Spring Flower Watch: West Coast National Park

Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. Photographs by Rupert Koopman & Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Perhaps among the most iconic spring flower destinations, West Coast National Park is just a stone’s throw away, an easy drive from Cape Town.

Few forget the whites, yellows and oranges of the carpets of spring daisies against huge granite boulders and the turquoise waters of Langebaan lagoon beyond.

Managed by SANParks, West Coast National Park is south of the bustling West Coast town of Langebaan and just over an hour drive from Cape Town. Entrance is free for Wild Card Holders with valid ID. All other entry fees can be found here.

Above: Stunning carpets of spring wildflowers in the Postberg section of West Coast National Park. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Please note that only the Langebaan entrance to West Coast National Park is currently open to the public, so if coming to view the flowers please time your day accordingly.

The majority of West Coast National Park is strandveld vegetation on deep acid sands. The park has in recent years expanded, incorporating extensive areas of high conservation value Hopefield Sand Plain Fynbos.

Above: Saldhana Granite Strandveld in West Coast National Park. Photo: Rupert Koopman.

Extensive wetlands can be found adjacent to the shores of the Langebaan lagoon. A total of 482 plant species have been recorded thus far in the park, with at least 21 species of conservation concern.

In August and September during the spring flower season, the Postberg section of the reserve is open to the public to see the spectacular display of blooms. Unlike much of the rest of the WCNP west of the R27, the Postberg section vegetation is mainly Saldanha Limestone Strandveld and Saldanha Granite Strandveld.

Above: Board Chair of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) Professor Stephen Blackmore on the limestone outcrop at Plankiesbaai in West Coast National Park. Photo: Rupert Koopman.

These two strandveld types are endemic to the Saldanha Peninsula and have many threatened species restricted to the special edaphic conditions they provide, with depth of soil and increased seasonal water availability on rocky areas being key among  their habitat requirements.

Above: Dimorphotheca pluvialis. Photo: Rupert Koopman.

Extensive carpets of wildflowers can be seen here, with predominantly daisies such as the rain daisy (Dimorphotheca pluvialis) and orange Arctotis hirsuta dominating the old agricultural lands. Also look out for the resident game, including herds of bontebok and eland.

The wildflowers are at their best on sunny days during the warmest part of the day, opening their blooms from 10am onwards and closing again as the day cools at around 4pm. The last entrance to the park is currently at 3pm.

Above: Lookout over Langebaan Lagoon from West Coast National Park. Photo: Rupert Koopman.

The flowers always have their faces leaning towards the north, so the best views of the stunning array of blooms can be seen when looking southwards.

Look out for next week’s edition of Spring Flower Watch, where we will be continuing our virtual botanical tour to some of the Cape’s special spring flower sites.

Above: Cleretum bellidiforme. Photo: Rupert Koopman.

Further Reading

Manning, J. Goldblatt, P. (2007) West Coast: South African Wild Flower Guide 7, Darling Wildflower Society & Botanical Society of South Africa, Claremont, South Africa.

 

Pondoland’s medicinal plants treasures

Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. Photos by Graham Grieve or supplied by Sinegugu Zukulu.

To celebrate African Traditional Medicine Day on 31 August, Zoë Chapman Poulsen interviewed pioneering Pondoland conservationist and champion of medicinal plant Sinegugu Zukulu.

“For me, the future is about protecting Pondoland’s biodiversity, so we are able to sustain it for future generations to see the treasure that we have,” says Sinegugu Zukulu, Pondoland trailblazer in community-focused conservation, ecotourism, upskilling youth and raising awareness of Pondoland’s unique and extraordinary biodiversity and ecosystems.

Above: Sinegugu Zuluku. Photo supplied by Sinegugu Zulu.

Sinegugu (51) has devoted his life to protecting Pondoland’s rich, diverse and spectacular landscapes. This fascinating area stretches from Hibberdene in Kwa-Zulu Natal, south along the coastline to Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape.

The Pondoland centre of endemism forms part of the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany biodiversity hotspot and has about 200 unique endemic species. Botanists believe more new species will still be discovered in its isolated habitats and river gorges.

“Protecting the land is protecting livelihoods,” believes Sinegugu. “It is protecting the lives of the people.”

Top: Tribute of the Gwe Gwe River. Above: Berkheya speciosa subsp. speciosa. Photos: Graham Grieve.

The key to successful conservation, he believes, is highlighting how people depend on better functioning ecosystems for water, medicinal plants, livestock grazing, thatch and ecotourism.

As a pioneer in supporting ecotourism development along the Wild Coast, Sinegugu began leading walks into the grasslands, sharing his extensive knowledge of Pondoland’s medicinal plants. This grew into the 2012 book, Medicinal and Charm Plants of Pondoland. The book showcases the traditional knowledge of many herbalists from the community of Amadiba and surrounds where Sinegugu has spent most of his life.

“For me, it was vital to show how important indigenous knowledge is for us,” says Sinegugu. “I wanted to put the faces of our herbalists there for the world to see – and also to recognise their indigenous knowledge.”

Above: Bongeka’s Patch and herbalist. Photo: Graham Grieve.

