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.

A new look for the Kirstenbosch gift shop

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, in collaboration with Tourvest, is proud to announce the launch of their new look gift shop. The Kirstenbosch Gift Shop, located at the visitors’ centre at Entrance 1, celebrates the talent of local artisans and South Africa’s spectacular Cape Floristic Region.

This exciting new retail experience showcases the work of local artists and designers with 85% of products sourced from local suppliers. Visitors to the new gift shop can look forward to a variety of product ranges including African crafts and souvenirs, bath and body products, homeware, children’s gifts, clothing and edible gifting.

The new gift shop celebrates all things botanical, including the work of ceramic artists such as Hennie Meyer, Gemma Orkin and Lisa Firer. Other local suppliers include Carole Nevin’s range of botanical tablecloths, cushion covers, runners and serviettes; Peppertree, and Mongoose bags and accessories; Charlotte Rhys luxury body, bath and skincare products; Rosehip’s botanical printed raincoats and umbrellas and much more.

“The Kirstenbosch gift shop’s collection of merchandise is specially curated to appeal to both our local and foreign visitors’ interests and tastes, and the shop provides an incredible platform upon which to place the best products South Africa has to offer,” explains Sarah Struys, Events and Tourism Manager for Kirstenbosch.  “We are passionate about sourcing and developing unique products made in South Africa that reflects both our South African and our Cape Floral Heritage – and thereby helping to stimulate the local economy.”

The previous Kirstenbosch gift shop had been operational for many years, leading to the need for a new look and feel for this important retail space. There were also some merchandise ranges that needed more space. The new design improves the impact of the store, drawing visitors into the space. One of the main features is a shaded covering with laser cut leaf patterns forming a virtual tree canopy with birds, butterflies and insects depicting the seasonal changes of the gardens.

“We are immensely proud of this world-class retail store that celebrates the unique beauty of the Gardens, translated into extraordinary merchandise that is presented in a magnificent space.  For me, the new gift shop evokes a sense of absolute amazement at the natural beauty we are surrounded by in Kirstenbosch and echoes a true sense of place. The store is filled with natural light and a palette of delicate, muted shades. It is a gentle space where customers have room to breathe and move from department to department without restriction, allowing them to enjoy a shopping experience unlike any other,” says Allison Graham, CEO of Tourvest Destination Retail.

We encourage visitors to the garden to come and see this stunning new addition to Kirstenbosch for themselves. BotSoc members with their valid membership cards enjoy a 10% discount on all product purchases from the new gift shop.

The Kirstenbosch shop is located in the Visitors’ Centre (Gate 1) at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Rhodes Drive, Newlands. It is open every day of the year from 09h00-18h00 in winter and 09h00-19h00 in summer.

Help publish ‘Cultures, Cures and Curiosities’

The Botanical Society is delighted to announce that we are raising funds to make possible publication of an exciting new plant book. ‘Cultures, Cures and Curiosities: Plant-Lore and Legend of the Eastern Cape, South Africa’ is written by Tony Dold and illustrated by Susan Abraham.

Based on 20 years of empirical research, it features 40 Eastern Cape plants of ethnobotanical importance, whether used as charms, for food or as medicines. Modern-day use of many of these plants can be traced back to their traditional use by the Khoe, San or Xhosa.

Each plant species account is illustrated with a full-colour watercolour painting by botanical artist Susan Abraham. The introductory chapter gives a historical overview of the region’s botanical exploration, drawing on the earliest written records.

Pre-publication reviews

‘Cultures, Cures and Curiosities’ unpacks a treasure-trove of plants, poisons, stories and histories, scientific information and startling factoids – from rhinos on steroids to toxic chewing-gum to natural resource management. It is packed with beautiful photographs and exquisite botanical paintings as well as historical maps and travellers’ sketches. A delightful, nuggety book. – Hazel Crampton, author and artist

Susan Abraham’s botanical illustrations are beautiful, skilfully painted and accurately observed, showing the key scientific diagnostic elements. Together with the book’s photographs, they form a wonderful record and a fascinating glimpse into the useful flora of the Eastern Cape. – Vicki Thomas, botanical artist and teacher

Top: Gunnera sp. Above: Hydnora africana (Plates from upcoming publication).

Join our fundraising! 

Above: Photo from the book of Vervallen Kasteel, Aberdeen.

The publication of this book will be made possible only with the support of donors, sponsors and subscribers like you:

  • Become a donor by contributing a minimum of R20 000 towards the publication costs. Donors will receive a numbered copy of the book with an inscribed page, signed by the author and illustrator and presented in a slipcase.
  • Become a sponsor by contributing R1 500 (+R100 p&p within SA). Sponsors will receive a numbered copy of the book with an inscribed page, signed by author and illustrator.
  • As a subscriber, you can also show your support for the book by pre-purchasing a copy for R800 (+R100 p&p within SA).

