Karoo Fireworks: Aridland blooms at Karoo Desert NBG

Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens is one of SANBI’s oldest botanical gardens. Located in the town of Worcester, two hours from Cape Town along the N1, this beautiful garden is well worth the visit. Karoo Desert NBG showcases the rich diversity of unique and extraordinary flora that comes from the more arid parts of South Africa including the Richtersveld, Succulent Karoo and Klein Karoo.

Above: The intense red flowers of Drosanthemum speciosum.

As we enter the hotter summer months and the Karoo veld hunkers down to survive the increased heat and aridity, we take a look back at the spectacular blooms that wow visitors to the garden during late spring and early summer. Thanks to the horticultural skill and foresight of the gardens’ staff, Karoo Desert NBG offers a veritable firework display of blooms in one of the country’s most arid and water scarce botanical gardens, continuing well into October and the start of the summer season. Their work stands testament to what can be achieved when gardening in South Africa’s relatively dry climatic zones. It is a garden that inspires.

Above: Drosanthemum speciosum orange form.

The majority of late spring and summer colour at Karoo Desert NBG comes from the vygies. So what is a vygie? The word ‘vygie’ is a South African term derived from Afrikaans and refers to a low growing, sometimes creeping, sometimes shrubby group of succulents with often spectacular flowers from the Aizoaceae family. Many make popular and easy to grow waterwise garden plants and are the mainstays of the September and October blooms at Karoo Desert NBG.

Above: Different colour forms of Drosanthemum speciosum used together to great effect for bold colour at Karoo Desert NBG.

One of the most vibrant of this group that makes Karoo Desert NBG famous is Drosanthemum speciosum, easily recognisable with its intense red flowers. There are also a few other colour forms, with this species also coming in orange, yellow or even pink. A truly local bloom, it is also known as the Worcester-Robertson vygie or bergvygie. They are also known as ‘municipal workers’ in reference to their flowers opening at 9am and closing for the day at 5pm. In cultivation their grow easily from seed and can be found in Mediterranean climate gardens worldwide. For the best flowering displays they should be replaced every three years as the plants become more woody with age.

Above: Yellow form of Drosanthemum speciosum. 

Another mainstay of Karoo Desert NBG is Drosanthemum bicolor, another small shrubby vygie, with stunning red and yellow flowers. In Afrikaans it is known as the ‘tweekleurporseleinbos’. In the wild it grows on hillsides in the western Little Karoo, growing on soils derived from Malmesbury Shales. It is thought that bees pollinate the brightly coloured flowers of this species. Following pollination seed capsules are produced that only open to disperse the seeds inside when rain comes, thus ensuring more likely survival of any newly germinated seedlings. Drosanthemum bicolor is also easily cultivated and will grow in most gardens across the Western Cape.

Above: The spectacular multicoloured blooms of Drosanthemum bicolor.

The vibrant deep pink blooms of Lampranthus multiradiatus can also be seen flowering in late spring and early summer at Karoo Desert NBG alongside the red, orange and yellow Drosanthemum. Those crafting this garden are not afraid to place vibrant and contrasting colours together. In fact, the genus name ‘Lampranthus’ actually means ‘bright flower’, derived from the Greek words ‘lampros’ meaning ‘bright’ and ‘anthos’ meaning flower. There are more than 140 species of Lampranthus, mainly confined to the winter rainfall areas of the Western Cape. In cultivation they are easily grown, attracting bees into the garden.

Above: Lampranthus multiradiatus in bloom at Karoo Desert NBG.

As climate change makes water an ever scarcer commodity in South Africa, gardeners need to become more innovative with their plant choices, growing indigenous and waterwise species where possible. Karoo Desert NBG has shown us how locally indigenous vygies can be used to create a bold and spectacular display, leading the eye through the gardens to the mountains beyond. It shows us what is possible in our own gardens, bringing colour as we garden for the future.

False Bay Birdathon a soaring success

On October 19 the sixth False Bay Birdathon was held by the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET) in partnership with the City of Cape Town and the Cape Bird Club. The event was hosted on the eastern shores of Zeekovlei near Pelikan Park in the City of Cape Town’s False Bay Nature Reserve.

Above: Staff from conservation nonprofit Birdlife South Africa giving out information resources.

Enjoying perfect weather on the day, the event was attended by more than 2000 learners with 680 children from schools in the surrounding area pre-registering for the birding fun walk at the start of the day. Learners and their families could choose to participate in a 4, 5 or 6 km fun walk, receiving special birdathon medals at the end. Members of CTEET and the Cape Bird Club were stationed along all the routes to show the learners the incredible birdlife that could be seen in the Strandfontein section of False Bay Nature Reserve as well as playing a variety of different environmental education games.

Above: Staff from the City of Cape Town’s Recreation and Parks Department teach learners about marine pollution and the importance of keeping our beaches clean.