Knowledge of medicinal plants is very common among the communities of Pondoland, often starting with young children, who learn while accompanying local herbalists collecting medicines in the veld.

“We are losing that knowledge now,” Sinegugu says. “Kids today are no longer exposed to plants and the environment as we were”.

“Young people today can no longer learn as much as we did because they are leading such a different life from when we were young. There were no television sets then, no cellphones. Young people today are preoccupied with cellphones.”

Top: Boophone disticha. Above: Eriosemopsis subanisophylla. Photos: Graham Grieve.

A holistic approach to healthcare is at the core of the traditional use of medicinal plants. As well as  treating illness or injury, plants can be used as charm plants.

“Charm plants may be used for steam baths to make skin more attractive or even by people who want to be lucky with something – perhaps  they are going job seeking.”

The biodiversity of Pondoland, including its medicinal plants, faces a number of different threats. Population pressure is a widespread threat and croplands from farming can often expand into virgin veld. Too frequent veld fires used to burn old dry grass in the sourveld for better grazing is another challenge. Pondoland has also not escaped widespread alien plant invasion.

Some medicinal plants are in such demand that they have fallen victim to overcollection in some areas. This is one reason why Sinegugu Zukulu has been discussing with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) the idea of establishing a botanical garden dedicated to the cultivation, use and conservation of Pondoland’s endemic plants.

Above: Gwe Gwe Bay. Photo: Graham Greave.

The proposed new botanical garden aims to save and protect these endemic species, as well as showcasing them to visitors so they can be seen all in one place. Part of the project would comprise a nursery to grow and process medicinal plants. This would create jobs for local people by supplying the local market.

Sinegugu has always had the people of Pondoland front and centre of his extensive and highly varied work. Innovative community-driven conservation remains key to his success.

“If conservationists understand the importance of biodiversity to people’s lives and livelihoods, their task would become much easier,” he says. “If you take this approach, people would not need a lot of convincing for them to conserve biodiversity.”

Sinegugu would love to see Pondoland getting some recognition and conservation status, such as a biosphere reserve or a world heritage site.

“But,” he cautions, “we have to make sure that the rights of the people are also protected so they still have access to the land.”

Further reading

Medicinal and Charm Plants of Pondoland by Sinegugu Zukulu, Tony Dold, Tony Abbott and Domitilla Raimondo (SANBI,  Pretoria).

Get in touch

Sinegugu Zukulu regularly leads guided hikes along the spectacular Wild Coast. For more information email: zukulusinegugu@gmail.com or phone: +27 72 428 5109.

Spring Flower Watch: Biedouw Valley

Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. Photos by Rupert Koopman & Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Famous for its extraordinary red sandstone rock formations, South Africa’s Cederberg mountains are popular with hikers and adventure lovers alike, seeing the peace of wild landscapes within easy reach of Cape Town.

Towering above the small towns of Clanwilliam and Citrusdal, the Cederberg is often dusted with snow on the highest peaks during the winter months. This mountain range is named after the Clanwilliam Cedar (Widdringtonia wallichii) which is endemic to the area and at the brink of extinction.

View into the Biedouw Valley from the Tra Tra Mountains. Photo: Rupert Koopman.

One of the main roads ascending the Cederberg is the Pakhuis Pass, which leads eastwards to the turnoff that winds gently and then steeply down into the Biedouw Valley. This beautiful place is a mecca for those looking to see beautiful displays of spring blooms without making the longer journey to Namaqualand further north.

A rewarding feature of this route is seeing how the vegetation changes from fynbos in the west transitioning to succulent karoo as the amount of annual precipitation drops heading east into the Tanqua.

Above: During spring local farmers restrict their livestock from grazing in the Biedouw Valley, allowing a spectacular array of flowers to come into bloom. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Located between the Biedouw mountains to the north and the Tra Tra mountains to the south, the Biedouw Valley is one of the centres of the rooibos tea growing industry. Enjoyed all over the world, the rooibos tea plant (Aspalathus linearis) is only grown commercially in the Cederberg area and surrounds.

During spring local farmers restrict their livestock from grazing in the Biedouw Valley, allowing a spectacular array of flowers to come into bloom, much to the enjoyment of the many visitors who enjoy this popular place. The main displays are an array of daisies and Heliophila but the many stunning geophytes to be found are also pleasant on the eye.

Above: Spectacular spring flower displays in the Biedouw Valley. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

The small and delicate spring favourite Moraea gawleri come in a variety of different colours from cream to yellow or brick red. They bloom fleetingly, found growing on both deep sands and clays in fynbos or renosterveld vegetation from Namaqualand to Humansdorp.

Above: Moraea gawleri. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Cyanella alba is easily recognised by its delicate cream coloured blooms that often have a hint of yellow. The flowers smell much like Magnolias. Flowering from August to October, this species grows on sandstone or clay slopes from the Bokkeveld mountains to the western Karoo.

Above: Cyanella alba. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Lapeirousia divaricata is often seen blooming en masse in the Biedouw Valley during spring with its delicately fragrant blooms. This species grows in damp sandy areas from the Bokkeveld mountains southwards to Citrusdal.

Above: Lapeirousia divaricata. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Right now is one of the best Biedouw valley flower seasons in a while due to higher rainfall in the eastern Cederberg than in the last few years.

