Conservationists of the future: Renewing the BotSoc – CPUT Partnership

Conservation is nothing without the conservationists. This career can take one from roles as diverse as fundraising and marketing for nonprofits to biodiversity monitoring of threatened species in the field. South Africa, as a megadiverse country, has more work than most to do than most and is a world leader in conservation practice and action. South Africa’s National Strategy for Plant Conservation Target 15 speaks to building capacity in best conserving the country’s flora. The Botanical Society of South Africa has embraced this need and is working hard on its implementation.

Above: Dr Rashieda Toefy and Professor Joseph Kioko speak on the official programme on behalf of CPUT

Last week a new memorandum of agreement was signed between the Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) Nature Conservation National Diploma programme. This marks the continuation of this project for a further three years and serves to build on six years of highly successful collaboration, supporting many promising students as they complete their training to enter the biodiversity sector. They are the conservationists of the future.

Through funding from BotSoc, students undertaking the Nature Conservation National Diploma are funded through the completion of a practical training programme to complement the more theoretical components of the course. This has meant that all students on the National Diploma could complete the practical training component of the course and those from less wealthy backgrounds who could not otherwise afford to participate were not excluded. The training is facilitated by a highly knowledgeable team from the City of Cape Town and uses the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust’s Zeekovlei Camp. The week long practical course encompasses many valuable applied skills of use to students in the workplace. It includes everything from using dart guns for baboon management to alien clearing and GPS mapping.

Above: Students who have completed the programme offer their feedback.

In addition to this, as part of the partnership BotSoc has also facilitated student visits to the SANBI herbarium and Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens. Copies of BotSoc’s Quarterly Journal, Veld and Flora are also made available to the Nature Conservation students at CPUT as well as identification guides for their use on practicals and field trips.

As Professor Joseph Kioko, Programme Director for the course said: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating….”.  So, in this spirit the students attending the event spoke about their experiences participating in the programme and how it benefitted them. BotSoc’s funding of the programme was described by the students as “investing in their future”.  It was said that their participation in the programme and valuable practical experience gained made them far better prepared for entering their first jobs in the conservation field.

Above: (Left to right) Dr Farieda Khan (Head of BotSoc Council) Professor Fatoki (Dean of Science, CPUT) and Zaitoon Rabaney (Executive Director, BotSoc) speak about the programme.

Students also said that the provision of learning resources such as Veld and Flora helped them by providing assistance in completing course assignments, building plant identification skills and cultivating a deep passion and interest for the rich world of conservation. Professor Kioko also commented: “BotSoc is investing in sustainable, tangible partnerships. It does not come better than this…”. All the students who attended wished to thank the BotSoc for the opportunity to participate in the programme.

Above: Staff and students of CPUT and BotSoc following signing the partnership MOU

Following this BotSoc’s Executive Director Zaitoon Rabaney spoke on her thoughts about the importance of and success of the programme. She opened with a quote by Denzel Washington: “At the end of the day, it is not about what you have, or even what you have accomplished. It is about who you have lifted and who you made feel better. It is about giving back”. Zaitoon then goes on to explain: One of the main objectives of the BotSoc is to win the hearts and minds to inspire passion and knowledge about South Africa’s indigenous flora. BotSoc aims to achieve this through people, passion and partnerships. When those three things are there, anything is possible, and the CPUT-BotSoc collaboration stands testament to this.

BotSoc would like to thank the donors who have so generously supported this project. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

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Amazing Agapanthus: The Flower of Love

Written by Zoe Poulsen

Visitors to Kirstenbosch in the last couple of months will not fail to have noticed the spectacular blue and white flowers through the gardens flowering at present. These belong to members of the genus Agapanthus which bring on a stunning summer show for all to see. These gorgeous blue flowers are world renowned and globally cultivated, prized as both a garden plant and cut flower.

