KZN Coastal Branch: Weeding in our adopted spot, Durban Botanic Gardens

Two weeding sessions, organised by the Botanical Society KZN Coastal Branch were held on October 4th and November 29th at Durban Botanic Gardens in the indigenous forest section. Five keen volunteers braved the heat on Friday and managed to fill 4-5 bags in a follow-up to the October 4th weed-clearing.

The October session was supported by fourteen helpers who rid the area of mainly Blood-Berry (Rivina humilis),Burrweed (Achyranthes aspera var. aspera), Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia elegans) and palm seedlings. Thank you to Margaret Burger for bringing her WESSA IAP team of 5.  Thanks, too, to the 3 UKZN Edgewood students, Christine Bubb for sponsoring Thulani’s help, and the other enthusiastic supporters of both sessions.

The Branch previously sponsored the construction of a rustic path in the forest, which is frequently used by school group tours.

Janet Gates, Horticulturist in charge of Special Collections at the Gardens, reports that the forest section is looking very good indeed and that the hard work done by BotSoc’s volunteers has made all the difference!

Spectacular Spurflowers: Beautiful blooms for the shaded indigenous garden

Written & photographed by Zoë C Poulsen

As we bid goodbye to the long and hot days of summer, the weather becomes cooler and our autumn flowering plants start to come into bloom. Coming in a plethora of different shapes, sizes and colours, indigenous shade-loving Plectranthus can light up even the darkest corners of our gardens. Colours vary from white to pale pink to the deepest dark blues and purples.

Plectranthus as Useful Plants

Top: Plectranthus zuluensis ‘White Zulu’. Above: Plectranthus ecklonii ‘Medley Wood’.

This Old World genus of plants are more commonly known as the Spurflowers. They are a part of the Lamiaceae family alongside the mints, sage and basil of the Mediterranean basin. Plectranthus, like these other family members, have a distinct variety of aromas from the vile, skunk-like odour of Plectranthus neochilus, which is believed to scare snakes away from human dwellings, to Plectranthus unguentarius which is used as a deodorising ingredient in the red ochre body lotion of the Himba tribe of Namibia’s Kaokoveld.

In addition, Plectranthus esculentus is also known as the African potato or Unbondwe. This potato-like crop is rich in starch and provides a highly drought tolerant food source. However, the majority of the genus Plectranthus are most well-known for their horticultural value, growing easily in the darkest and shadiest corners of gardens in southern Africa and beyond. As early as 1928 the botanist Edwin Phillips wrote about Plectranthus: “the South African species certainly deserve more attention from horticulturalists than has been given,” and that they make “very fine ornamental shade plants”.

Habitat and Ecology

Top: Plectranthus verticillatus. Above: Plectranthus fruticosus ‘James’.

In the wild, Plectranthus can be found in a variety of habitats, from high altitude grasslands to dry savannas, but most are forest dwellers. They most commonly occupy the forest understorey and are adapted to frequent disturbance by wildlife such as bushbuck and porcupines. There are several species that grow at high altitude in the Drakensberg mountains that have adapted to the cold by re-sprouting from an underground tuber after frost.

Plectranthus in the Indigenous Garden

Above: Plectranthus fruticosus ‘Ellaphie’ flowering en masse at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

The majority of Plectranthus species make excellent and relatively unfussy garden plants. Those most popular in cultivation come from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Growth usually takes place during the summer months followed by flowers produced in late summer or early autumn. During the winter months plants can be pruned back to keep the growth neat, maintain vigour and maximise flowering. Plectranthus will also tolerate light frosts if planted under trees.

In gardens they make stunning autumn displays if planted en masse under trees in shaded areas and can be paired with other indigenous genera such as Clivia or Streptocarpus. In contrast, the succulent Plectranthus neochilus thrives in full sun and can be grown throughout South Africa.

How to propagate Plectranthus

Top: Plectranthus madagascariensis. Above: Plectranthus oertendahlii.  