Above: Lapeirousia divaricata blooming en masse in the Biedouw Valley. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Look out for next week’s edition of Spring Flower Watch, where we will be continuing our virtual botanical tour to some of the Cape’s special spring flower sites.

A new field guide for Overberg Renosterveld

Written by Rupert Koopman. Photos by Odette Curtis-Scott & Rupert Koopman.

Conservation messaging can tend towards negative and understandably so, as loss and degradation are daily features. Fortunately, there are also a myriad inspirational narratives by people who care for nature and their extraordinary efforts to address humanity’s appetite for destruction.

The publication of The Field Guide to the Renosterveld of the Overberg, is a manifestation of this kind of effort; another clear milestone for a committed group of people who care deeply about a special piece of the planet, represented here by the authors of this guide.

To introduce this significant publication, let’s consider an informed opinion on the recent past state of the Overberg Renosterveld region. A staple on the shelf of many a nature lover is the exquisite publication Southern African Wild Flowers: Jewels of the Veld (2005) by Dr John Manning with photography by Colin Paterson-Jones. It is a pictorial journey of the varied landscapes and flora of the region.

Above: Attendees of the 2013 launch of the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust. Photo: Rupert Koopman.

Dr Manning headlined the pages covering the Overberg wheatbelt as the “Killing Fields” and while celebrating the many spectacular geophytic gems, highlighted the perilous future of many of these species due to habitat loss and the subsequent effects of fragmentation.

At the same time, conservation efforts such as the Stewardship Programme and Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) commenced activities in the region, documenting the threatened flora and habitats, engaging with landowners and moving the needle.

Above: Leucadendron coriaceum. Photo: Odette Curtis-Scott.

For workers in the region, it was clear that the flora was understudied. As part the fieldwork for the 2003 Botanical Society project “A Fine Scale Conservation Plan for Cape Lowlands Renosterveld”, at least eight undescribed species were found as well as one which had last been collected in the 1830’s.

Subsequent field work in the region by CREW, the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) and other has further shown the richness of the renosterveld, with new species both floral and faunal rewarding field scientists efforts.

As the much-anticipated first field guide aimed solely at Renosterveld, there is a lot of ground to cover. The scope of the Field Guide to the Renosterveld of the Overberg is comprehensive, with just under a thousand plant species illustrated as well as mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians and a range of the more visible invertebrates.

Above: Lyperia violaceae. Photo: Odette Curtis-Scott.

This builds on the work the authors have conducted in the region since the early 2000s. As someone who has spent some time in this landscape too, it is nice to see the mix of scientific and practical management knowledge; this publication truly has something for everyone.

As many people are still unclear about the value of Renosterveld as well as why its plight matters, the introduction provides a handy primer on how it fits into the Fynbos Biome and the four Renosterveld types found (Western, Central and Eastern Rûens Shale Renosterveld and Rûens Silcrete Renosterveld).

The authors have gone to significant lengths to provide context and explanatory notes, with handy info boxes placed throughout. I especially enjoyed the fact that it provides the etymology of every single Latin genus and species name.

Above: Hemimeris racemosa. Photo: Odette Curtis-Scott.

Given the that the “grassy shrubland or shrubby grassland” question remains a bone of contention, the six-page double spread covering the more prominent grasses (as well as invasive species) is handy. Also well-represented are the legumes (Fabaceae) family; a prominent feature of renosterveld and – with many being palatable – a valuable indicator of veld condition.

Aptly, as lead author Dr Odette Curtis-Scott has been at the forefront of conservation efforts in the Rûens for a number of years and a concerted effort is thus evident in supplying the relevant information to empower the reader.

The conservation status of each red listed species is included (the list is updated annually and can be seen at http://redlist.sanbi.org. As many as 12% of the plant species in the book are considered threatened. An appendix introduces several options on how to formally conserve conservation priorities on privately owned land.

Above: Aristea biflora. Photo: Odette Curtis-Scott.

At least 99% of remaining Renosterveld in the Overberg is found on private land and it is gratifying to see the contributions of champion conservation-minded landowners past and present recognised for their efforts. It is also heartening to learn how their understanding of the value of their veld has changed through the conservation extension work of the ORCT and colleagues.

A highlight of the book is Appendix 1 which is a thorough guide for Renosterveld landowners and managers detailing practical management steps and useful information on the timing and permissions needed for fire (a key ecological driver) as well as pointers to the laws around the correct methods of invasive alien clearing and the removal of natural vegetation.

These two influences are the major threats to the future survival of renosterveld and the more people who understand these processes and can hold each other accountable, the better.

Ultimately, all field guides are practically limited to not include everything but the Field Guide to the Renosterveld of the Overberg has landed just in time for spring and begs to be taken for a test drive in your nearest patch of “renosterbosveld”.

In celebration of renosterveld and spring, the Botanical Society of South Africa is hosting an online launch of the Field Guide to Renosterveld of the Overberg featuring a discussion with the authors.

Spring Flower Watch: Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve

Written and photographed by Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

The second edition of our weekly Spring Flower Watch comes from Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve. Each week this spring we will be taking you on a virtual tour of some of the best places to see the spring flowers, both for those of you planning to hit the road now restrictions on interprovincial travel have been lifted, as well as for those of you who would still prefer to stay home.