 

Above: Agapanthus praecox ‘Purple Delight’

The genus Agapanthus belongs to the family Agapanthaceae. The genus was first described by L’Heretier in 1788. It was initially placed in the Liliaceae family, then moved to Amaryllidaceae. It was then moved to the Alliaceae family alongside the genus Tulbaghia but was later moved back to Amaryllidaceae and then latterly placed in its own family. This is because the compounds responsible for the strong garlic aroma that typifies other members of the Alliaceae family are notably absent from Agapanthus.

The genus name Agapanthus is derived from the Greek words ‘Anthos’ meaning ‘love’ and ‘Anthos’ meaning flower. Members of the genus are also known as the Blue Lily, African Lily or strangely in Europe and America as the Lily of the Nile. In the case of the latter it is likely that this name has its origins in a miscommunication about where the plant material originated from when it was first brought to Europe from South Africa. In Afrikaans they are known as Agapant, in Xhosa they are called isicakathi and in Zulu they are known as ubani.

Above: Agapanthus ineptus subsp. pendulus ‘Graskop’

There are currently around ten different species of Agapanthus recognised and the most commonly cultivated of these is Agapanthus praecox. There are three different subspecies and a plethora of different cultivars and hybrids available in various shades of blue, purple and white of various different sizes. In the wild Agapanthus praecox subsp. praecox is found in the Eastern Cape. Agapanthus praecox subsp. orientalis is also found here but is also distributed further north into Kwa-Zulu Natal. The relatively diminutive Agapanthus praecox subsp. minima is distributed from Knysna to the Eastern Cape. It is relatively easy to grow, tolerating even very poor soils and strong coastal winds.

Plants of Agapanthus praecox are often misidentified as Agapanthus africanus. This species is in fact much smaller and far more difficult to cultivate. It grows on rocky sandstone slopes from the Cape Peninsula eastwards to Swellendam in the eastern Overberg from sea level to 1000m asl where they even experience frost and snow from time to time. It is more commonly known as the Cape Agapanthus or Kleinbloulelie in Afrikaans. Flowers are most commonly deep blue but rare white forms are occasionally seen. They are pollinated by wind, bees and sunbirds. In 2003 a new paper was published lumping Agapanthus walshii with Agapanthus africanus leading to them being recognised as two different subspecies.

Bee visiting Agapanthus praecox at Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens

Despite being poisonous and causing mouth ulcers when ingested, members of the genus have a significant variety of different medicinal uses. It is considered to be the plant of fertility and pregnancy. In Xhosa culture a necklace of the roots is worn as a charm to bring healthy, strong babies into the world. Zulu people use the plant in the treatment of heart disease, coughs, colds and chest pain. It is also used to ward off thunder by those scared of thunderstorms. It is also sometimes used as a love charm.

So come visit us at Kirstenbosch and see the stunning blooms of the ‘Flower of Love’. Membership of the Botanical Society of South Africa gives you free unlimited entrance to all our national botanic gardens. So why not sign up or gift a membership to a friend or loved one? We look forward to welcoming you.

Grewia-licious – Indigenous edible shrubs for your garden

by Life Green Group and BotSoc

These six Grewia species of South Africa are not only a must have for a bird garden, attracting numerous fruit-eating birds, the fruits they produce are also edible to humans. In traditional cultures the fruit of certain Grewia species are used to brew alcohol and eaten as a sweet treat.

All Grewia species are incredibly resilient and easy to grow and a must have for any South African garden with their attractive yellow or purple blooms. The genus Grewia was named after English physician Nehemiah Grew and forms part of the Malvaceae family.

Purple flowering Grewia species

Crossberry (Grewia occidentalis)

The Crossberry has a very wide distribution range and is found throughout South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is the tallest species of Grewia, reaching six to ten metres in height under ideal conditions. In cultivation it requires pruning to stay neat and tree-like. This species is a rewarding shrub that produces beautiful purple blossoms for most of the year.