Plectranthus are very easy to propagate and can be grown both from seed and cuttings. Seed should be sown in spring in a moist but well-drained growing medium such as two parts compost and sand to two parts loam. Cuttings are best taken during spring and summer with soft tipped cuttings rooting well in moist sand. They should be kept moist and in the shade. During warm weather you can expect rooting to take place within around two to three weeks.

Want to know more?

Beautifully illustrated by botanical artist Vicki Thomas, Ernst van Jaarsveld’s book on the southern African Plectranthus makes for worthwhile and informative reading.

Reference: van Jaarsveld, E. Thomas, V (2006) The Southern African Plectranthus and the art of turning shade to glade, Fernwood Press, Simonstown, South Africa. ISBN 978-1-874950-80-6.

Autumn Colours: A closer look at Brunsvigias

The long hot and dry summers are the toughest time of year in the Cape. There is little rainfall and temperatures can be high. Many bulbous Cape plants adapt to this time of year by entering a time of dormancy, tucked safely underground and sleeping until the next rain comes during early autumn.

The genus of plants that heralds the coming of autumn most strongly in the Cape is Brunsvigia, known for their spectacular blooms. The first rains of autumn trigger these vast bulbs to break their dormancy, producing huge blooms emerging from the dry earth when little else is in flower. Here on the BotSoc Blog we take a closer look at some members of the genus that grow in South Africa’s winter rainfall zone.

Brunsvigia striata

Above: Brunsvigia striata. 

Also known as the kleinmaartblom or seeroogblom in Afrikaans, Brunsvigia striata is one of the more diminutive members of the genus. It is widespread across the Cape Floristic Region, growing from the Bokkeveld Mountains southeast to Cape Infanta at the mouth of the Breede River in the Overberg and eastwards to Steytlerville in the Eastern Cape. Brunsvigia striata grows on rocky ground on mountain slopes, on dolerite derived and humus rich soils. Flowering takes place from late February to April, peaking during March.

Brunsvigia orientalis

Above: Brunsvigia orientalis in bloom after fire, Cape Peninsula.

This huge member of the genus is a case of mistaken identity if there ever was one. Its species epithet ‘orientalis’ means ‘of the Orient’, which is in reference to the belief that Brunsvigia orientalis originated in India. In fact, this proudly South African geophyte is common throughout the country’s winter rainfall zone. It is distributed from Vanrhynsdorp in Namaqualand southwards to the Cape Peninsula and eastwards to Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape. Brunsvigia orientalis grows on sandy flats and dunes and is also occasionally associated with granite derived soils. Flowering takes place from February to April, with increased flowering taking place in response to late summer and early autumn rain.

Brunsvigia josephiniae

Top & Above: Brunsvigia josephiniae in flower at Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens.

The colossal Brunsvigia josephiniae is South Africa’s largest geophyte, both in terms of the size of the bulb and the size of the inflorescence. It is also known as the Candelabra Lily or kandelaarblom or lantanter in Afrikaans. The vast inflorescences are produced in autumn after the first rains have arrived and are pollinated by sunbirds. Once seed has been set the leaves emerge during the winter months. The plant becomes dormant during summer. This makes it highly resilient to low winter temperatures and even fire.

Brunsvigia josephiniae is found in renosterveld vegetation on Malmesbury shale, limestone and sandstone derived soils from the western Karoo, Worcester, Malgas and eastwards to Willowmore. Populations of this species have become increasingly fragmented as a result of habitat transformation for agriculture. This species is further threatened by collection of bulbs from the wild for medicinal use. It is therefore Vulnerable on the Red List of South African Plants.

Brunsvigia bosmaniae

Top & Above: Mass flowering of Brunsvigia bosmaniae at Nieuwoudtville, Bokkeveld Escarpment.

