KZN Coastal Branch: The secret life of mangroves

Written by Sandra Dell & Zoë Poulsen. Photos by Tony Dickson

Above: The group gathers at the Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve lapa.

On Saturday 3 August the  BotSoc KZN Coastal Branch visited Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve on a guided walk to learn more about this extraordinary ecosystem. The visit was led by aquatic scientists Professor Ticky Forbes and Nicolette Forbes from consultancy Marine and Estuarine Research (MER). The group was also kindly accompanied by the Beachwood Honorary Officers. The reserve’s lapa and parking area will be the same venue for the BotSoc branch’s indigenous plant fair to be held on 7 & 8 September.

Above: Nicky Forbes reveals the wonders of the intertidal zone and the mangroves that are adapted to thrive there.

Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve is one of Durban’s hidden gems. The reserve is normally closed to the public except by appointment but opens on the third Saturday morning of each month for guided walks led by the Honorary Officers. A boardwalk trail through the reserve allows easy access for visitors. Located at the Umgeni River mouth in Durban North, it is one of the last protected fragments of mangrove habitat on the KZN coastline. Mangrove forest is classed as ‘Critically Endangered’, with much of its original extent lost as a result of harbour development, urban development and degradation through unfavourable agricultural practices inland.

Above: A Grey Heron arrived and we eyed each other out.

Mangrove forest is found along South Africa’s eastern coastline where it is warmed by the Mozambique current from Kosi Bay southwards to Nahoon Estuary. This ecosystem forms between mean sea level and mean high water spring tide level in sheltered estuaries on tidal flats. The soils on which they grow are saline and fine grained with poor drainage and high organic content. Mangroves protect the shoreline against extreme weather, stabilise the shoreline and provide a vital habitat for their fascinating flora and wildlife.

Above: The Beachwood Honorary Officers kindly accompanied us. They lead walks during a monthly open day on the 3rd Saturday morning of each month.

There are three different mangrove species present in the Umgeni estuary, each one with its own unique adaptations for eliminating salt. As the scientific name suggests, the Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata) has a ‘mucro’ or needle-like point on the leaf tip. The roots are extensive prop roots of up to 30 metres that anchor and stabilise the tree despite its relatively diminutive height. Red Mangrove Crabs feed on the leaves of this species, collecting the dropped leaves and taking them down their burrows for food.

Above: Red Mangrove Crab collecting fallen leaves for food.

The Black Mangrove (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza) has stabilising buttress roots and underground cable roots. The cable roots loop upwards to form knee roots for taking in oxygen. Nutritive roots also lead from the cable roots into the mud. The White Mangrove (Avicennia marina) is a primary coloniser that allows the other two mangrove species that are found here to grow. Its root system is extensive and consists of shallow, horizontal cable roots with pencil roots (also known as pneumatophores) growing upwards and above ground in fine sediment and when the ground is waterlogged, allowing the tree to breathe.

Above: Here erosion has exposed more of a Black Mangrove’s root system than we might normally see.

Another plant that was seen was the Matting Rush (Juncus kraussii). This plant is in demand in the wild for material used for making sleeping mats. The group also stopped to observe the antics of male Fiddler Crabs with their comical enlarged single orange claws. They may be either left or right ‘handed’, waving their claws to attract females. Different species have different waving patterns.

Above: Matting Rush (Juncus kraussii).

After arriving back at the lapa, Nicolette Forbes showed the group some historical aerial photographs of the reserve. Interestingly these showed that the site now has far more mangroves present than there were in the 1930s. Four dams that have since been built have meant that there are no longer strong river flows, thus allowing more shallow sandbanks to form and hence mangroves to grow.

Above: Male Fiddler Crab.

The KZN Coastal Branch would like to thank Ticky and Nicolette Forbes for a wonderful outing. The Forbes gave patient explanations on many complex subjects around mangrove ecosystems. For more information, please see their recent update of the WESSA handbook, ‘In the Mangroves of Southern Africa’. Thank you too to the reserve’s Conservation Manager Basil Pather, the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff and Honorary Officers for all of their assistance.