The fruits are consumed by Bulbuls, Barbets, Mousebirds and other fruit-loving birds. The fruit is also used to ferment beer and when dried and added to milk it makes for an excellent milk sweetener. In Zulu culture the wood of the Crossberry is used to make Assegai spears.

Read more about other indigenous purple flowering trees that make a great addition to your garden by clicking here.

Karoo Crossberry (Grewia robusta)

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Grewia robusta

Like the Crossberry the Karoo Crossberry also has wonderful purple blossoms and flowers from August to December. Grewia robusta is frost resistant and adaptable to most soil types. It is however best to grow them in moist clay and loamy soils and partially shady areas.

Grewia robusta makes a good screen plant and makes a great addition to any bird-friendly garden. Its plum-like fruits have a slightly acidic flavour but are pleasant to eat, both cooked and raw.

Yellow flowering Grewia species

Brandybush (Grewia flava)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/berniedup/11422947756/in/photolist-ippA2T-ipprsE-ippAp7/
Grewia flava ©Bernard Dupont

The Brandybush gets its name because its fruit can be distilled into a type of brandy or beer. This is the smallest of the South African Grewia species. It does not have an aggressive root system making it a good garden specimen. In North West Province, Northern Cape and Limpopo wild animals rely on it for food. It has grey leaves that contrast with its bright yellow flowers and spreads readily.

White raisin (Grewia bicolor)

The White Raisin is a frost-hardy shrub that reaches nine metres in height. It can grow in most soils and is a water-wise choice. This species epithet ‘bicolor‘ refers to its bicolour leaves which are lighter on the bottom and darker on the top. The canary yellow flowers of the White Raisin are smaller than the rest of the Grewia species.  It flowers from October to March.

Sandpaper raisin (Grewia flavescens)

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Grewia flavescens

The Sandpaper Raisin has sweetly perfumed, bumblebee yellow flowers.  It is tough and adaptable, relying on wild animals for germination.  It can handle all types of soil and like the Giant Raisin, prefers a more temperate environment. It is multi-stemmed and makes for a wonderful screening plant.

In Namibia the fruit is soaked in water to make a refreshing drink. It is also an essential bird garden plant for attracting frugivorous birds.  For more information on how to attract fruit-eating birds to the garden click here.

Giant raisin (Grewia hexamita

The Giant Raisin occurs on the Kwa-Natal coast and has the largest flowers of the Grewia family.  It grows to about five metres in height. This shrub is one of the most attractive Grewia species because of its large bright yellow flowers, rounded bushy crown and dark glossy leaves. Like all of the Grewia species the fruits can be fermented into moonshine. Birds and butterflies are attracted to its large scented flowers. It flowers all year round, especially in summer. The Giant Raisin grows best and is more suited to a tropical environment with good rainfall such as Kwa-Zulu Natal. It is not easy to predict germination of seeds for this particular species, but once the seeds germinate, the plants take around three years to produce their first fruit.

Why not go ahead and plant your own Grewia species to enhance your green space?

Happy Gardening to all out readers!

 

Treasure chests & libraries of plants: Learn about herbaria

Written by Catherine Clulow and Thaakira Samodien

Herbaria are treasure chests of knowledge and a priceless resource often not acknowledged or understood. Much scientific research relies on herbarium collections. These collections aid plant identifications and are the keys to opening doors of understanding for studies of vegetation change and plant diversity, unpacking lineages, ecology, morphologies and so much more. Working in herbaria may not be everyone’s cup of tea but these vaults of plant specimens and other collection gems are highly valuable. The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) wish to highlight this and acknowledge the great value that herbaria have to offer.

What is a herbarium?

Did you know that plants and books have something in common? A Library! A library for plants is called a herbarium. A herbarium is like a warehouse or library of information about plant biodiversity. Preserved plants are stored, catalogued and systematically arranged by professionals and amateurs from different walks of life. Herbaria are of immense practical use and are of fundamental importance to science.