Perhaps one of the most well-known members of the genus, Brunsvigia bosmaniae is known for its spectacular pink autumn displays when it flowers en masse after autumn rain. It is named after a Mrs. J.D. Bosman, who collected the type material of this species.  It is relatively common in the Cape Floristic Region, distributed from southwestern Namibia southwards to Tygerberg in the greater Cape Town area. Brunsvigia bosmaniae grows on flats and lower hill slopes on soils derived from dolerite, shale, limestone and granite.

Brunsvigia elandsmontana

Top & Above: Brunsvigia elandsmontana. 

Brunsvigia elandsmontana is a relatively new species to science, being described by Dee Snijman in 1994. It is dwarf in size and easily identified by its attractive pink flowers. This species grows in Swartland Alluvium Fynbos on well drained pebbly flats and flowers from March to May. Brunsvigia elandsmontana  is a relatively rare species with around 700 individuals present at just one locality. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the Red List of South African Plants.

Brunsvigia marginata

Above: Brunsvigia marginata. 

This spectacular member of the genus is hard to miss with its glittering bright red blooms and purple stamens. Brunsvigia marginata was first collected from the Cape at an unrecorded location and cultivated by horticulturalists Georg Scholl and Franz Boos from Schonbrunn Palace near Vienna during the 18th Century. It was also introduced to Kew Gardens by Francis Masson in 1795 from bulbs he collected at the Cape.

This species is distributed from Citrusdal in the Cederberg southwards to Paarl and Worcester where it grows in colonies in fynbos on shale derived soils on north and east facing mountain slopes. Flowering takes place from March to June, often in profusion after fire. However, this species is not wholly fire dependent as certain clones flower annually without being burnt.

A Botanist’s Paradise: Exploring Fernkloof Nature Reserve

The seaside town of Hermanaus, located in South Africa’s Overberg region, is world famous for its whales, its beautiful coastline and its warm welcome to a plethora of visitors from all over the globe. Located a two hour scenic drive east of Cape Town over the Hottentots Holland mountains, the place is hard not to fall in love with. But relatively few of these visitors have been lucky enough to explore Fernkloof Nature Reserve, perhaps one of the town’s best-kept secrets.

Above: Found at the trailhead at Fernkloof, the visitor’s centre is run by volunteers from the Hermanaus Botanical Society. It offers visitors a plethora of information from walking trails to plant identification.

Managed with care and diligence by the Hermanaus Botanical Society, the Overstrand municipality and others, Fernkloof Nature Reserve encompasses 18 square kilometres of the Kleinrivier Mountains north of the town. A wonderful example of a variety of different fynbos types from the area, Fernkloof Nature Reserve is home to no less than 1250 plant species. Birdwatchers too will find plenty to occupy themselves with over 130 bird species having been recorded in the reserve.

Above: Display tables in the Fernkloof visitors centre help with identification of plants currently in bloom in the reserve.

Fernkloof Nature Reserve has more than 60 km of hiking trails of varying lengths, with most levels of fitness easily accommodated. The trails offer spectacular views across the town of Hermanaus, Walker Bay and beyond, with Danger Point at Gansbaai visible on clear days.

Top: Mimetes hottentotticus. Above: Erepsia anceps. 

Thanks to the efforts of the Hermanaus Botanical Society, Fernkloof Nature Reserve is perhaps one of the most informative nature reserves in the Cape Floristic Region. At the main trailhead the society has built and maintains a small visitors centre, with a regularly changing display of meticulously labelled living plant specimens. These are collected and maintained by members of the society who volunteer their time. Here for a small donation visitors can also find information pamphlets on natural history and hiking trails in the reserve.

Above: The Klipspringer Trail offers stunning views over the Kleinrivier Mountains.

The easiest walk in Fernkloof Nature Reserve is the Klipspringer Trail or Blue Route, taking around an hour to complete. Here and on the Yellow Route dogs are permitted. Your furry friends are encouraged to be well-behaved and must be kept on a lead.