Above: View from the summit of the Vanrhyn’s Pass across the Knersvlakte.

The small Northern Cape Town of Nieuwoudtville where the reserve is based is located on the Bokkeveld Escarpment, reached by the winding Vanrhyn’s Pass. The plateau has a diversity of different vegetation types including renosterveld, fynbos and succulent karoo and is world famous for its diversity of flowering bulbs that bring spectacular displays during spring.

Above: View across the Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve during the peak of spring flowering season in August. Hantam National Botanical Garden is visible in the distance.

Encompassing over 100 Ha of Hantam-Roggeveld Dolerite Renosterveld, the Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve is managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Hantam Municipality. Entrance to the Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve is free for visitors. The reserve is home to more than 300 plant species, of which many are of conservation concern including several local endemics.

Above: Hesperantha vaginata in bloom at the Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve.

Also known as the Harlequin Evening Flower, the distinctive bright yellow and brown blooms of Hesperantha vaginata are hard to miss. This stunning bulb is endemic to the Bokkeveld Plateau from the Nieuwoudtville area eastwards to Calvinia. The odourless flowers are pollinated by the monkey beetle Clania glenlyonensis, who use the flowers for mating as well as feeding on the pollen.

Above: Diascia cardiosepala. 

Look out for the delicate tiny purple flowers of Diascia cardiosepala, which grows predominantly on deep red dolerite derived clays. Flowering takes place from August to October. This species is also endemic to the Bokkeveld Escarpment.

Above: Aptosimium indivisum. 

In drier places, Aptosimium indivisum, also known as the Karoo Violet, can be seen. It is found throughout southern Africa on dry clay flats.

Above: Colchicum coloratum. 

A rather quirky-looking customer to look out for is Colchicum coloratum, appropriately named the ‘Red Cup and Saucer’ due to its unusual morphology. It grows on heavy red clays derived from dolerite eastwards to Botterkloof.

Look out for next week’s edition of Spring Flower Watch, where we will take you along to visit the Biedouw Valley in the Cederberg.

Earth Overshoot Day: Climate Crisis Impacts on South Africa’s Plant Diversity

Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. Photos by Nigel Forshaw, Zoë Chapman Poulsen & Isobel Johnson.

Earth Overshoot Day: A Critical Threshold for the Planet

Above: The agricultural landscape of the Overberg looking towards Caledon at the height of the 2017 drought. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

This year’s Earth Overshoot Day falls on 22 August of this year, acting as a reminder to all of our impact on the planet. Earth Overshoot Day is the day of the year that we cross an important threshold, the date that humanity’s demand for ecological resources exceeds that which the Earth can regenerate during that year.

With 60% of humanity’s ecological footprint being carbon, there is no hiding from the climate crisis, which is already impacting on the ecosystems and biodiversity of southern Africa. This week on the BotSoc Blog we will be taking a closer look at how the changing climate is impacting and may continue to impact on South Africa’s ecosystems and plant diversity.

The Climate Crisis: Increasing Temperatures & Aridity for southern Africa

Above: In 2017 the Calvinia Dam sits empty after two years of no rainfall during the worst drought in living memory. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

South Africa is one of Africa’s leaders in climate change research, and the findings are deeply worrying. Climate change plays a significant role in impacting on water resources, food and water security, health and ecosystem services. Recognition of the problem and finding solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation are key.

South Africa’s average annual temperatures have increased by at least 1.5 times more than the global average over the last 50 years. These trends are forecast to continue with temperatures projected to rise by 3-6°C by 2081-2100. Models also suggest that most parts of South Africa are likely to become drier, with increasing frequency of extreme rainfall events already a reality.

On the Red List of South African Plants, a relatively small number of species have been identified as being at risk due to climate change, but this number is likely to increase as our understanding of how plants respond to the climate crisis improves.

On the Edge: Impacts of Drought

Above: Drought has lead to extensive mortality of shrubs in the Succulent Karoo near Louriesfontein, Namaqualand. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Increasing aridity and temperatures due to climate change have been forecast to lead to greater frequency and intensity of drought periods, particularly affecting semi-arid ecosystems in South Africa including the Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo.

With these ecosystems normally reliant on low but stable winter rainfall to trigger growth of plants including both autumn and winter flowering geophytes (bulbs), extreme drought and increasingly unreliable rainfall are becoming commonplace. In Namaqualand in response to the current drought, researchers have noted extensive mortality of trees, shrubs and large succulents at a scale never seen before. 

Nowhere to Go: Impacts on Montane Flora

Above: Protea cryophila. Photo: Nigel Forshaw. http://www.inaturalist.org.

South Africa’s mountain ranges including the Cape Fold Mountains, Drakensberg and others are home to a range of specialist species adapted to very specific growing conditions in narrow microhabitats. These makes many of these species more vulnerable to a changing climate as migration to higher altitudes will lead to contraction of their distribution ranges.