Five reasons to welcome an Aloe into your garden

As winter comes to South Africa the nights draw in, the locals wrap up warm and batten down the hatches. Driving rain and gale force winds lash the Cape at regular intervals, snow caps the mountains and frosts line Highveld gardens. As winter arrives it is time up and down the country for many Aloe species to come into bloom. South Africa is home to 125 different Aloe species with many more hybrids bred for cultivation. So what makes these beauties so worthwhile to grow? The BotSoc Blog is here to take a closer look.

They add warmth and colour to the winter garden

Above: The Aloe Garden at Garden Route Botanical Gardens in full bloom. Photo: Zoë Poulsen

When the winter days are short and the weather is cold, Aloes cannot fail to bring warmth to your garden with their spectacular blooms. Their torch-like blooms come in many shades of yellow, red, green, orange and everything else in between against the dark winter skies. They look particularly spectacular when planted en masse. Check out the Matthews Rockery at Kirstenbosch NBG, the Succulent Rockery at Walter Sisulu NBG or the Aloe Garden at Garden Route Botanical Gardens for inspiration.

They come in all shapes and sizes

Above: Aloe hybrids in the display garden at Rooiklip Nursery, Swellendam, Overberg. Photo: Zoë Poulsen

No matter the size of your garden or outdoor space, there is always an Aloe that will fit whether you garden in pots on a small balcony or have a sweeping expanse of garden. The Tree Aloes, now in their own genus Aloidendron, grow to form huge and many branched specimens with Aloidendron barbaraeforming a trunk up to three metres in diameter. Hollow trunks of particularly large specimens of Aloidendron dichotomum are sometimes used as natural refrigerators. In contrast, the widely cultivated Aloe variegata and many others grow easily in small pots. This species was one of the first Aloes to be successfully cultivated in Europe.

They are waterwise

Above: Aloe marlothii in habitat. Photo supplied by Eugene Moll.

We live in a water scarce country, gardening with the need to use water sustainably so we have sufficient for when the next drought comes around the corner. One of the keys to waterwise gardening is selecting the right plants that will survive with minimal or no additional summer watering. Aloes are perfect waterwise additions to the garden. Their succulent leaves make them highly drought tolerant and they require minimal maintenance once established.

They attract wildlife into the garden

Top: Aloe speciosa. Above: Aloe huntleyana. Photos: Zoë Poulsen

As South Africa’s cities grow, coastal housing developments sprawl and habitat loss from urbanisation is ongoing, gardens are becoming increasingly important places for our wildlife. Well planted indigenous gardens can support a plethora of different species, supporting pollinators and acting as corridors through urban areas for wildlife. The rich nectar from many Aloe species support bees, butterflies and colourful sunbirds that make beautiful visitors to the indigenous garden.

They have a plethora of different medicinal and cosmetic uses

Above: Aloe arborescens in full bloom in the Matthews Rockery, Kirstenbosch NBG. Photo: Zoë Poulsen

Members of the genus Aloe have a plethora of different medicinal uses. In South Africa Aloe ferox is most widely used in medicinal and cosmetic products. When an Aloe leaf is cut, the juice oozes from the cut leaf and this can be used in first aid treatment of burns. Aloe juice from Aloe arborescens was used in the treatment of irradiation burn victims of Hiroshima. Extracts from the leaves have since been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-ulcer and wound healing effects.

So what are you waiting for? Why not give a home to one of these extraordinary plants in your outdoor space? Happy gardening!

Southern Overberg Branch: Mandela Day at Flower Valley

Written by Stephen Smuts (Branch Chair, Southern Overberg), Photos by Heather D’Alton (LoveGreen Communications).

On Madiba Day this Thursday a group of mainly committee members of the Southern Overberg branch drove out to Flower Valley Farm, owned by the Flower Valley Trust to volunteer their 67 minutes for Madiba.  The committee was joined in the alien clearing action by a group of youth from overseas who are volunteering for the White Shark Project but also wanted to find out more about Flower Valley and volunteer their 67 minutes.

