Chelsea in the Lowveld

The BotSoc Lowveld Branch would like to extend their thanks to all those branch volunteers who assisted with the building and opening of the ‘Chelsea in the Lowveld’ exhibit at Lowveld National Botanical Gardens. From the 22 to 30 June the exhibit was on display at the gardens.

Every year delegates from SANBI travel to London, UK to exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show, one of the UK’s most prestigious flower shows. The Chelsea Flower Show, founded in 1913, is held each May in the grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital. Once again the SANBI team won gold this year for their exhibit.

The Chelsea exhibit was designed by Leon Kluge, former Lowvelder and son of previous garden Curator Johann Kluge. He was lucky enough to grow up with Lowveld NBG as his backyard. It therefore seems only appropriate to bring Chelsea Flower Show to the Lowveld.

The finished ‘Chelsea in the Lowveld’ exhibit covered 18 square metres with the original Chelsea exhibit covering 135 square metres. Kluge presented during the exhibition to BotSoc members and the local garden club on the trials and tribulations of building the main exhibit in London.


Toni touches base with the Southern Cape

Written by Jo-Anne King. Photos by Jo-Anne King, Antonia Xaba and Joao De Barros.

On Monday, representatives of the Outramps CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) and BotSoc Garden Route Branch were very excited to host BotSoc General Manager Antonia Xaba and show her a prime example of Southern Cape flora.

Above: Sandra Falanga, Jo-Anne King, Jenny Potgeiter, Antonia Xaba, Di Turner and Pauline Cloete enjoy the Cape Dune Molerat Trail, Wilderness, Garden Route. Photo: Joao De Barros.

The Cape Dune Molerat Trail in Wilderness was selected by Di Turner, Outramps CREW team leader, as it provided both high diversity in flowers and a vigorous bit of exercise in a short time frame. Anyone who knows this CREW group knows that the hustle up the path is also very important!

Top: Gladiolus rogersii in bloom was outstanding all along the trail. Photo: Antonia Xaba. Above: Garden Route Branch Treasurer Pauline Cloete and Chair Jo-Anne King (kneeling) stop to photograph a wild Freesia. Photo: Antonia Xaba.

Buchus on show included Agathosma ovata (False Buchu) and Agathosma apiculata (Garlic Buchu), with beautiful bulbs Freesia leichtlinii subsp. alba (White Freesia) and Gladiolus rogersii (Riversdale Bluebell) peppering the entire walk.

Top: The fluffy flowers of Tarchonanthus littoralis. Photo: Antonia Xaba. Above: Hyobanche are endemic to South Africa. Photo: Jo-Anne King.

Whether over the fairylike white bells of Erica formosa, the satin sheen of Struthiola ciliata (Rope Capespray), or the fluffy tufts of Tarchonanthus littoralis (Coastal Camphor Tree) in flower, the members of Outramps CREW never fail to observe and praise the wildflowers they find, diligently photographing the delicate petals for iNaturalist/SANBI. Much excitement was raised by the sight of a neon orange, silky haired Hyobanche, an unusual parasitic plant endemic to South Africa.

Above: Outramps CREW love finding rare plants such as this parasitic Hyobanche. Photo: Antonia Xaba.

Many thanks to Di Turner for faithfully organising every week’s successful Outramps CREW outing – and to the whole group for spreading the love of indigenous wildflowers among the youth of the Garden Route.


Above: The formidable Di Turner takes a break under Erica sessiliflora. Photo: Antonia Xaba.

Erica verticillata: Rewilding an iconic species on Rondebosch Common

Written by Zoë Poulsen and Alex Lansdowne. Photos: Zoë Poulsen

The story of Erica verticillata is one of the most iconic tales from the world of plant conservation. Hailed as one of the most successful examples of a species brought back from the brink by botanic gardens’ conservation programmes, it is written about on interpretation boards as far away as the Temperate House at Kew Gardens in London, UK. This beautiful Erica has become a flagship species for biodiversity conservation, brought back from the brink thanks to ex-situ cultivation.