It is possible that this may eventually lead to species extinctions when no more suitable habitat can be colonised by growing at increased altitudes. Furthermore, it has been shown that areas at higher elevation have a higher rate of warming. Several members of the genus Protea have been identified as being under threat due to the impacts of climate change on montane species, including Protea cryophila, Protea convexa and Protea montana.

Fiery Futures: Impacts of Changing Fire Regimes

 

Above: Protea seed cone after the Betty’s Bay fire in 2019. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Climate change projections also indicate that in fire prone and fire dependent ecosystems in South Africa such as fynbos, renosterveld, savanna and grassland vegetation types, fire regimes are likely to change to higher fire frequency and intensity. These ecosystems are dependent on fire for their survival, including for the reproduction of many different plant species.

However, if fire frequency increases too much, it is possible that it may move beyond a threshold at which the ecosystem has the capacity to recover post fire. Prolonged post fire drought in the first year after fire has been shown to significantly reduce survival of seedlings, particularly forbs and graminoids. Increasing fire frequencies have also been shown to likely impact on woody species such as members of the Proteaceae family, that require several years between fires to mature, flower and set seed before the next fire moves through the landscape.

Trees on the Move: Climate Change Driving Bush Encroachment

Above: Sub escarpment grassland with forest. It is possible that South Africa’s grasslands may be threatened by bush encroachment with increasing levels of CO2 due to the climate crisis. Photo: Isobel Johnson.

Increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 are thought to be associated with bush encroachment and increasing cover of woody vegetation, particularly in South Africa’s savanna ecosystems. These changes have been documented through the use of historical ground-based and aerial repeat photography, supported by findings from chamber based CO2 level simulation that showed increased vigour and growth of trees in response to increasing CO2 levels.

It is also possible that these changes may threaten other ecosystems in South Africa such as grasslands with being colonised by woody vegetation. Bush encroachment is likely to have a significant impact on ecosystem services such as grazing and game viewing as part of the tourism industry. Our savannas and other ecosystems may change beyond recognition in years to come.

Further Reading

Bentley, L.K. Robertson, M.P. Barker, N.P. (2019) ‘Range contraction to a higher elevation: The likely future of the montane vegetation in South Africa and Lesotho’, Biodiversity & Conservation (Volume 28): pp. 131-153.

Helme, N. Schmiedel, U. (2020) ‘Namaqualand Nightmare’, Veld & Flora, Issue 106: pp. 14-19.

Slingsby, J.A. Merow, C. Aiello-Lammens, M. Allsop, N. Hall, A.S. Mollmann, H.K. Turner, R. Wilson, A.M. Silander, J.A. (2017) ‘Intensifying postfire weather and biological invasion drive species loss in a Mediterranean type biodiversity hotspot’, PNAS, pp. 1-6 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1619014114

Spring Flower Watch: Hantam National Botanical Garden

Written and photographed by Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

The first of our weekly Spring Flower Watch series comes from Hantam National Botanical Garden (NBG) in Nieuwoudtville. Hantam NBG which is run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) is one of South Africa’s newest NBGs and the only one located in the Northern Cape province.

Above: Spring blooms in the small Namaqualand town of Nieuwoudtville.

Hantam NBG is 6 000 Ha in size and showcases examples of Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld, Nieuwoudtville-Roggeveld Dolerite Renosterveld and Hantam Succulent Karoo. The veld here is recognised to be of international conservation importance and was used in the filming of Sir David Attenborough’s classic series ‘The Private Life of Plants’ in 1991.

Above: One of the nine different hiking trails that visitors can use to explore Hantam NBG.

The garden has nine different hiking trails that allow those of differing levels of fitness to explore as they please. BotSoc members enjoy free entrance to Hantam NBG and all of South Africa’s other NBGs.

Above: Babiana framesii in bloom on the dolerite koppies at Hantam NBG.

One of the highlights of any visit to Hantam NBG are the plethora of beautiful bulb species that can be found blooming in the garden during spring.

Above: Hesperantha rivulicola. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Impossible to miss are the intense orange spikes of Bulbinella latifolia var. doleritica, covered in breeding monkey beetles at this time of year. This Bokkeveld Escarpment endemic is known from just seven subpopulations due to habitat loss for agriculture and is Vulnerable on the Red List of South African Plants.

Above: Bulbinella latifolia var. doleritica. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Small but spectacular, Lapeirousia oreogena is easily recognised by its funky geometrically marked flowers. Growing on clay soils in renosterveld, this species is found from the Bokkeveld Escarpment to the Western Karoo and Calvinia. It is thought to be pollinated by long-tongued flies.

Above: Lapeirousia oreogena. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Another beauty that can be seen at Hantam is Sparaxis elegans, with different colour forms in white or salmon pink. It is endemic to the Nieuwoudtville area, growing on clay soils in renosterveld on the Bokkeveld Escarpment. In habitat it is locally common, but is threatened by habitat degradation and fragmentation, leaving it Near Threatened on the Red List.

Above: Sparaxis elegans. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Look out for next week’s edition of Spring Flower Watch, where we will be taking you along to visit the nearby Nieuwoudtville Wildflower Reserve.

Our Living Libraries: Why are Botanical Gardens so important?

Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. Photos by Petra Broddle, Zoë Chapman Poulsen and supplied by SANBI Marketing.

