted overseas, Lady Tait remained on Guernsey while her two daughters attended school at Blanchelande College, St Martin’s.

During and after the Second World War, Lady Tait spent much of her time in South Africa. It was here that she started to paint, with her earliest work focusing on landscapes and seascapes. With time her work gained an increasing focus on the indigenous wildflowers of South Africa.

After Admiral Sir William Campbell Tait died in 1946, Lady Tait became married to Lancelot Ussher, who’s home of Luncarty was next door to the spectacular Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Lady Tait became a frequent visitor to Kirstenbosch, painting many beautiful wildflowers of the area.

Above: Selected combined botanical artworks by Lady Cynthia Tait on show at the exhibition ‘Full Circle’.

Her beautiful botanical artworks were recognised by the Royal Horticultural Society of the UK, where she was awarded the silver medal in 1956 for her exhibit of Cape Wildflower paintings and a bronze medal in 1961 for an exhibit of South African Gladiolus. The latter work is now held in the archives at the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch NBG.

Part of the collection of Lady Cynthia’s artwork was inherited by her granddaughter Cynthia Cormack and grandson William Astley Jones. This stunning botanical artwork has been brought to South Africa on loan made possible by sponsorship thanks to Rickety Bridge Winery and Duncan Spence of Gateway Publishing. A selection of the artwork has also been published in the beautiful Tait Florilegium book which is on sale at the exhibition for R1850.

The exhibition ‘Full Circle: Lady Tait returns to Kirstenbosch’ is on show in the Richard Crowie Hall at Kirstenbosch NBG until 15 March and is open daily from 9h00 until 18h00. Entry to the exhibition is free but garden entry fees apply. BotSoc members with valid membership cards will gain free access to the garden and exhibition.

Summer Blooms in the Kogelberg: Walking the Palmiet River Trail

Tucked away 6km off the R44 between Bettys Bay and Kleinmond, the Kogelberg Nature Reserve is one of the hidden gems of Overberg region. Considered the heart of the Cape Floristic Region, it is renowned for being home to the highest fynbos plant diversity in the region.

Top: Ceratandra atrata (Orchidaceae). Above: Lanaria lanata

This stunning 18 000 ha mountain wilderness is afforded the highest level of protection. It forms part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve which was founded in 1999 and one of the world’s first biosphere reserves. More than 1 800 species of vascular plants are found here in the reserve’s Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos. Shy Cape leopards roam these mountains, black eagles soar and Cape clawless otters are found in the rivers and streams.

Above: A variety of beautiful post fire blooms seen in the Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos along the Palmiet River Trail in Kogelberg Nature Reserve.

But yet just 1.5 hour’s drive from Cape Town, this spectacular mountain reserve is surprisingly accessible to visitors. The longer Perdeberg and Kogelberg trails cater to more energetic hikers but the Kogelberg Nature Reserve also offers a far more gentle but no less rewarding option of the Palmiet River Trail. This gently undulating trail starts at the reserve office at Oudebosch and follows the river bank for 7 km along the valley floor, offering spectacular mountain views, summer swimming spots aplenty and a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with the Kogelberg’s extraordinary sandstone fynbos flora.

Top: Tritoniopsis parviflora. Above: Thereianthus bracteolatus. 

In January 2019 the fynbos along the Palmiet River Trail burnt during the Bettys Bay fire. Fynbos vegetation is both fire prone and fire dependent, making it a challenging neighbour to live alongside when it inevitably goes up in flames. But over the last year since this fire that proved devastating for many in these coastal communities, residents from Pringle Bay, Bettys Bay, Kleinmond and beyond have watched as an extraordinary array of post fire flowers have grown from the ashes, and Kogelberg Nature Reserve has been no exception.

Above: Watsonia in bloom against the evening light in Kogelberg Nature Reserve.

While wandering along the trail, camera and field guide in hand, the plethora of wildflowers encountered in this extraordinary fynbos encourages slow progress and much time spent on hands and knees admiring these beauties up close. The fluffy white inflorescences of Lanaria lanata, also known as the kapokblom in Afrikaans, can be seen all along the trail from November to January, looking like fluffy lambs’ tails emerging from narrow serrated leaves with small honey-scented mauve flowers. Their flowering is strongly fire-driven.