Donors’, sponsors’ and subscribers’ names will be listed in the book.

Readers of Veld & Flora will also be able to pre-purchase a copy for R350 (+R100 p&p within SA).

Your financial support will ensure the success of this beautiful publication. Orders must be received no later than 31 July 2019. Order forms can be downloaded from the Botanical Society website.

Surplus funds donated to schools environmental programme

Above: The Inkcubeko nendalo schools programme in action.

Any funds raised beyond those needed for the book’s publication will be donated to the Inkcubeko nendalo schools programme. Meaning ‘culture and nature’, this environmental education project is a Rhodes University community engagement initiative in line with SA’s national curriculum.

Inkcubeko nendalois run by Professor Michelle Cocks, Tony Dold and Mluleki Nkosi in collaboration with the Albany Museum and the Selmar Schonland Herbarium. It aims to raise awareness among school learners of the value of nature as key to the future preservation of cultural heritage and biodiversity and of the link between cultural diversity and biodiversity.

Kirstenbosch Plant Fair: Growing Indigenous and Cultivating Community

Article and photos by Zoë Poulsen

Last week the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society held their much anticipated plant fair, loved by all and one of the biggest events in the BotSoc calendar. More than 11,000 indigenous plants went on sale with horticultural advice from experts from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens, CapeNature, the SANBI/BotSoc volunteer programme and more. Around 3,200 members of Cape Town’s plant community arrived for this popular event, with 90% of stock selling out on the first day. By Sunday more than 10,000 plants had been sold including 1730 Proteaceae and 650 Ericaceae plants. A total of 260 BotSoc members volunteered to make the plant fair happen. For the Kirstenbosch Branch volunteers, committee and staff involved, we offer a huge thank-you for your time, hard work and effort, it couldn’t be done without you!

In addition to this botanical bonanza, the event also served as an expo for various organisations. Experts from the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) were there to introduce would-be citizen scientists to their work, explaining how anyone can contribute to threatened species conservation. The Calitzdorp Succulent Society answered questions about their annual festival and Soil for Life were raising awareness with some lovely winter vegetable seedlings on sale. The Candide SA team were also ready to answer questions about their incredible horticultural app designed to share knowledge through an online gardening community. I am sure all who visited their stand will look forward to growing their free kohlrabi seeds.

This year’s theme was ‘Amazing Aromatics’, celebrating the many South African plants that enrich our natural vegetation and our gardens by smelling as good as they look. The most well-known of these are the Buchus from the Rutaceae or Citrus family that form an integral part of South Africa’s fynbos. Agathosma crenulata and Agathosma betulina have many traditional medicinal uses. The leaves can be used to make a tea or steeped in vinegar or brandy and have been used in the treatment of stomach complaints, kidney and bladder ailments. They make great garden plants too. Members of the genus Pelargonium were also on sale. Different species of this tough and drought tolerant genus may smell of lemon, mint and rose. Many have edible flowers and leaves and can be used as a food flavouring or in potpourri. Branch volunteers had a stall at the fair dedicated to selling handmade potpourri, further demonstrating the versatility of our indigenous flora.

The Kirstenbosch Plant Fair has always acted as a one-stop-shop for enthusiasts of growing South Africa’s extraordinary and biodiverse flora, paired with expert advice accessible to everyone from beginner to the most knowledgeable of gardeners. When gardening in the water scarce Western Cape it makes complete sense to grow indigenous drought tolerant plants adapted to our climate and soils in a world class range of sizes, colours, shapes and scents. With expanding urban development and agriculture, our gardens become all the more important as havens for wildlife. Those Red Hot Pokers, Aloes and Cape Honeysuckle sold at the plant fair will grow to provide food for spectacular sunbirds, always wonderful guests to have visiting. Threatened species such as the Extinct in the Wild Erica verticillata may also find a corner in your garden within its former range.

As well as raising funds for the Kirstenbosch Branch, the Plant Fair also encourages a sense of community among a wide spectrum of people. It inspires people to plant, garden and enjoy nature in any green space, no matter how large or small. Whether you have a tiny balcony, access to a patch of sand or a larger space, it can become a garden. Those who volunteer their time at the Kirstenbosch Plant Fair play a vital role in encouraging others to start greening their own spaces for nature. The satisfaction from planting and growing brings joy and a wonderful social space to enrich the lives of all who get involved. Everyone brings home good memories, and look forward to doing it all again for the plant fair next year.