This week across South Africa SANBI’s National Botanical Gardens are opening to the public again for the first time after several months of closure due to the COVID 19 crisis. As they have re-opened many have flocked to South Africa’s plethora of national parks, nature reserves and now our botanical gardens to seek peace in and reconnect with nature during these tough times. Botanical gardens are of global importance, playing a role in scientific research, education, as well as saving threatened species from extinction.

What is a botanical garden?

Above: Durban Botanic Gardens is Africa’s oldest botanical garden. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

A botanical garden is a garden dedicated to the cultivation and display of a collection of plants labelled with their botanical names. This may include special collections from specific ecosystems, geographical areas or plant groups such as succulent plants. Botanical gardens are usually open to the public and are often run by universities or other scientific organisations.

South Africa has ten (soon to be eleven https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/) National Botanical Gardens in different parts of the country that are run by SANBI. Africa’s oldest botanical garden is Durban Botanic Gardens, founded in 1849 and run by the Parks, Leisure & Cemeteries Department of eThekwini with the support of the Durban Botanic Gardens Trust (Est. 1993). Stellenbosch University Botanical Gardens, Makana Botanical Gardens, the University of KwaZulu-Natal Botanical Gardens and the Manie van der Schijff Botanical Gardens are all run by universities.

A Short History

Above: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is the oldest of SANBI’s NBGs. Photo supplied by SANBI Marketing.

The world’s oldest botanical garden is the Orto Botanico di Padova in north-eastern Italy. Founded in 1545 by the Venetian Republic, it is the oldest academic botanical garden that is still at its original location. Like many other early botanical gardens, it was originally founded for growing medicinal plants.

Stellenbosch University Botanical Gardens dates from 1902, when lecturer Augusta Duthie started growing plants on campus for research and student practicals. Kirstenbosch NBG is the oldest of the national botanical gardens, founded in the same year as BotSoc. Botanical Society volunteers spent many hours collecting and selling firewood, soil and acorns to support the gardens’ development.

Living Collections

Above: Example of a plant label from a specimen of Aloidendron ramosissimum photographed at SANBI’s Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens. The accession number is visible in the bottom right corner. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Today South Africa’s botanical gardens hold an extraordinary and diverse range of plant collections, representing South Africa’s megadiverse flora across all its ecosystems. As each plant arrives at a botanical garden, it is assigned a unique accession number. This is connected to a database entry that stores information such as collection date, the locality where the collection was made and more. This information is vital to inform use of the plant material in conservation and restoration work.

Spaces for Recreation

Above: The Useful Plants Garden at Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens. Photo supplied by SANBI Marketing.

As our world becomes more urbanised, green spaces within our built up areas become increasingly important. Many of the world’s botanical gardens are located within towns and cities, forming important and sustainable spaces for recreation and exercise in nature. Research has shown that spending time in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature can reduce stress and improve physical and mental wellbeing.

Environmental Education

Above: Children playing on the giant elephant at Lowveld National Botanical Gardens. Photo supplied by SANBI Marketing. Photo taken prior to COVID-19 Restrictions.

After 1994 the right to a healthy environment became a part of South Africa’s constitution, and environmental education is recognised as a vital part of the national curriculum. Botanical gardens play a key role in teaching youth about the importance of plants, ecosystems and biodiversity.

It is widely acknowledged throughout the conservation sector that children who have participated in nature-focused activities are more likely to develop a positive attitude about the importance of the environment in adulthood. Environmental education also inspires people through immersion in the natural world, starting to train the botanists, ecologists, horticulturalists and conservationists of the future.

Research and Herbaria

Above: Endangered Haemanthus pumilio blooming in habitat while being visited by a Crimson Speckled Footman moth. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

In addition to growing and curating living collections, many botanical gardens also play a vital role in research, encompassing fields such as plant taxonomy. Many botanical gardens house herbarium collections, which are filed collections of dried plant specimens used for identification, genetic and nomenclature research. For example, Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden is a key partner in a project pioneering micropropagation techniques to improve the conservation status of the Endangered Haemanthus pumilio, currently known from just a few fragmented lowland sites.

Saving our Threatened Species

Above: The Critically Endangered Protea odorata is one of South Africa’s most threatened species. Only targeted action by conservation professionals and botanical gardens working together can save this species from extinction.

With one in four of South Africa’s plant species being threatened with extinction or of conservation concern, the role of botanical gardens in plant species conservation could never be more important. Plants form the keystone of our ecosystems: Without plants all other living organisms including humans could no longer survive.

Plants growing in botanical gardens and stored seed are what we call ‘ex-situ collections’, acting as an insurance policy in case of habitat loss or a plant species becomes extinct in the wild. Plants growing in botanical gardens can also be propagated for use in ecological restoration.  The detailed record keeping executed by the botanical garden is key to ensuring the plant material is of the right genetic stock from the correct locality to be used for restoration at specific sites, thus avoiding the risk of genetic pollution (the introduction of foreign genes into natural populations).

Plants & Partnerships

Above: Pressing collected specimens for the herbarium by members of SANBI’s Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme. It is partnerships such as these that drive plant conservation action. Photo: Petra Broddle.