Top: Disa racemosa. Above: Moraea ramosissima. 

In the wetter areas early summer brought blooms from several relatively common but no less beautiful orchids, such as Disa racemosa with its spectacular pink flowers that arrive in fynbos throughout the CFR after fire. Along streams the cheerful yellow blooms of Moraea ramosissima could also be seen. The delicately veined purple blooms of the geophyte Therianthus bracteolatus, also known as Common Summerpipes, added to the fireworks of colour in the post fire fynbos.

Top: Tritoniopsis antholyza. Above: Disa bivalvata. 

So why not head along and see this stunning mountain nature reserve for yourself? The Kogelberg Nature Reserve, run by CapeNature, is located off the R44 between Bettys Bay and Kleinmond. There is a 6 km unsealed road to reach the reserve office at Oudebosch where hiking permits can be purchased but it is well maintained and accessible to most sedan vehicles.

Above: The Palmiet River offers some beautiful swimming spots during the summer months, but care is strongly advised. Please avoid swimming when the river is flowing strongly (such as in the above photo) as currents can be dangerous.

Hiking permits can be purchased at Oudebosch (opening hours 7h30 to 16h00) with a conservation fee of R50 payable for adults and R30 for children or free for valid Wildcard holders. Card facilities are not available at the time of writing so please bring cash for any permit payments required. It is important to keep your permit on you at all times. Don’t forget to always hike well prepared, bringing along sufficient drinking water, snacks, sunhat and sunblock as well as warm clothes as the weather can change quickly in the mountains.

Top: Pillansia templemanii. Above: Schizaea pectinata (Toothbrush Fern).

Karoo Fireworks: Aridland blooms at Karoo Desert NBG

Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens is one of SANBI’s oldest botanical gardens. Located in the town of Worcester, two hours from Cape Town along the N1, this beautiful garden is well worth the visit. Karoo Desert NBG showcases the rich diversity of unique and extraordinary flora that comes from the more arid parts of South Africa including the Richtersveld, Succulent Karoo and Klein Karoo.

Above: The intense red flowers of Drosanthemum speciosum.

As we enter the hotter summer months and the Karoo veld hunkers down to survive the increased heat and aridity, we take a look back at the spectacular blooms that wow visitors to the garden during late spring and early summer. Thanks to the horticultural skill and foresight of the gardens’ staff, Karoo Desert NBG offers a veritable firework display of blooms in one of the country’s most arid and water scarce botanical gardens, continuing well into October and the start of the summer season. Their work stands testament to what can be achieved when gardening in South Africa’s relatively dry climatic zones. It is a garden that inspires.

Above: Drosanthemum speciosum orange form.

The majority of late spring and summer colour at Karoo Desert NBG comes from the vygies. So what is a vygie? The word ‘vygie’ is a South African term derived from Afrikaans and refers to a low growing, sometimes creeping, sometimes shrubby group of succulents with often spectacular flowers from the Aizoaceae family. Many make popular and easy to grow waterwise garden plants and are the mainstays of the September and October blooms at Karoo Desert NBG.

Above: Different colour forms of Drosanthemum speciosum used together to great effect for bold colour at Karoo Desert NBG.

One of the most vibrant of this group that makes Karoo Desert NBG famous is Drosanthemum speciosum, easily recognisable with its intense red flowers. There are also a few other colour forms, with this species also coming in orange, yellow or even pink. A truly local bloom, it is also known as the Worcester-Robertson vygie or bergvygie. They are also known as ‘municipal workers’ in reference to their flowers opening at 9am and closing for the day at 5pm. In cultivation their grow easily from seed and can be found in Mediterranean climate gardens worldwide. For the best flowering displays they should be replaced every three years as the plants become more woody with age.

Above: Yellow form of Drosanthemum speciosum. 