The False Bay Nature Reserve was declared a Ramsar site in 2015, providing international recognition of its importance as a wetland conservation site. It is also considered one of the most important nature reserves on the Cape Flats. False Bay Nature Reserve comprises six different parts namely Rondevlei section, Strandfontein Birding section, Pelican Park section, Zeekovlei section, Slangtjiesbos section and Zandwolf coastal section.

Top: Cape Bird Club environmental display. Above: Learners making ecobricks at the CTEET stand.

One of the main aims of the False Bay Birdathon is to engage with communities and stakeholders in the surrounding area around the amazing nature reserve and its biodiversity right on the doorstep. The False Bay Nature Reserve acts as an important recreational space for the Cape Flats and is of conservation importance for its vleis, birdlife, wetlands and threatened lowland vegetation types such as Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and Cape Flats Sand Fynbos.

Above: Max from the City of Cape Town teaches learners about smart living and ways to save electricity.

Alongside the fun walk there were an information rich selection of environmental education exhibits run by many local organisations including the City of Cape Town, Cape Bird Club, Sharkspotters, Birdlife SA and others. Learners were taught smart ways to save electricity by Max from the City of Cape Town and Erin at Sea Search gave an excellent and informative talk on whales and dolphins. Many eager volunteers stuffed rubbish that would otherwise end up in landfill into plastic bottles to make ecobricks at the CTEET stand.

Above: The team from Strandfontein Lifeboat Station, National Sea Rescue Institute teaching learners about sea safety and the importance of pink lifesaving rescue buoys.

Throughout the day there were prize giveaways including field guides on the flora of Table Mountain National Park donated by the Botanical Society. There was also a series of talks and demonstrations including on water safety by the National Sea Rescue Institute, a beautiful concert by the Steenberg High School Wind Band and an exciting snake display by the Cape Reptile Club.

Above: Staff from Eagle Encounters brought along some ‘feathered friends’ for learners to meet.

To round off the day we were joined by the Cape Town Metropolitan Police Department and their K9 Unit who showed off the incredible skills of their working dogs who are trained to protect and serve the people of Cape Town.

Above: Members of the Cape Reptile Club held an exciting and informative talk and demonstration about  our beautiful and fascinating local snakes.

Vicky Johnson, Events Coordinator of CTEET comments: “Our aim with this festival was to educate the youth so that they can become custodians of our natural heritage, to teach them about recycling and saving our natural resources and to show them the nature reserve and the unique birdlife that live in this wetland park. We feel it was a huge success and that every person at the festival came away having learnt something new. Please save the date for next year’s Birdathon: 17 October 2020”.

Above: A few team members from CTEET involved in organising the False Bay Birdathon.

Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concert Line-up

Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts in association with Old Mutual has released their list of artistes that will be performing during the upcoming summer season at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

The concert season features a diverse range of genres, fresh, exciting new talent and many much-loved favourites. Families and friends flock in their droves to soak up what has become one of Cape Town’s top outdoor music events, featuring world class music in a unique and awe-inspiring open air setting in the shadow of Table Mountain.

Kirstenbosch NBG welcomes back Old Mutual as the main sponsor of the Summer Sunset Concerts and thanks the City of Cape Town for their provision of additional support and services.

Comments Thobile Tshabalala, Head of the Old Mutual Brand: “We are delighted to be sponsoring the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts once again. Music is a universal language that allows people to connect with each other as well as their own emotions and dreams. It also gives us an opportunity to inspire people to do great things every day and amplify their financial notes”.

This year’s line-up brings to audiences a diverse range of exceptional artists such as Jo Black, Craig Lucas, Paxton Fieles, Black Motion, Amanda Black, Kwesta, Sjava, Prince Kaybee, Sho Madjozi, Shekinah, Unathi and Hip Hop sensation AKA, who will be taking to the stage for the first time. Favourites returning to the Kirstenbosch stage again include Spoegwolf, Matthew Mole, Sun El Musician and Simmy, Lady Zamar, Jeremy Loops, Goldfish, Jimmy Nevis, Mi Casa, Goodluck, Tresor and Watershed – who will be starting their 20 year anniversary tour.

The Cape Town Folk and Acoustic Music Festival will be taking place once again this year. An additional popular annual offering is the much-loved Christmas Carols, hosted by the Rotary. A special new year’s eve concert is also scheduled, performed by Nomadic Orchestra, Native Young and Freshlyground. This will be the last time Freshlyground will be performing together, a not to be forgotten end to 2019.

On the 22 March we look forward to the Cape Town Opera starring Ms. Pumeza Matshikiza, famous for winning the hearts of opera fans in many of the world’s great opera houses, including in London, Milan and Paris. The people of Cape Town will have a rare opportunity to hear Ms. Matshikiza performing on home soil, treating the audience to an evening of gorgeous classical and African arias and duets, alongside the Cape Town Opera Chorus and the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tickets can be booked online at www.webticket.co.za. Please note that Webtickets is the only online ticketing partner. Kirstenbosch cannot guarantee that tickets purchased from third parties will be valid. 

Details at a Glance:  

Where: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town.