Despite rain in Cape Town, the day was not disrupted, in fact the sky cleared. Before going out to the veld, the Flower Valley management were keen to share their enthusiasm for all the activities Flower Valley Trust undertakes to promote and protect Fynbos. It spreads a love for Fynbos from young children in their early learning initiative through to providing education and facilitating Fynbos livelihoods for the many adult pickers who are involved in picking throughout the Southern Overberg. Further it has developed protocols to ensure that the picking of wildflowers is sustainable so that it can continue to provide long term jobs. Lastly, it is very involved in supporting alien clearing initiatives across this southern tip of Africa.

With 67 minutes complete, we were shown the attractions of Flower Valley which has visitor accommodation and several wonderful trails through pristine fynbos, courtesy of an ongoing alien clearing program. It also happens to protect in its kloof and forest leopards which are known to occur here. The farm also has its own species of a tiny fish unique to only the Flower Valley farm.

Both Flower Valley and the Southern Overberg branch are keen to establish a working relationship and the visit on Madiba Day was evidence of the promise this has for the two organisations. I’m sure Mandela would have approved.

Kirstenbosch Branch AGM 2019 Report Back

On the 6th July the Kirstenbosch Branch held its Annual General Meeting in the Old Mutual Conference Hall at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (NBG). The meeting achieved quorum with 123 members present. This meeting marks some changes to the Kirstenbosch Branch Committee with Margaret Kahle, Natie Finkelstein, Bob Von Witt and Philip Howes standing down. All the outgoing committee members are thanked for their excellent service. Three new members joined the committee, namely Mo Dalwai, Carol Cornell and Dayne De Wet. The committee now stands as: Keith Kirsten (Chair), Cathy Jenkins (Vice-Chair), Mo Dalwai (Treasurer), Tom Robbins, Jeremy Wiley, Carol Cornell and Dayne De Wet.

The meeting was opened by new Kirstenbosch NBG Curator Werner Voigt, who started work at Kirstenbosch on the 1st June after moving from the Curator position at Karoo Desert NBG. Werner extended his thanks to the BotSoc volunteer team for their hard work and described his return to Kirstenbosch as ‘a homecoming’. Now that he has had time to settle in Werner looks forward to working with everyone going forward.

Top: Werner Voigt (Curator, Kirstenbosch NBG). Above: Keith Kirsten (Chairman, Kirstenbosch Branch).

The Chairman’s report was delivered by Keith Kirsten. Over the last year there have been some staff changes at the branch office. Catherine Gribble was re-appointed as Branch Manager from 1st November 2018, and Gianpaolo Gilardi, who was initially appointed to coordinate the 2019 Kirstenbosch Plant Fair, has now joined the management team on a permanent basis. Advertising is also currently underway to appoint a bookkeeper to assist with administration, the bookshop and membership.

Above: The Chairman’s Report was delivered by Keith Kirsten.

On the 4th October the branch received a visit from Paul Zammit, Director of Horticulture from Toronto Botanical Gardens. Paul gave us an enlightening presentation on biodiversity and a New Garden Ethic. It is the committee’s intention to invite Paul Zammit for an additional visit for the good of all the BotSoc branches. Over the last year the branch has also hosted several book launches, including ‘Strelitzias of the World’ by Himansu Baijnath and Patricia McCracken and ‘Sand Forest of Maputaland’ by Francois Du Randt.

Top: Margaret Kahle (Outgoing Branch Treasurer). Above: Bob Von Witt (Outgoing Branch Committee member).

On the 4-5th May the Kirstenbosch Plant Fair was relaunched. This was a tremendous success with the community of Cape Town and beyond turning out to enjoy the event. The branch committee, staff and volunteers are thanked for their hard work, without which it wouldn’t have been possible. Next year’s Kirstenbosch Plant Fair will take place on the 4-5thApril 2020.

Above: Tony Rebelo and Adam Harrower advise customers on their plant purchases at the 2019 Kirstenbosch Plant Fair.

On the 10th November 2018, Margaret Kahle and Keith Kirsten attended the national branch convention at Walter Sisulu NBG and on 18th May 2019 current Vice Chair Cathy Jenkins attended a Western Cape regional branch convention. These meetings are an important opportunity to network with members of other branches and receive updates on council and head officer matters.