Another mainstay of Karoo Desert NBG is Drosanthemum bicolor, another small shrubby vygie, with stunning red and yellow flowers. In Afrikaans it is known as the ‘tweekleurporseleinbos’. In the wild it grows on hillsides in the western Little Karoo, growing on soils derived from Malmesbury Shales. It is thought that bees pollinate the brightly coloured flowers of this species. Following pollination seed capsules are produced that only open to disperse the seeds inside when rain comes, thus ensuring more likely survival of any newly germinated seedlings. Drosanthemum bicolor is also easily cultivated and will grow in most gardens across the Western Cape.

Above: The spectacular multicoloured blooms of Drosanthemum bicolor.

The vibrant deep pink blooms of Lampranthus multiradiatus can also be seen flowering in late spring and early summer at Karoo Desert NBG alongside the red, orange and yellow Drosanthemum. Those crafting this garden are not afraid to place vibrant and contrasting colours together. In fact, the genus name ‘Lampranthus’ actually means ‘bright flower’, derived from the Greek words ‘lampros’ meaning ‘bright’ and ‘anthos’ meaning flower. There are more than 140 species of Lampranthus, mainly confined to the winter rainfall areas of the Western Cape. In cultivation they are easily grown, attracting bees into the garden.

Above: Lampranthus multiradiatus in bloom at Karoo Desert NBG.

As climate change makes water an ever scarcer commodity in South Africa, gardeners need to become more innovative with their plant choices, growing indigenous and waterwise species where possible. Karoo Desert NBG has shown us how locally indigenous vygies can be used to create a bold and spectacular display, leading the eye through the gardens to the mountains beyond. It shows us what is possible in our own gardens, bringing colour as we garden for the future.

False Bay Birdathon a soaring success

On October 19 the sixth False Bay Birdathon was held by the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET) in partnership with the City of Cape Town and the Cape Bird Club. The event was hosted on the eastern shores of Zeekovlei near Pelikan Park in the City of Cape Town’s False Bay Nature Reserve.

Above: Staff from conservation nonprofit Birdlife South Africa giving out information resources.

Enjoying perfect weather on the day, the event was attended by more than 2000 learners with 680 children from schools in the surrounding area pre-registering for the birding fun walk at the start of the day. Learners and their families could choose to participate in a 4, 5 or 6 km fun walk, receiving special birdathon medals at the end. Members of CTEET and the Cape Bird Club were stationed along all the routes to show the learners the incredible birdlife that could be seen in the Strandfontein section of False Bay Nature Reserve as well as playing a variety of different environmental education games.

Above: Staff from the City of Cape Town’s Recreation and Parks Department teach learners about marine pollution and the importance of keeping our beaches clean.

The False Bay Nature Reserve was declared a Ramsar site in 2015, providing international recognition of its importance as a wetland conservation site. It is also considered one of the most important nature reserves on the Cape Flats. False Bay Nature Reserve comprises six different parts namely Rondevlei section, Strandfontein Birding section, Pelican Park section, Zeekovlei section, Slangtjiesbos section and Zandwolf coastal section.

Top: Cape Bird Club environmental display. Above: Learners making ecobricks at the CTEET stand.

One of the main aims of the False Bay Birdathon is to engage with communities and stakeholders in the surrounding area around the amazing nature reserve and its biodiversity right on the doorstep. The False Bay Nature Reserve acts as an important recreational space for the Cape Flats and is of conservation importance for its vleis, birdlife, wetlands and threatened lowland vegetation types such as Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and Cape Flats Sand Fynbos.

Above: Max from the City of Cape Town teaches learners about smart living and ways to save electricity.

Alongside the fun walk there were an information rich selection of environmental education exhibits run by many local organisations including the City of Cape Town, Cape Bird Club, Sharkspotters, Birdlife SA and others. Learners were taught smart ways to save electricity by Max from the City of Cape Town and Erin at Sea Search gave an excellent and informative talk on whales and dolphins. Many eager volunteers stuffed rubbish that would otherwise end up in landfill into plastic bottles to make ecobricks at the CTEET stand.

Above: The team from Strandfontein Lifeboat Station, National Sea Rescue Institute teaching learners about sea safety and the importance of pink lifesaving rescue buoys.