When: 24 November 2019 to 5 April 2020

Times: Gates open 16h00, concert start time varies 17h00/17h15/17h30, with concerts ending at 19h00.

Concert Tickets: Adults: R220, Youth: (Age 6 to 21 with ID): R170, children under six years do not require a concert ticket. Christmas Carols, New Year’s Eve and International Performances have separate rates for adults and children.

Book: www.webtickets.co.za

Concert Info: 021 799 8783/8620/8773

Note: Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts are picnic style, so bring a blanket and a picnic basket. All concerts take place irrespective of rain. Regret no refunds are issued. The Kirstenbosch concert arena is a non-smoking venue. There will be no designated smoking areas available. Smoking is prohibited in all areas of the concert arena (this includes all smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

Community and Biodiversity: Visiting the Darling Wildflower Show

Taking place annually on the third weekend of September, the Darling Wildflower Show is the second oldest wildflower show in the world. Visitors come from far and wide to enjoy this highlight of the West Coast’s event calendar, organised by volunteers from the Darling Wildflower Society with support from members of the BotSoc West Coast Branch.

Above: View over the picturesque small town of Darling in the Swartland from Darling Renosterveld Reserve.

The small town of Darling is located an hour’s drive north of Cape Town, inland from the West Coast town of Yzerfontein. It was founded in 1853 on the farm Ormonde, formerly known as Langfontein. Today this picturesque town has blossomed into a thriving centre for festivals, performances, quality food, beer and wine and much more.

Top: Lachenalia pallida. Above: Monsonia speciosa. 

Within and around Darling are no less than seven wildflower reserves, conserving and showcasing the beauty of the region’s critically endangered Swartland Renosterveld. The majority of this highly biodiverse vegetation, known for its plethora of beautiful geophytes, has been lost to the plough for agriculture. These reserves are some of the last precious habitat for many threatened species that call the Darling area home.

Top: Unusual red form of Drosera cistiflora. Above: Geissorhiza monanthos.

The Darling Wildflower Show is an annual celebration of the area’s wildflowers and biodiversity, bringing together dedicated volunteers from the community to construct a series of beautiful themed exhibits to showcase and raise awareness about the Swartland’s Renosterveld flora.

Above: Carnival dragon in the wildflower displays at the 2019 Darling Wildflower Show.

This year’s flower show was the 102nd with the theme ‘a carnival of wildflowers’. Visitors to this year’s show could also enjoy live music, a craft and gourmet food market, a display of vintage tractors and more. The tractor ride was one of the highlights, taking trailers of visitors nestled on haybales out to a wetland on the neighbouring Oude Post Farm not normally open to the public to view the wildflowers in habitat.

Above: Chicken and Chinkerinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides) in the floral displays at the 2019 Darling Wildflower Show.

The Darling Wildflower Show also serves as an information point for those wishing to visit the surrounding wildflower reserves, reaching their flowering peak in the second or third week of September. It is easy to combine a visit to the show with a leisurely ramble through the Renosterveld with its stunning spring blooms.

Above: Display tables at the Darling Wildflower Show showcase examples of the key flora of the Darling area.

Shortly after turning off the R27 West Coast road towards Darling, the Tienie Versveld Nature Reserve can be found on the left. The land on which the reserve now lies was once part of the farm Slangkop. In 1958 Marthinus Versveld donated this 20 ha piece of Renosterveld to what is now the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Many rare and threatened Swartland Renosterveld plants grow here, including some only found in the Tienie Versveld Reserve and nowhere else.

Above: Darling Renosterveld Reserve in the evening light.

Darling Renosterveld Reserve lies above Darling behind the primary school and was also donated for conservation by the Versveld family. A beautiful circular walk showcases a variety of different Renosterveld plants, offering stunning views over the town and the sweeping agricultural landscapes of the Swartland beyond.

Above: Waylands Wildflower Reserve, Waylands Farm, near Darling, Swartland.

Waylands Wildflower Reserve, located 6 km east of Darling on the R307, is also known for its spectacular Renosterveld wildflower displays. It is part of Waylands Farm that has been owned and farmed by the Duckett family since 1865 with the reserve founded in 1922. Waylands Wildflower Reserve is home to around 300 different plant species and many species of birds. It is open to the public during daylight hours throughout the spring season.

Top: Caterpillar on ‘Chinkerinchee’ Ornithogalum thyrsoides. Above: Long-tongued fly pollinated blooms of Babiana tubiflora.

After a hard day of soaking up the spring beauty of the Darling Wildflower Show and the town’s stunning wildflower reserves, there is no shortage of lovely cafes and restaurants to seek some well-earned refreshments. Comfortable accommodation is also available aplenty for those who wish to make a weekend of their trip.

Find out more: https://www.darlingwildflowers.co.za

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 friendsofrondeboschcommon@gmail.com. You can follow the work of the Rondebosch Common Restoration Project on Facebook: @RondeboschCommonRestoration or on Instagram: @RondeboschCommonFriends.