Preserved collections and information about these specimens, including description, where it is found, its uses, when they flower and more, facilitate current and future generations to identify plants and study biodiversity, to support conservation, ecology and sustainable development.

What is in a collection?

A large variety of plant specimens and information about them is found in any herbarium. For a list of herbaria around the world, with the scope and size of their collections see this link.

What is collected?

A specimen may be a whole plant or parts of a plant. This includes samples of leaves, stem, bark, flowers and/or fruits. Exactly what is collected is dependent on the plant. Specimens may also include photographs and DNA samples. Many specimens are donated. Others are exchanged or targeted collections.

What are herbaria used for?

Common research that may use herbarium collections include:

  • Mapping current and past ecological and geographic distributions of plants to help with landcare and bioprospecting;
  • Learning more about the evolutionary history of plants;
  • Documenting the existing and changing nature of plant communities and their associated habitats;
  • Invasion biology and weed ecology;
  • Molecular phylogenetics;
  • Classification and naming of plants (Also known as plant taxonomy).

BotSoc’s strategic partner, The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has 3 herbaria (PRE, NBG and NH) staffed by scientists and technicians who continuously maintain and expand the collections, to undertake research on various plant groups and to provide a number of services to a wide range of national and international clients. These services and products include: Plant identifications, specimen exchanges and loans, providing botanical information,  producing regional floras, plant checklists, undertaking taxonomic revisions and writing and maintaining  various E-floras.

A short introduction to South Africa’s main herbaria

1. The National Herbarium:

The Pretoria National Botanical Garden is the home of The National Herbarium (PRE). It was founded in 1903 by Joseph Burtt Davy. The current collection stands at approximately 1.2 million specimens, mostly from Southern Africa, but also encompasses the rest of the African continent and surrounding islands. As well as this it also includes small collections from outside of Africa. This is the second largest herbarium in the southern hemisphere. Email

2. The Compton Herbarium:

The Compton Herbarium (NBG) is situated in the Kirstenbosch Research Centre at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town. It was founded in 1937 by Prof. RH Compton. The Compton Herbarium is the second largest herbarium in Southern Africa, leading exploration of the diversity of the Greater Cape Floristic Region flora. It houses approximately 750,000 specimens and mainly covers the winter rainfall region of Southern Africa.  It also houses many valuable specimens from the South African Museum (SAM) collection. Email

3. The KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium:

The KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium (NH) is located adjacent to the Durban Botanical Gardens, in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. It was founded in 1882 by John Medley Wood. This herbarium collection encompasses the KZN region’s rich plant diversity of over 7000 species. It houses about 140,000 specimens, mainly from KZN and the IUCN-recognised centres of plant diversity, namely the Maputaland, Pondoland and Drakensberg centres of plant diversity. Email

4. The Bolus Herbarium

Another famous herbarium is the Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town. Established in 1865, the Bolus herbarium is the oldest functional herbarium in South Africa. With over 350,000 specimens, it is the 3rd largest herbarium in South Africa and the 3rd largest university herbarium in the Southern Hemisphere. As part of an academic institution, its primary function is to aid teaching and research about the diversity of Southern African flora, particularly of the Cape Floristic Region. The collection is recognised for its superb representation of Cape Flora and large number of type specimens housed.

The process . . . from the field to the herbarium

Simple steps:

Step 1: Visits to the field to collect specimens

Step 2: Back in the lab/herbarium, pressing and drying the specimens (keeping them in the fridge until ready to mount).