Throughout the day there were prize giveaways including field guides on the flora of Table Mountain National Park donated by the Botanical Society. There was also a series of talks and demonstrations including on water safety by the National Sea Rescue Institute, a beautiful concert by the Steenberg High School Wind Band and an exciting snake display by the Cape Reptile Club.

Above: Staff from Eagle Encounters brought along some ‘feathered friends’ for learners to meet.

To round off the day we were joined by the Cape Town Metropolitan Police Department and their K9 Unit who showed off the incredible skills of their working dogs who are trained to protect and serve the people of Cape Town.

Above: Members of the Cape Reptile Club held an exciting and informative talk and demonstration about  our beautiful and fascinating local snakes.

Vicky Johnson, Events Coordinator of CTEET comments: “Our aim with this festival was to educate the youth so that they can become custodians of our natural heritage, to teach them about recycling and saving our natural resources and to show them the nature reserve and the unique birdlife that live in this wetland park. We feel it was a huge success and that every person at the festival came away having learnt something new. Please save the date for next year’s Birdathon: 17 October 2020”.

Above: A few team members from CTEET involved in organising the False Bay Birdathon.

Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concert Line-up

Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts in association with Old Mutual has released their list of artistes that will be performing during the upcoming summer season at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

The concert season features a diverse range of genres, fresh, exciting new talent and many much-loved favourites. Families and friends flock in their droves to soak up what has become one of Cape Town’s top outdoor music events, featuring world class music in a unique and awe-inspiring open air setting in the shadow of Table Mountain.

Kirstenbosch NBG welcomes back Old Mutual as the main sponsor of the Summer Sunset Concerts and thanks the City of Cape Town for their provision of additional support and services.

Comments Thobile Tshabalala, Head of the Old Mutual Brand: “We are delighted to be sponsoring the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts once again. Music is a universal language that allows people to connect with each other as well as their own emotions and dreams. It also gives us an opportunity to inspire people to do great things every day and amplify their financial notes”.

This year’s line-up brings to audiences a diverse range of exceptional artists such as Jo Black, Craig Lucas, Paxton Fieles, Black Motion, Amanda Black, Kwesta, Sjava, Prince Kaybee, Sho Madjozi, Shekinah, Unathi and Hip Hop sensation AKA, who will be taking to the stage for the first time. Favourites returning to the Kirstenbosch stage again include Spoegwolf, Matthew Mole, Sun El Musician and Simmy, Lady Zamar, Jeremy Loops, Goldfish, Jimmy Nevis, Mi Casa, Goodluck, Tresor and Watershed – who will be starting their 20 year anniversary tour.

The Cape Town Folk and Acoustic Music Festival will be taking place once again this year. An additional popular annual offering is the much-loved Christmas Carols, hosted by the Rotary. A special new year’s eve concert is also scheduled, performed by Nomadic Orchestra, Native Young and Freshlyground. This will be the last time Freshlyground will be performing together, a not to be forgotten end to 2019.

On the 22 March we look forward to the Cape Town Opera starring Ms. Pumeza Matshikiza, famous for winning the hearts of opera fans in many of the world’s great opera houses, including in London, Milan and Paris. The people of Cape Town will have a rare opportunity to hear Ms. Matshikiza performing on home soil, treating the audience to an evening of gorgeous classical and African arias and duets, alongside the Cape Town Opera Chorus and the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tickets can be booked online at www.webticket.co.za. Please note that Webtickets is the only online ticketing partner. Kirstenbosch cannot guarantee that tickets purchased from third parties will be valid. 

Details at a Glance:  

Where: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town.

When: 24 November 2019 to 5 April 2020

Times: Gates open 16h00, concert start time varies 17h00/17h15/17h30, with concerts ending at 19h00.

Concert Tickets: Adults: R220, Youth: (Age 6 to 21 with ID): R170, children under six years do not require a concert ticket. Christmas Carols, New Year’s Eve and International Performances have separate rates for adults and children.