The Kirstenbosch Branch has recently sponsored a six month internship for plant recording and labelling at Kirstenbosch NBG. The branch is also currently in discussion with Karoo Desert NBG to fund a similar internship there. Although still in progress, SANBI have agreed for the branch to proceed with preliminary research and terms and conditions for solar energy at Kirstenbosch NBG and the SANBI Head Office at Pretoria NBG. This will be a joint project with BotSoc national and spearheaded by the Kirstenbosch Branch under the new collaboration agreement with SANBI.

Above: Kirstenbosch branch committee 2018-19 with branch staff.

The branch is currently liaising with BotSoc national to implement a smooth transition for the Kirstenbosch bookshops back to the branch. Greg Donnelly has been appointed as the new bookshop manager and will start on the job on the 1stAugust. There are a number of new publications that will be brought to you. This will include the revised and updated ‘Wild Flowers of the Cape Peninsula’, ‘Cultures, Cures and Curiosities: Plant lore and legends of the Eastern Cape’ by Tony Dold and Susan Abrahams, SANBI’s Vol 1-3 ‘Flora of the Eastern Cape’ and ‘Flowering Plants of Southern Africa’ Vol 66.

Dee Rees, Marylin Wilford, Dayne De Wet and Mo Dalwai will be working hard alongside other volunteers to make a difference in areas of need in the Western Cape such as Edith Stephens Wetland Park in collaboration with Cape Town Environmental Education Trust, the University of the Western Cape and others. The branch calls upon members who enjoy working with children to help develop the branch’s youth project. For those who are interested in participating please contact the branch office for more information.

Above: Kirstenbosch branch committee and branch staff with newly elected 2019 committee members.

There will be several key member events coming up over the next 12 months so please keep an eye out for upcoming announcements. These include a lecture and book launch of the upcoming publication ‘Cradle of Life’ by Vincent Carruthers to be held in the Old Mutual Conference Hall at Kirstenbosch NBG on the 9th October at 4pm. Over Jan-Mar 2020 the branch will be hosting a botanical art exhibition of the work of Lady Cynthia Tait in the Richard Crowie Hall.

Above: Incoming Kirstenbosch branch committee with branch and national staff.

The Treasurer’s Report was presented by outgoing Treasurer Margaret Kahle who is thanked for her hard work over the last few years. Annual Financial Statements from 2018 and 2019 were presented and accepted.  Copies of these documents are available on the branch website. The BotSoc Auditor Annelie Lucas and Finance Manager Crystal Beukes were thanked for their friendly cooperation.

The meeting ended with refreshments and teas, concluding a fabulous event that truly did justice to the hard work and exciting initiatives undertaken over the last year as well as what is to come.

South Africa’s plant extinction crisis: What can we do?

All life on earth depends on plants. They feed us, they clothe us and more than 40% of our medicines are derived from them. Plants can modify weather systems, count and even communicate with each other. There are currently around 369,000 vascular plant species known to science, with around 2000 new plant species being described each year. However, 21% or 1 in 5 plant species is currently threatened with extinction.

Above: One of the last wild populations of Lachenalia viridiflora (CR) growing on a housing plot for sale in its West Coast home.

A recent study published in the journal Nature, Ecology and Evolution by researchers from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Stockholm University found that 571 plant species became extinct over the last 250 years, an extinction rate 500 times higher than would happen without human influence. This crisis if not addressed is something that will have a cascade effect, leading to extinctions of other life forms dependent on those species including animals, birds and pollinating insects.

Top: One of the last populations of Gladiolus jonquilliodorus on the Cape Peninsula. Above: Watsonia humilis (CR) at its last wild home on the Cape Flats, threatened by industrial development, illegal dumping and alien plant invasion.

One of main hotspots for plant extinctions was found to be South Africa’s Western Cape, second only to Hawaii. The Western Cape has lost a total of 37 plant species. However, these are just the plant extinctions that we know about, with the real numbers including lesser known taxa likely far higher.

Above: Haemanthus pumilio (EN), suffering from ongoing habitat loss from transformation for agriculture and wetland drainage.

Far more plant species are also threatened with extinction in the Cape Floristic Region, being pushed towards the brink by habitat loss from urban development, alien plant invasion, transformation for agriculture, overgrazing, water pollution and inappropriate fire regimes.