Top: Erica discolor. Above: Aulax umbellata. 

The trails in the reserve have excellent signage and the paths are well-maintained. However, we recommend footwear suitable for hiking, hat, sunblock, water and snacks as for all hikes.  The Klipspringer trail ascends gently, contouring around the mountain on a circular route with spectacular views over Walker Bay. In summer many beautiful Ericas can be seen in bloom in the fynbos.

Top: Erica viscaria subsp. macrosepala. Above: Erica longiaristata. 

More energetic hikers with greater time to spare might want to try the Red Route, which culminates in the beautiful Assegaaibos waterfall, taking around 1.5 hours to complete. There is also the option of ascending via the inner or outer circuits and overnighting in Galpin Hut within the reserve. Bookings for the hut can be made in advance through the Hermanaus Botanical Society.

Above: The beautiful indigenous plant nursery on site at Fernkloof Nature Reserve.

On site at Fernkloof Nature Reserve, the Hermanaus Botanical Society also maintain a herbarium of over 4 000 plant specimens, representing a key record of botanical diversity in the region. Visitors can relax and enjoy shaded picnic sites in the small botanical garden near the entrance and shop a fantastic selection indigenous plants for their gardens at the plant nursery too.

Above: The botanical gardens at Fernkloof Nature Reserve offer a beautiful relaxing space for picnics.

This wonderful botanical and horticultural mecca, showcasing the extraordinary fynbos biodiversity of the Hermanaus area, stands testament to the efforts of those at the Hermanaus Botanical Society. And what is more, this amazing place is free to enter for visitors. So why not head along and see for yourself?

Fernkloof Nature Reserve can be found at the top of Fir Avenue, left off the R43 when driving through Hermanaus towards Stanford. Entrance is free for visitors. Opening hours are 6h00 to 19h00 in summer and 7h00 to 19h00 in winter. Visit for more information.

Growing a dream: A learning hub for Overberg Renosterveld

Found in the lowlands at the heart of South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region, the lowland renosterveld of South Africa’s Overberg is one of the most biodiverse and yet most threatened habitats on earth. Large herds of game including black rhinos once roamed these landscapes, but today they have been hunted out and just 5% of this imperilled ecosystem now remains, the majority having been ploughed up to make way for intensive agriculture.

The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) is a small nonprofit dedicated to halting the renosterveld’s spiral towards functional extinction, with the aim of conserving this highly biodiverse ecosystem through working alongside landowners across the region. In 2014 WWF-SA purchased the property Haarwegskloof and it was handed to the ORCT to manage and conserve. The ORCT is an organisation that has always dreamed big: Thanks to a successful crowdfunder, funds were raised to turn the derelict farmhouse into the world’s first research and visitor’s centre for renosterveld, aptly located by the world’s largest surviving area of lowland renosterveld.

Located in the eastern Overberg, Haarwegskloof Renosterveld Reserve is the jewel in the crown for this vegetation, its extraordinary flora and wildlife as well as a space for visitors to learn more about why we need to conserve it. The research centre offers a home away from home and space to collaborate for a lively cohort of postgraduate researchers working hard to grow our knowledge on renosterveld ecology and conservation management.

It is now more than five years since the Renosterveld Reserve and Visitors Centre was founded at Haarwegskloof. The ORCT has another dream for the place, and they need your help. The Trust is now raising funds through another crowdfunding initiative to develop a learning hub on the reserve, with a focus on environmental education. The aim is to grow the Centre to invite school children and other interested groups from the Overberg and beyond to learn about the ecology and biodiversity of renosterveld, raising awareness about the challenges facing threatened ecosystems across the globe.

Why is this such an important initiative? One of the keystones of effective conservation is raising awareness about what we are seeking to protect so that others are aware of its importance. To do this most effectively we need to reach and inspire as many people as possible, no matter their age, interests or background.