Book: www.webtickets.co.za

Concert Info: 021 799 8783/8620/8773

Note: Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts are picnic style, so bring a blanket and a picnic basket. All concerts take place irrespective of rain. Regret no refunds are issued. The Kirstenbosch concert arena is a non-smoking venue. There will be no designated smoking areas available. Smoking is prohibited in all areas of the concert arena (this includes all smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

Community and Biodiversity: Visiting the Darling Wildflower Show

Taking place annually on the third weekend of September, the Darling Wildflower Show is the second oldest wildflower show in the world. Visitors come from far and wide to enjoy this highlight of the West Coast’s event calendar, organised by volunteers from the Darling Wildflower Society with support from members of the BotSoc West Coast Branch.

Above: View over the picturesque small town of Darling in the Swartland from Darling Renosterveld Reserve.

The small town of Darling is located an hour’s drive north of Cape Town, inland from the West Coast town of Yzerfontein. It was founded in 1853 on the farm Ormonde, formerly known as Langfontein. Today this picturesque town has blossomed into a thriving centre for festivals, performances, quality food, beer and wine and much more.

Top: Lachenalia pallida. Above: Monsonia speciosa. 

Within and around Darling are no less than seven wildflower reserves, conserving and showcasing the beauty of the region’s critically endangered Swartland Renosterveld. The majority of this highly biodiverse vegetation, known for its plethora of beautiful geophytes, has been lost to the plough for agriculture. These reserves are some of the last precious habitat for many threatened species that call the Darling area home.

Top: Unusual red form of Drosera cistiflora. Above: Geissorhiza monanthos.

The Darling Wildflower Show is an annual celebration of the area’s wildflowers and biodiversity, bringing together dedicated volunteers from the community to construct a series of beautiful themed exhibits to showcase and raise awareness about the Swartland’s Renosterveld flora.

Above: Carnival dragon in the wildflower displays at the 2019 Darling Wildflower Show.

This year’s flower show was the 102nd with the theme ‘a carnival of wildflowers’. Visitors to this year’s show could also enjoy live music, a craft and gourmet food market, a display of vintage tractors and more. The tractor ride was one of the highlights, taking trailers of visitors nestled on haybales out to a wetland on the neighbouring Oude Post Farm not normally open to the public to view the wildflowers in habitat.

Above: Chicken and Chinkerinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides) in the floral displays at the 2019 Darling Wildflower Show.

The Darling Wildflower Show also serves as an information point for those wishing to visit the surrounding wildflower reserves, reaching their flowering peak in the second or third week of September. It is easy to combine a visit to the show with a leisurely ramble through the Renosterveld with its stunning spring blooms.

Above: Display tables at the Darling Wildflower Show showcase examples of the key flora of the Darling area.

Shortly after turning off the R27 West Coast road towards Darling, the Tienie Versveld Nature Reserve can be found on the left. The land on which the reserve now lies was once part of the farm Slangkop. In 1958 Marthinus Versveld donated this 20 ha piece of Renosterveld to what is now the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Many rare and threatened Swartland Renosterveld plants grow here, including some only found in the Tienie Versveld Reserve and nowhere else.

Above: Darling Renosterveld Reserve in the evening light.

Darling Renosterveld Reserve lies above Darling behind the primary school and was also donated for conservation by the Versveld family. A beautiful circular walk showcases a variety of different Renosterveld plants, offering stunning views over the town and the sweeping agricultural landscapes of the Swartland beyond.

Above: Waylands Wildflower Reserve, Waylands Farm, near Darling, Swartland.

Waylands Wildflower Reserve, located 6 km east of Darling on the R307, is also known for its spectacular Renosterveld wildflower displays. It is part of Waylands Farm that has been owned and farmed by the Duckett family since 1865 with the reserve founded in 1922. Waylands Wildflower Reserve is home to around 300 different plant species and many species of birds. It is open to the public during daylight hours throughout the spring season.

Top: Caterpillar on ‘Chinkerinchee’ Ornithogalum thyrsoides. Above: Long-tongued fly pollinated blooms of Babiana tubiflora.

After a hard day of soaking up the spring beauty of the Darling Wildflower Show and the town’s stunning wildflower reserves, there is no shortage of lovely cafes and restaurants to seek some well-earned refreshments. Comfortable accommodation is also available aplenty for those who wish to make a weekend of their trip.

Find out more: https://www.darlingwildflowers.co.za