Top: One of the last Gladiolus aureus (CR) in the wild on the southern Cape Peninsula. Above: Moraea aristata (CR).

One such example is Gladiolus aureus, also known as the Golden Gladiolus. It is Critically Endangered in the wild and likely one of the most threatened species on the Cape Peninsula with less than 10 individuals remaining. Its habitat on the southern Peninsula has become highly degraded due to gravel quarrying and alien plant invasion and material for ex-situ conservation is currently held in only one botanical garden. This beautiful bulb is teetering on the brink. The Critically Endangered Protea odorata is in a similarly perilous state, with only three individuals remaining in the wild and efforts to cultivate it ex-situ having mixed results.


Above: Moraea melanops (EN), endemic to Critically Endangered Overberg Renosterveld and threatened by habitat loss from transformation for agriculture, overgrazing and runoff from agricultural chemicals.

So what can we do to turn the rising tide of losses? First we need to know as much as we can about our threatened species. Where do they grow and what habitats do they prefer? Where do they call home? Our partners at the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers, supported by dedicated citizen science volunteers. Why not get involved? We also need to build capacity in the conservation sector, training the upcoming botanists and conservationists of the future so that they know, can identify and care about our flora.

Above: Restored population of Serruria furcellata (CR) following numbers of this species being reduced to one wild individual.

Once we know where our imperilled species are found, we need to conserve their home and habitats. We all have the power to lobby against inappropriate developments where we live as well as encouraging our local governments to prioritise clearing alien vegetation, both for conservation and for water security. Consider donating to South Africa’s conservation nonprofits who tirelessly work for our biodiversity. There are many local community groups volunteering for conservation action so why not join them? Every conservation action makes a difference.

After the fire: Bettys Bay fynbos five months on

Text and photos by Zoë Poulsen

On New Year’s Eve of this year, in the small Overstand town of Bettys Bay, a boat flare was set off, landing in the fynbos on the mountains above. This was to be the beginning of one of the biggest fires of the 2019 season and the worst in the Overstrand for more than 30 years.

Above: Fynbos above Harold Porter National Botanical Garden two weeks after the Betty’s Bay fire, looking towards Leopards Kloof.

After several days with fire crews from across the Overberg and beyond giving all their worth at the fire line, it was thought that Bettys Bay and nearby Pringle Bay were out of danger. Then the wind picked up. Howling gale force southeaster winds sent the fire barrelling down the mountainside into the heart of Bettys Bay and Harold Porter Botanical Gardens, jumping across the R44 and roaring through the fynbos towards Pringle Bay. Terrified residents were evacuated, houses were ablaze and a life sadly lost. Many lost everything and the community was left reeling. My heart goes out to all those affected.

Above: Blooms of Amaryllis belladonna near Pringle Bay after the Betty’s Bay fire.

South Africa’s fynbos is a fire prone and fire dependent vegetation, making it a tough neighbour to live alongside when the summer fires come. Without fire there would be no fynbos. Many fynbos species are completely reliant on fire to flower, set seed and reproduce. After this tragedy comes new life to the veld, like a phoenix out of the ashes.

Top: Locally endemic Haemanthus canaliculatus flowering after the Betty’s Bay fire. Above: Fire lily (Cyrtanthus ventricosus) in bloom two weeks after the Betty’s Bay fire.

Initially after a fire moves through the landscape the grey ash and blackened stems of fynbos shrubs resemble a lunar landscape. Across the landscape in the first few days the heat from the fire and chemicals from the smoke trigger the opening of seed cones and release of many thousands of seeds. These will form the next generation of Proteaceae.

Above: Red hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria) blooming in wetland at Pringle Bay after the Betty’s Bay fire.

Around ten days after the fire, on southwest facing slopes across the area fire lilies emerged, their blooming triggered by heat and chemicals in the smoke from the fire. Cyrtanthus ventricosus are the only true ‘fire lilies’, rarely seen and often waiting for years for an opportunity to bloom.

Above: The zigzag trail above Harold Porter NBG, looking towards Disa Kloof, with fynbos resprouters and residers growing apace.