It is widely acknowledged across the environmental sector that children who participate in outdoor nature-focused activities are more likely to develop a positive attitude towards the environment as adults, encouraging them to implement change within their daily lives to benefit the environment. It also plays a key part in training the conservationists of tomorrow, inspiring them through immersion in the natural world. Given the state of the earth that our future generations will inherit, it is crucial that we prepare our children with the skills to become the problem solvers and decision makers of tomorrow. The time to act is now.

If you would like to help the ORCT to develop a learning hub for children at Haaarwegskloof Renosterveld Reserve, more information can be found here:

We thank you for your support.

Let’s Meet Lady Tait: Profile of an Artist

Last week the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society were proud to launch the special art exhibition ‘Full Circle: Lady Tait returns to Kirstenbosch’ in celebration of botanical artist Lady Cynthia Tait (1894-1962), bringing a selection of her exquisite watercolour paintings back to South Africa where they are on show in the Richard Crowie Hall at Kirstenbosch NBG from 16 January until 15 March 2020. The exhibition is curated by Mary van Blommestein of the University of Cape Town’s Irma Stern Museum. But who was Lady Tait? We take a closer look on the BotSoc Blog.

Above: Selected Proteaceae artwork by Lady Cynthia Tait on show at the ‘Full Circle’ exhibition.

Lady Cynthia Tait (nee Grenfell) was born in 1894 and was the 6th of 7 children born to  British Naval Captain Hubert Henry Grenfell and Eleanor Kate Cunningham. Her grandparents Algernon and Maria de Guerin Price Grenfell were from the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, off the coast of Normandy in France. Cynthia and her siblings had a large extended family on Guernsey and spent many happy childhood holidays on the island.

Top & Above: Selected artworks by Lady Cynthia Tait featured in the exhibition ‘Full Circle’.

Lady Cynthia’s first husband was Admiral Sir William Eric Campbell Tait, who was commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy, South African Army and South African Air Force for the South Atlantic station, with headquarters in Cape Town. For the first few years her husband was posted overseas, Lady Tait remained on Guernsey while her two daughters attended school at Blanchelande College, St Martin’s.

During and after the Second World War, Lady Tait spent much of her time in South Africa. It was here that she started to paint, with her earliest work focusing on landscapes and seascapes. With time her work gained an increasing focus on the indigenous wildflowers of South Africa.

After Admiral Sir William Campbell Tait died in 1946, Lady Tait became married to Lancelot Ussher, who’s home of Luncarty was next door to the spectacular Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Lady Tait became a frequent visitor to Kirstenbosch, painting many beautiful wildflowers of the area.

Above: Selected combined botanical artworks by Lady Cynthia Tait on show at the exhibition ‘Full Circle’.

Her beautiful botanical artworks were recognised by the Royal Horticultural Society of the UK, where she was awarded the silver medal in 1956 for her exhibit of Cape Wildflower paintings and a bronze medal in 1961 for an exhibit of South African Gladiolus. The latter work is now held in the archives at the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch NBG.

Part of the collection of Lady Cynthia’s artwork was inherited by her granddaughter Cynthia Cormack and grandson William Astley Jones. This stunning botanical artwork has been brought to South Africa on loan made possible by sponsorship thanks to Rickety Bridge Winery and Duncan Spence of Gateway Publishing. A selection of the artwork has also been published in the beautiful Tait Florilegium book which is on sale at the exhibition for R1850.

The exhibition ‘Full Circle: Lady Tait returns to Kirstenbosch’ is on show in the Richard Crowie Hall at Kirstenbosch NBG until 15 March and is open daily from 9h00 until 18h00. Entry to the exhibition is free but garden entry fees apply. BotSoc members with valid membership cards will gain free access to the garden and exhibition.

Summer Blooms in the Kogelberg: Walking the Palmiet River Trail

Tucked away 6km off the R44 between Bettys Bay and Kleinmond, the Kogelberg Nature Reserve is one of the hidden gems of Overberg region. Considered the heart of the Cape Floristic Region, it is renowned for being home to the highest fynbos plant diversity in the region.