Erica verticillata, also known as the Whorled Heath, was once found on Cape Town’s Cape Flats between the Black River in the north and Tokai in the south. It was found in wetlands in Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, a vegetation type only found in the greater Cape Town area of which just 10% remains. Erica verticillata was extensively harvested for cut flower markets during the 1700 – 1800s. Transformation for agriculture contributed to initial habitat loss, followed by the development of Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs. By the early 1900s Erica verticillata became extinct in the wild and was thought to have been lost forever.

All was not lost however thanks to conservation efforts from botanic gardens. Erica verticillata was first rediscovered growing in a park in Pretoria in 1989 and later other forms were found in other botanic gardens including Kew Gardens and Tresco Abbey Gardens on the Isles of Scilly in the UK. A lone plant was also later identified growing near the braille trail at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden by garden foreman Adonis Adonis.

Now there are a total of eight different clones of this species in cultivation, gathered from historical collections from botanical gardens around the world by Kirstenbosch Erica specialist Anthony Hitchcock. These clones have since been used in reintroduction projects in remaining fragments of habitat at Kenilworth Racecourse, Rondevlei and Tokai Park.

Rondebosch Common lies at the heart of Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs and is one of the largest remnants of Cape Flats Sand Fynbos habitat surviving in the City. Volunteer conservation group Friends of Rondebosch Common have been community custodians of Rondebosch Common for more than twenty years, working in partnership with the municipality and other key role players.

Following development of a five-year Restoration Plan, 2019 is the first year of the Rondebosch Common Restoration Project, undertaken in partnership with the City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity and Parks Departments and the Kirstenbosch NBG Conservation Programme. The vision is to actively restore 10% of the degraded habitat on Rondebosch Common, improving its conservation value, habitat structure and biodiversity. This work will include the conservation of many highly threatened plant species through reintroduction and continued alien invasive plant clearing.

This winter the Friends of Rondebosch Common and partners from Kirstenbosch and the City reintroduced the extinct in the wild Erica verticillata to the Rondebosch Common Conservation Area. A hundred individuals of the Whorled Heath were planted in various marginal wetland areas. Five clones were planted in twenty test transects. The data gathered from monitoring these plants will allow us to understand which niche habitats Erica verticillata prefers. This will inform the mass planting planned for 2020.

The reintroduction of Erica verticillata is an exciting step in the conservation of Rondebosch Common and Cape Flats Sand Fynbos habitat. We would like to welcome this beautiful Erica home again.

If you would like to join and support the Friends of Rondebosch Common, please get in touch with them at You can follow the work of the Rondebosch Common Restoration Project on Facebook: @RondeboschCommonRestoration or on Instagram: @RondeboschCommonFriends.

Resident Mammals of Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden

By Alice Aubrey & Tony De Castro

Our mammals have become our least seen animals in the Walter Sisulu garden as they tend to shy away from people. There are some which are not resident, and have simply been passing through, like the Vervet Monkeys and Chacma Baboons. One of the reasons for our ‘bin free garden’ policy is that some of these mammals become habituated to the easy pickings from rubbish bins and can become a nuisance, putting both animals and humans in danger.

Above: Mountain Reedbuck. Photo: Ernest Porter.

Our largest mammals are the graceful Mountain Reedbuck, and the Garden Nature Reserve conserves an important natural population of this endangered species. Rams have distinctive forward pointing horns and both sexes have white tails which are fluffed up when they are spooked. They are grazers feeding on grass and though shy and nocturnal, they may be occasionally seen in the early morning. These antelope breed in the Walter Sisulu Garden and the ewes give birth to their lambs in isolation. The lamb hides itself and the female visits the lamb only once or twice a day to suckle and clean it. Once the female leaves, the lamb moves to a different hiding place. This ‘hiding game’ can continue for two to three months after which the lamb can keep up with the herd and will move with the mother to graze.

Above: Elephant Shew. Photo supplied by Bertus Uys.