The world’s botanical gardens are uniquely placed to offer vital contributions to human wellbeing, scientific research and biodiversity conservation. But they do not work alone. The key to their success is the working partnerships and collaborations that botanical gardens form across the globe. These partners may include nonprofits, local and national governments and the corporate sector.

The Botanical Society of South Africa has a close partnership with SANBI, who run South Africa’s national botanical gardens. This and our other partnerships go from strength to strength, helping us all to work together in conserving South Africa’s unique and extraordinary biodiversity and natural heritage.

Further Reading

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI): https://www.bgci.org

Oldfield, S. (2010) Botanic Gardens: Modern-Day Arks, New Holland Publishing, United Kingdom.

South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI): https://www.sanbi.org

Community and Partnerships: Restoration planting at Princess Vlei

Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. Photos: Alex Lansdowne & Zoë Chapman Poulsen

Last Saturday 25 July the Princess Vlei Forum (PVF), in partnership with the Botanical Society of South Africa Kirstenbosch Branch, held a planting event at The Greater Princess Vlei conservation area in Cape Town. More than 3 000 plants were planted on the day. The extinct in the wild Whorled Heath (Erica verticillata) and critically endangered Serruria foeniculacea were reintroduced for the first time. This event forms part of the ongoing pioneering ecological restoration taking place at the vlei, with multiple stakeholders, specialists and international partners.

Above: Botanist Dr. Elzanne Singels with the Critically Endangered Serruria foeniculacea she has grown for the restoration project at Princess Vlei. Photo: Alex Lansdowne.

Located on the Cape Flats near the suburbs of Fairways, Southfield, Heathfield, Grassy Park, and Retreat, Princess Vlei forms the gateway to the wetlands system of the False Bay Ecology Park, encompassing Rondevlei, Zeekoevlei and Zandvlei. This extensive wetland reserve forms an important community and heritage space, as well as habitat for birds and the endangered Western Leopard Toad.

Above: Seedlings grown in site sand ready for planting at the restoration site. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen

For many years Princess Vlei was in danger due to a proposal to build a shopping mall on her banks. The site also suffered years of neglect due to racially discriminatory distribution of resources during apartheid. Thanks to the efforts of the surrounding communities, through the Princess Vlei Forum, the decision to build the mall was overturned in 2014 due to the significant cultural and natural heritage value, and the conservation area proclaimed.

Above: Members of the Princess Vlei restoration team placing plants at the site on the banks of Princess Vlei ahead of the planting event. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

The Princess Vlei Forum is a community-driven nonprofit organisation dedicated to working as custodians of this green open space. An active part of this custodianship is a 5 year restoration project to restore vast tracts of habitat at Princess Vlei. This will ensure the conservation area reaches its true potential as a critical biodiversity area for generations to come. The Botanical Society Kirstenbosch Branch has recently formed a new partnership with the Princess Vlei Forum, contributing funding towards this innovative restoration project as well as inspiring youth to become involved in biodiversity conservation.

Above: Volunteers planting on site during the planting day. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen

Comments Alex Lansdowne, conservationist and leader of the Princess Vlei restoration team: “The Princess Vlei conservation area has understudied conservation value and high restoration potential. The investments made by the PVF into conserving this site are remarkable and have attracted international attention. Princess Vlei has been written off many times as a valueless open space in a non-white area, riddled by crime and social ills. We are changing this narrative by restoring this unique habitat. If we are to redress apartheid spatial planning we need to deliver good condition, safe and accessible natural spaces to poorer communities. We are doing this. The partnership between BotSoc and the PVF is part of a broader campaign to reintroduce young people to nature. Our main goal is to inspire future conservationists and nature enthusiasts in areas where they need them most”.

Above: Councillor Kevin Southgate plants extinct in the wild Erica verticillata at the Princess Vlei restoration site. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

The Princess Vlei Restoration Project brings together stakeholders from the Princess Vlei Forum, local community including youth, the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), the American Orchid Society and the City of Cape Town Parks Department. Seed funding has been received for the project from a variety of national and international sources. The Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust has made significant contributions towards the management and environmental education programmes on site. This has allowed for further investments from the International Society for Ecological Restoration, the Rowland and Letta Hill Trust and the American Orchid Society.

Above: Councillor Kevin Southgate plants extinct in the wild Erica verticillata at the Princess Vlei restoration site. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

The goal of Phase 1 of the project is to restore a total of 12 ha at the site, encompassing critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos as well as Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and Cape Lowlands Freshwater Wetlands, both of which are classed as endangered vegetation types. Since the project has been initiated, vegetation and habitat condition of the site has been mapped and the area of the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area under active restoration has doubled. With a project ethos of fostering community custodianship, many members of the local community including youth have been involved in the restoration planting events.

Above: Planting at the restoration site continues apace. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

This year 48 plant species have been restored to the site, eight of which are listed as being of conservation concern on the Red List of South African Plants, one of which is extinct in the wild and two are critically endangered. Investment has also been made in upskilling local workers through training in restoration specific skills including seed collection, plant propagation and restoration planting.

Thanks to this innovative ecological restoration project, with much hard work and strong community and partner backing, the future looks bright for the biodiversity of the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area. Watch this space for further updates.