Step 3: Identifying and labelling of specimens

Step 4: Capturing all information into the electronic database

Step 5: Mounting specimens on herbarium sheets

Step 6: Filing specimens into the herbarium

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The Compton Herbarium, Kirstenbosch ©T. Samodien

Significance of herbaria in a nutshell

  • The Herbarium holds historical records of plants which have been archived for many years.
  • Herbarium information allows one to work out distribution and localities of species from past to present which is vital for conservation.
  • Herbaria facilitate taxonomic reviews.
  • They hold all the records of flora that has been collected in South Africa over the years which is important in assessing how the flora has changed from the past to the present and it also allows taxonomists to identify and name new species.
  • A Herbarium also provides a home for many different types of studies (taxonomy, botany etc.).
  • Herbaria provide a valuable source of information for the Red List Database which is accessible for anyone to view and which is highly important when it comes to conservation planning for threatened species.
  • The specimen collections provide data about the species’ morphology while the label offers taxonomic and locality data.

Herbaria are highly important when it comes to botanical studies and therefore the Botanical Society of South Africa supports the work and research that occurs within South Africa’s herbaria.

For more information:

  • To read an overview about SANBI’s biosystematics and collections, click here.
  • The Herbarium Catalogue, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet http://www.kew.org/herbcat [accessed on 01 December 2016].

Do you realise just how special our backyard really is? Facts about The Cape Floral Kingdom

Written by Catherine Clulow

All too often we take for granted what’s right under our noses. Today we share some facts to remind us just how special our backyard really is. The facts shared in this blog are from SANBI Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, a wonder to visit to enjoy our amazing biodiversity and natural heritage.

So what is a Floral Kingdom? Floral Kingdoms are the largest natural units for flowering plants. Regions that share the same combination of plant families form part of the same floral kingdom. There are six Floral Kingdoms in the world: Holarctic, Neotropical, Palaeotropical, Australian, Cape and Antarctic.

What is so special about the Cape Floral Kingdom?

  • It is the smallest of all the Floral Kingdoms.
  • It is the only Floral Kingdom to fall completely inside the borders of a single country.
  • It occupies about 90,000 square kilometres: Only 0.04% of the surface area of the Earth.
  • It contains nearly 9,000 species of flowering plants: About 3% of Earth’s species.
  • Two out of three species in the Cape Floral Kingdom are endemic to this area, meaning they occur nowhere else on Earth. This is the highest level of endemism in the world.
  • The Cape Floral Kingdom is a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to its unparalleled ecological diversity.

The Fynbos Biome is a part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Fynbos is one of its main vegetation types.

What’s so fine about Fynbos?

  • Fynbos is the vegetation that is found growing naturally on the mountains and lowlands of South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom and is unique to the area.
  • The name comes from the Dutch ‘fijn’ and ‘bosch’ meaning fine bush, referring to the very small leaves and flowers of many of the species.
  • Fynbos constitutes 80% of the vegetation of the Cape Floristic Region/ Cape Floral Kingdom.
  • Fynbos is characterised by the presence of three main plant families: Restios, Proteas and Ericas, as well as seven other plant families that only occur in fynbos.
  • It’s amazingly diverse, and exceptionally rich in species, and occupies a relatively tiny area of land of similar size to Portugal and Malawi.
  • Over 7000 species occur in 41 000 km2, and 80% of them occur nowhere else on Earth.
  • The Cape Peninsula alone has 2 600 species, more than the total number of species in the British Isles, in an area smaller than London.
  • Comparing species diversity with other heathland communities in Australia and California, and with the rest of South Africa:

Cape Floristic Region/Cape Floral Kingdom: 94 species per 100 km2

Australia: 14 species per 100 km2

California: 12 species per 100 km2

The rest of South Africa: 8 species per 100 km2

Marvel in the Cape Floristic splendour, how can you not? Appreciate and safeguard our amazing biodiversity. We live in a truly special place and need to remember that and remind each other from time to time.

King Protea (Catherine Browne, Botanical Society of SA)
©Catherine Clulow

The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) is an NGO focusing on biodiversity conservation and awareness and environmental education and for over 103 years has been working with passionate partners and people to conserve the natural heritage and flora of Southern Africa. BotSoc’s mission is “ To win the hearts, minds, and material support of individuals and organisations, wherever they may be, for the conservation, cultivation, study and wise use of the indigenous flora and vegetation of southern Africa, for the benefit and sharing by all”. Find out more about BotSoc here and consider joining the BotSoc family.