As the autumn rains come later in the season, they trigger the emergence of autumn bulbs such as Amaryllis belladonna and rare local endemic Haemanthus canaliculatus, flowering en masse after the fire. By April, the wetlands by the junction to Pringle Bay were ablaze with colour from carpets of red hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria).

Above: King Protea (Protea cynaroides), South Africa’s national flower, resprouting above Harold Porter NBG after the Betty’s Bay fire.

By late May, Harold Porter NBG’s hardworking horticultural team had repaired many of the paths in the garden, granting access to Leopard’s Kloof and the upper contour path through the fynbos leading to Disa Kloof. With some fynbos species re-sprouting and some reseeding after fire moves through the landscape, the once blackened ash-covered slopes are now green, full of new shoots from king proteas (Protea cynaroides) to sundews (Drosera spp.). The tiny delicate white flowers of Crassula capensis, also known as Cape Snowdrops, can be seen blooming in damp areas under rock overhangs.

Above: Sundews (Drosera spp.) and a Restio resprouting after the Betty’s Bay fire.

The hard work to restore Harold Porter NBG fully to its former glory will no doubt continue over the next few months, with much work still to be done. Those affected will never forget the 2019 Bettys Bay fire. Meanwhile as new life comes to the fynbos, visitors to the garden will marvel at the constantly changing new growth emerging from the ashes.

Winter Wonders: Kids enter Kirstenbosch free this winter holiday

From Saturday 15thJune to Monday 8thJuly 2019, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is hosting its Winter Wonders special. Children 17 years and younger get free entrance to Kirstenbosch and the chance to enjoy an exciting kids programme, packed with fun-filled activities at the Moyo Restaurant. These include drumming, arts and crafts, slime making, movies, rides and more.

Above: Soft light over Matthews Rockery at Kirstenbosch on a winters day with stunning views towards Table Mountain.

The Winter Wonders special offers families the chance to explore and experience one of the world’s most spectacular botanical gardens, as well as its plethora of fascinating South African plants.

We highly recommend joining a free 90 minute guided tour, led by our enthusiastic team of BotSoc volunteers. Ask the friendly staff at the info desk by the main entrance for more information. Garden maps are also available there for any visitors keen to make their own way.

Above: The Conservatory at Kirstenbosch showcases arid ecosystem flora from all over Southern Africa.

To begin your adventure, start at the Conservatory, an extraordinary glasshouse that showcases flora from South Africa’s more arid regions. With South Africa’s most southern Baobab or ‘upside down tree’ at its centre, learn how so many succulent treasures have adapted to a harsh life with little water. Discover the weird world of Welwitschias, a plant with a rugby team named after it and also referred to as a ‘living fossil’. They grow in the Namib Desert with almost zero rainfall, living longer than 2000 years.

Above: The Camphor Tree Avenue at Kirstenbosch NBG.

After this head up to the tree canopy walkway, also known as the ‘boomslang’. Visitors are rewarded here on a clear day with stunning views over Table Mountain and the city of Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs towards the Hottentots Holland Mountains. On a cold day sometimes the distant peaks are capped with snow.

As you enter the cycad amphitheatre, tell the kids to be on the lookout for dinosaurs (well, life-sized sculptures of them). They are found among the cycads, one of the most primitive plant groups on earth and likely food of the dinosaurs. Above here is the Protea garden, at this time of year full of long-tailed sugarbirds and iridescent sunbirds visiting the flowers for their food.

Above: Southern Double Collared Sunbird visits Leucospermum oleifolium for pollination in the Protea Garden at Kirstenbosch.

Near Gate 2, you can see some of the healing plants of the useful plants garden, explore with your nose in the fragrance garden and appreciate the beauty of African art in the sculpture garden.

There is so much to see that we recommend that you make a day of it, so pack a picnic or head over to Moyo and feast from their hearty winter menu which offers sumptuous meals such as flambeed kudu fillet, vegan shakshouka and moyo mousse with a twist. A special kids menu is also available, all to be enjoyed next to one of the cosy fireplaces.

For more information for visitors contact Kirstenbosch on 021 799 8783.
For more information about the Winter Wonders kids activity programme at Moyo Kirstenbosch contact them on 021 762 9585.