The smallest mammals in the garden are the Cape Serotine Bat and Rusty Pipistrelle Bat. They only weigh a few grams but are some of our best pest control secret agents. There is a Cape serotine roost of which we are aware, in the thatch of the main entrance building. These little creatures are highly intelligent and remain loyal to their roosts. They will fly home even hundreds of kilometres away if removed. Bats can electively go into torpor where their body temperature reduces and metabolism slows down when the temperature drops and insect numbers are reduced. The origin of the name ‘bat’ is derived from Old Norse ‘leorblaka’ meaning ‘leather flapper’.

Above: Scrub Hare. Photo: Tony De Castro.

The Honey Badger is one of our newest records, thanks to camera traps placed by volunteers on the ridge. These animals have a reputation for tenacity and intelligence. Despite their name, they feed on mostly invertebrates, reptiles, small mammals and have been known to scavenge on predator kills. They are capable of protecting themselves very well with their lithe bodies, powerful bite and the production of a foul-smelling odour if threatened. The most charming of all our little ‘furries’ is the Rock Elephant Shrew, also known as the Sengi. Hikers may sometimes catch a glimpse of what looks like a furry brownish tennis ball bouncing away through the rocks. Baby Elephant Shrews are literally born running and fully furred, keeping up with mum on the patrols of their territorial pathways.

Above: Honey Badger. Photo supplied by Bertus Uys.

The Scrub Hare and the Jameson’s Rock Rabbit are seldom seen but both are abundant in the garden and surrounding ridge. They are important prey animals for predators such as Black-Backed Jackal, Caracal and our Iconic Black Eagles. It is likely that the eagle pair catches well over a hundred scrub hares in most years. Poachers using snares to catch hares in the nature reserve portion of the garden compete directly with the eagles, but poaching has recently been largely eradicated by the efforts of the WSNBG field rangers and volunteers. Visitors and staff also report feral domestic rabbits and domestic cats which are now seen more regularly near our offices and venues. This is unfortunately a side effect of the encroachment of the suburbs on the botanical gardens. It is an issue which is monitored and managed on a humane basis. Sterilisation of domestic pets is crucial to curbing this problem.

Bankenveld Branch: Trees, Shrubs & Groundcovers Walk

On 18 May the BotSoc Bankenveld Branch hosted a walk and talk giving members a chance to learn more about the trees, shrubs and groundcovers of Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden.

Top & Above: Some beautiful winter blooms in the Succulent Rockery at Walter Sisulu NBG.

The walk and talk was led by Bruce Stead, Senior Lecturer at Lifestyle College Johannesburg. Bruce has also been Principal of his own Landscaping Design School in KwaZulu Natal for more than 20 years. He has a great passion for nature and gardening with an ability to make any plant interesting, inspiring even the laziest gardener into starting a brand new garden.


Above: Group photo of all who attended the walk. Photo: Conrad Mortimor

Despite the cold and dry Highveld winter, the gardens were looking beautiful and are as always, a haven of peace away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The main highlight of the garden at this time of year are the myriad of Aloes in bloom, particularly around the Succulent Rockery.

Top & Above: Aloes in bloom in the Succulent Rocky at Walter Sisulu NBG. Photos: Nadine Vermeulen.

The walk was originally scheduled to last two hours, but the group of keen amateur horticulturalists in attendance enjoyed themselves so much so that every time Bruce politely suggested that they might like to adjourn, everyone was keen to continue with the event continuing for more than three hours in the end.

Above: The group enjoy exploring Walter Sisulu NBG and Bruce’s knowledgable and highly entertaining dialogue. Photo: Conrad Mortimor.

Bruce’s knowledgeable and highly entertaining dialogue encompassed not only the trees, shrubs and groundcovers of the WSNBG but also other SANBI gardens and elsewhere.

Above: View across the Succulent Rockery at Walter Sisulu NBG. Photo: Nadine Vermeulen.

The event was enjoyed by all who attended. Bruce is an excellent communicator and well-travelled presenter with a wonderful sense of humour. The Bankenveld Branch would like to extend their thanks to him for leading this wonderful event.

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!