Go out and learn about, appreciate and enjoy The Cape Floral Kingdom and be proud of it!

Greening the future: Notes on a successful partnership between BotSoc & CPUT

Written by Joseph Kioko and Catherine Clulow

The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) signed a memorandum of agreement in 2014. Heading into the third year of this three year contract, the success stories are encouraging and the partnership will be continued for another three years. The purpose of this partnership was a pilot study for the BotSoc to support a tertiary educational institution and in particular their nature conservation students.

Students taking the National Diploma in Nature Conservation at CPUT undergo highly valuable hands-on training, thanks to funding from BotSoc. The training was facilitated by a highly knowledgeable team led by the City of Cape Town and held at the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust’s (CTEET) Zeekoevlei camp.

The one-week training camp is part of the curriculum of CPUT’s Nature Conservation Diploma, and is designed to integrate what the students have learnt in lectures and practicals with applied skills needed for work. By their nature, these skills can best be taught in situ, in a conservation setting and by professionals working in the conservation sector.

Skills taught are many and varied, including: Setting up and manning night observation points in a Nature Reserve, using dart guns for baboon management, operation of chain-saws and bush-cutters, the use of Sherman traps for small animal surveys, fixed-point photography for vegetation surveys, the use of field guides for the identification of flora and fauna, park maintenance, park management, alien clearing, GPS mapping, and the use of biodiversity databases, among other technical skills.

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Image supplied by CPUT

Students also learnt and practiced ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork, leadership and communication by taking turns to act as supervisors or team members while undertaking specific tasks. This was combined with workshops about time management and reserve management, also given by expert practising conservationists from the City of Cape Town.

Although this camp has been run by CPUT for a number of years, the camp in 2015 represented a new beginning and was different from all previous camps. For the first time, the students did not have to pay for the camp from their own pockets, the 2015 and 2016 camps were fully funded by BotSoc, including transport, food and training expenses. Therefore for the first time students who did not have the means could fully participate.

Previously, those students who could not afford the camp were disadvantaged even further by missing the training. Some students could afford only the transport costs but had no funds for sufficient nourishment and water during the training camp. The feedback from students highlighted that the provision of food saved time that would have been lost when all students had to prepare their own meals, and so there was more time for conservation activities.

The provision of meals also provided a good opportunity for students from all backgrounds to socialise, learn from each other, and sow the seeds for fruitful collaboration as professionals. Therefore the full sponsorship of the camp by BotSoc was a key component in enabling the success of students who would otherwise have been marginalised, and is a tangible contribution towards the inclusion of young people from diverse backgrounds in entering the conservation profession.

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Image supplied by CPUT

Students have expressed their great appreciation of the training received and were full of praise for the facilitators, and singled out experts and field rangers from the City of Cape Town as well as the CTEET staff for the quality of nourishment provided.

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Image supplied by CPUT

According to Prof. Kioko, the success of the field training camp is the result of highly effective collaboration with organisations such as the City of Cape Town, CTEET, and BotSoc, and is very grateful to those organisations. He added that it is BotSoc that provided the ‘glue’ for the collaboration that delivered the successful 2015 and 2016 camps by providing the funding. The collaboration between BotSoc and CPUT is making a real difference in training the conservationists of the future.

Another activity supported through collaborations is that the first and second year students visit Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens annually. BotSoc facilitates entry and information guides to assist learning through another great partnership with SANBI. You can read more about the BotSoc- SANBI partnership here. This year, the students attended an outing to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the Compton Herbarium, where they were shown and taught about specimen preservation and research with Christopher Cupido at the Compton Herbarium.