Gardens open again from Monday 3 August

At long last, we have some truly wonderful news to share. On Wednesday, 29 July, we received official notice from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) that they would be re-opening the National Botanical Gardens (NBGs) to the public for exercise on Monday, 3 August. The main activities permitted within the gardens during advanced level 3 include walks, hikes, and exercise (no more than four people in a group allowed), and restaurants and shops will open for sit-down. Please click here for the full document outlining SANBI’s protocols for re-opening of NBGs. Note the second last section, which outlines the allowed and prohibited activities specific to each garden.

Please do remember to enjoy the wonder floral diversity and look out for what might have changed since you last visited in terms of biodiversity over this period while you exercise in the gardens.

Expired membership card entry


Above: Bulbs and annuals in bloom on the Spiderweb Trail, Hantam National Botanical Gardens.

SANBI has confirmed that BotSoc members whose old paper membership cards expired during lockdown (26 March – 31 July 2020) will be allowed entry into Kirstenbosch NBG in Cape Town and Walter Sisulu NBG in Joburg in order to renew or replace cards at the BotSoc office. This will be the case for the whole month of August, providing a window for us to assist any members who find our new online platform on Webtickets difficult to transition to (see section on card collections below).

All members are requested to bring their ID card/document along with their membership card, as SANBI gate staff will request to view both.

BotSoc Offices


Top: Leopard’s Kloof Waterfall, Harold Porter NBG. Above: Disa Kloof Waterfall, Harold Porter NBG. Photos: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.

Both our offices, at Kirstenbosch NBG in Cape Town and Walter Sisulu NBG in Joburg, will re-open on Monday, 3 August, adhering to strict safety procedures such as daily cleaning and sanitising of offices, provision of Personal Protective Equipment to all staff (including hand sanitizer for public use), placement of physical barriers in appropriate places, temperature screening and use of contact tracing registers. It is important to note that we are a non-profit organization with a small staff complement who have been working remotely for the past 4 months. In anticipation of unsafe numbers of foot traffic:

Only one member will be allowed to enter the office at a time.
PLEASE NOTE: All members must make an appointment in order
to visit a BotSoc office.

To book an appointment to see a Membership Officer
at Kirstenbosch NBG, click here.

To book an appointment to see a Membership Officer
at Walter Sisulu NBG, click here.

The only services available are membership sign ups and renewals, new card collections and lost card replacements. We love it when our members pop in to chat to us, but unfortunately this will not be possible yet. This is for your own safety as well as BotSoc staff, and will avoid an unsafe situation where too many members find themselves congregating outside the office in long queues.

We urge members to consider emailing queries to info@botanicalsociety.org.za first, as it is likely that we can assist you remotely. Physical visits should be limited as much as possible.

Membership Card Collections

Above: Main waterfall at Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens. Photo supplied by SANBI Marketing.

Members who have renewed and are now on our Webtickets system have been patiently waiting for their new membership cards, the distribution of which had to be postponed due to the national lockdown.

While our offices will be open for card collections, it is important to note the following:

1. A digital barcoded card is now available – and highly recommended at this time instead of the physical card, for current health/safety and environmental reasons. This digital “card” can be downloaded and saved to your mobile device (or printed) to be displayed at the gate in the same manner you would use the physical membership card to access the gardens. Please email us at info@botanicalsociety.org.za to request instructions for downloading the digital card if you have not already done so.
2. If you would still like to have a physical plastic membership card, please make an appointment to visit our offices using the booking links provided above, thus assisting with safety controls.
a. Walter Sisulu NBG: 
Card collections at our Northern office will only be possible from Monday, 10 August. Please bear this in mind when booking your appointment.
b. Other areas:
Members who do not live close enough to book an appointment and visit Kirstenbosch NBG or Walter Sisulu NBG will have to download the digital card for the time being until other arrangements can be made.
Bookshops at Kirstenbosch NBG
Above: Spectacular mountain views at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Photo supplied by SANBI Marketing.

Please note that the only membership-related query that can be handled by the Kirstenbosch Branch Bookshops at this time is the collection of a physical plastic membership card on the weekend. This must be pre-arranged in the following manner:

– Email info@botanicalsociety.org.za from Monday to Thursday with the subject
“Card collection at bookshop” and your request to collect a physical membership
card from the Bookshop on the weekend.

– One of our Membership Support Officers will respond to acknowledge your request, and will ensure that your card is at the Bookshop at Gate 1 (main entrance) for collection on the weekend.

– Email requests received on Fridays will only be attended to in the following week.

– Please do not visit the Bookshop to collect your card unless you have received a confirmation email.

Veld & Flora
Above: River Cascade viewpoint at Lowveld National Botanical Gardens.
Lockdown delayed the printing and posting of the June issue of Veld & Flora.
Our return to office means that we can now address this – please note that
both the June and September issues will be enveloped together and posted to members.In the meantime, you can still read the March and June issues online.

We are very excited to have you all enjoying the botanical gardens again and we are pleased to connect with you at our offices under the conditions described above. We trust that we can count on your cooperation and thank all our members for your continued patience and support. Working together with understanding and kindness will ensure that we all make it through these unusual circumstances.

From your BotSoc Team at National Office