Top: Ceratandra atrata (Orchidaceae). Above: Lanaria lanata

This stunning 18 000 ha mountain wilderness is afforded the highest level of protection. It forms part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve which was founded in 1999 and one of the world’s first biosphere reserves. More than 1 800 species of vascular plants are found here in the reserve’s Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos. Shy Cape leopards roam these mountains, black eagles soar and Cape clawless otters are found in the rivers and streams.

Above: A variety of beautiful post fire blooms seen in the Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos along the Palmiet River Trail in Kogelberg Nature Reserve.

But yet just 1.5 hour’s drive from Cape Town, this spectacular mountain reserve is surprisingly accessible to visitors. The longer Perdeberg and Kogelberg trails cater to more energetic hikers but the Kogelberg Nature Reserve also offers a far more gentle but no less rewarding option of the Palmiet River Trail. This gently undulating trail starts at the reserve office at Oudebosch and follows the river bank for 7 km along the valley floor, offering spectacular mountain views, summer swimming spots aplenty and a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with the Kogelberg’s extraordinary sandstone fynbos flora.

Top: Tritoniopsis parviflora. Above: Thereianthus bracteolatus. 

In January 2019 the fynbos along the Palmiet River Trail burnt during the Bettys Bay fire. Fynbos vegetation is both fire prone and fire dependent, making it a challenging neighbour to live alongside when it inevitably goes up in flames. But over the last year since this fire that proved devastating for many in these coastal communities, residents from Pringle Bay, Bettys Bay, Kleinmond and beyond have watched as an extraordinary array of post fire flowers have grown from the ashes, and Kogelberg Nature Reserve has been no exception.

Above: Watsonia in bloom against the evening light in Kogelberg Nature Reserve.

While wandering along the trail, camera and field guide in hand, the plethora of wildflowers encountered in this extraordinary fynbos encourages slow progress and much time spent on hands and knees admiring these beauties up close. The fluffy white inflorescences of Lanaria lanata, also known as the kapokblom in Afrikaans, can be seen all along the trail from November to January, looking like fluffy lambs’ tails emerging from narrow serrated leaves with small honey-scented mauve flowers. Their flowering is strongly fire-driven.

Top: Disa racemosa. Above: Moraea ramosissima. 

In the wetter areas early summer brought blooms from several relatively common but no less beautiful orchids, such as Disa racemosa with its spectacular pink flowers that arrive in fynbos throughout the CFR after fire. Along streams the cheerful yellow blooms of Moraea ramosissima could also be seen. The delicately veined purple blooms of the geophyte Therianthus bracteolatus, also known as Common Summerpipes, added to the fireworks of colour in the post fire fynbos.

Top: Tritoniopsis antholyza. Above: Disa bivalvata. 

So why not head along and see this stunning mountain nature reserve for yourself? The Kogelberg Nature Reserve, run by CapeNature, is located off the R44 between Bettys Bay and Kleinmond. There is a 6 km unsealed road to reach the reserve office at Oudebosch where hiking permits can be purchased but it is well maintained and accessible to most sedan vehicles.

Above: The Palmiet River offers some beautiful swimming spots during the summer months, but care is strongly advised. Please avoid swimming when the river is flowing strongly (such as in the above photo) as currents can be dangerous.

Hiking permits can be purchased at Oudebosch (opening hours 7h30 to 16h00) with a conservation fee of R50 payable for adults and R30 for children or free for valid Wildcard holders. Card facilities are not available at the time of writing so please bring cash for any permit payments required. It is important to keep your permit on you at all times. Don’t forget to always hike well prepared, bringing along sufficient drinking water, snacks, sunhat and sunblock as well as warm clothes as the weather can change quickly in the mountains.

Top: Pillansia templemanii. Above: Schizaea pectinata (Toothbrush Fern).