Following this they enjoyed using the gardens as their outdoor classroom for the day. Welcomed by BotSoc Executive Assistant, Catherine Clulow and told about the BotSoc/ SANBI partnership, students were then led by SANBI’s Julia September on an in depth tour of the gardens to highlight conservation in situ and ex situ. The group were treated to behind the scenes visits to areas of conservation management and research within the gardens and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

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CPUT nature conservation students visit Kirstenbosch 2016. © Catherine Clulow

BotSoc provides CPUT with resources used in broadening student’s knowledge and interest in biodiversity, and Veld & Flora magazines are used for discussion topics and passion sharing. Students return the ‘favour’ so to speak, in promoting the Society during their WIL internships, when they give presentations about BotSoc to their host institutions, thereby spreading the word about the Society.

It is inspiring to see the determination and spirit of the next generation and we wish all who are influenced by this partnership, to be inspired and develop ever- growing passion to remain interested and working in the environmental sector, greening the future.

Acknowledgement: We would like to thank the BotSoc members who so generously donate funds for this project.

An Introduction to Aloes of Limpopo

Written by Sandra Lennox and Catherine Clulow

With water restrictions underway in South Africa, there is a far stronger need to encourage water-wise gardening and promote indigenous plants. Today we are talking about the rich variety of different Aloe species found in Limpopo Province. These unique and beautiful plants are hardy, drought tolerant and water-wise.

1. Aloe lettyae

This is a grass aloe, easily recognised by spots visible on both the upper and lower leaf surfaces. Plant population dynamics and conservation of this species are currently being studied thanks to funding from the Botanical Education Trust.

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Aloe lettyae endemic to the critically endangered Woodbush Granite Grassland. Leaves are spotted on both the upper (adaxial) and lower (abaxial) surface. © Pat Lennox

This rare summer-flowering Aloe grows amongst the spring flowers of the Woodbush Granite Grassland and may be seen while on one of the hour long wild-flower walks during the annual mid-September Spring Festival, led by the Friends of Haenertsburg Grasslands (FRoHG). The rare Aloe plants were photographed one cloudy and cool day, while accompanied by eco-enthusiasts from nearby towns as well as the dog Pluto, who watched closely.

The land had been burnt and several plants were in flower, belying the fact that there had been little rain. This shows that underground storage organs such as bulbs and tubers are an important part of the survival of these grassland species, hence clearing land for example for firebreaks irreparably destroys the integrity of the flora. The grasslands have established over a long period of time.

Coincidentally meanwhile the CITES convention had started in Gauteng, to discuss the preservation of endangered species such as elephant, pangolin and rhino. While scientists and policy makers talked, there are those who walked, appreciating the priceless value of the grassland wildflowers. Rare and endangered plants with medicinal value have been listed for the Woodbush Granite Grasslands (Dzerefos et al. 2016).

2. Aloe greatheadii var. greatheadii

This is the spotted aloe with spots on the upper leaf surfaces. This species is relatively commonly and is an important plant for bees as the pollen has a high protein and lipid nutritional content.

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Aloe greatheadii var greatheadii in flower on a granite ridge near Houtbosdorp and Moketsi, Limpopo. The leaves are spotted on the upper surfaces. © Pat Lennox

The spotted aloe, or kgopane (Setswana) produces its spectacular flowers in the winter months (June-July). The plants are stemless, occurring singularly or in groups of up to 15 plants, up to 1.7 m high. The dark, shiny green leaves present with spotted, elongated markings arranged in bands on the upper (adaxial) surface, while the leaves are light green and  not spotted underneath (abaxial surface). The one to three inflorescences are branched. Each raceme presents 30-40 pale pink to bright red flowers. Aloe greatheadii var. greatheadii is pollinated by bees and birds. Wind distributes the seeds.

This species occurs in the Grassland and Bushveld Biomes, in open woodland and in overgrazed areas, at altitude from 1,000 to 1,660 m. It is distributed throughout the Free State and northern KwaZulu-Natal. Aloe greatheadii is named after Dr. J.B. Greathead who collected the type specimen with Dr S. Schönland. The bitter sap is medicinal and is used as a treatment for burns, sores and wounds. The young leaves are chopped and boiled for use as an antiseptic.

In the garden, seeds of this species can be germinated in a mix of sand, compost and river sand. Cover with pebbles. Keep in a dry and warm environment. Avoid drying out the growth mixture. Plants are frost and fire tolerant and are used as soil binders on mine dumps.

3. Aloe marlothii

This is a very large, single stemmed Aloe often seen in large stands along the road between Polokwane and Tzaneen, interestingly this is unusual as explained later.

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Aloe marlothii in the Mamabolo Bushveld near Moketsi, Limpopo. © Pat Lennox

The large, single stemmed Aloe marlothii occurs in bushveld vegetation on rocky ridges from sea level to approximately 1,600 m at warm temperatures with infrequent frost. It is commonly known as the Mountain Aloe, Bergalwyn (Afrikaans), inhlaba or umhlaba (Zulu), Aloe marlothii is distributed from the north-western, northern and north-eastern part of Southern Africa and is rewarding to cultivate.

Aloe (Greek) refers to the product of dried juice from the leaves, Alloeh (Sanskrit) and Allal (Hebrew).  The species epithet refers to the botanist H.W. Rudolf Marloth. These Aloes are associated with the African iron age archaeological sites on the Polokwane (formerly  Pietersberg) plateau where the distribution is an anomaly in terms of climate and ecology. The dense stands consist of 80 to 100 year old plants.

It is thought that plants were introduced as seeds near the Ndebele villages as the spiny leaves were used to prepare hides for dresses, dried leaf ash may be added to snuff, the flower nectar is edible and leaf decoctions may be used as a vermifuge. The succulent Aloe marlothii plants are suited to drought conditions, as water is stored in stems and leaves, though kudu browse the leaves during dry conditions, thorns protect the rough leaf edges from browsing, dried leaf bases defend the stems and the plant height enables escape from browsers while surviving drought.

4. Aloe arborescens

This is the most commonly cultivated of the Southern African Aloes. The Aloe leaf gel can be used to heal sunburn.

aloe-arborescens_kransaalwyn
Aloe arborescens © Callidendron nursery

This species is commonly known as the Kranzaloe (Engl.), Kranzalwyn (Afr.), ikalene (Xhosa), inhabane or umlabana (Zulu).  It occurs on cliffs in mountainous regions, rocky ranges and outcrops and in dense bush. It occurs in summer rainfall regions and has the widest distribution of the Southern African Aloes, from the Cape to the eastern coast, KZN and northern South Africa, from sea level to higher altitudes.

The cliff dwelling form was formerly known as Aloe mirabilis. Aloe arborescens tolerates drought and it is moderately frost resistant. This is one of the most widely cultivated Aloes in the world. It is one of the first Aloes collected for cultivation from South Africa. The inflorescences are unbranched and flowers emerge during winter (May to July). These are commonly orange, rarely pure yellow or a combination of orange and yellow. The nectar is edible to birds such as sunbirds as well as bees.

Aloe arborescens is recommended as a key component of herb gardens. A leaf decoction may be used as an antiseptic and for indigestion and it has also been used in stock and poultry farming. The leaf powder is considered to have protective properties against storms. Aloe arborescens are useful barrier plants and as a hedge. In rural areas, remnants indicate fenced enclosures or cattle kraals.

In conclusion

Aloe lettyae highlights the conservation value of the grasslands. Aloe greatheadii is present as a spotted, grass aloe. Aloe marlothii has been introduced for its economic value. Aloe arborescens is widely cultivated and an early subject for gardens having been collected from the wild. All Aloes are water-wise their flowers bring colour to the garden.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This article was written with assistance from the Friends of Haenertsburg Grasslands, FRoHG and the Tzaneen Eco-club with inspiration from Gariep nursery, Pretoria which specializes in the cultivation of Aloe. The photos were taken by Pat Lennox.

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