Perfect Pincushions: Introducing the genus Leucospermum

Spring has well and truly sprung in the Cape Floristic Region. After the winter rains the fynbos has come to life, alive with a diversity of stunning blooms and full of busy pollinators. Some of the most spectacular of these are known as the ‘Pincushions’ with such strange looking flowers that one might be forgiven for thinking they have come from outer space.

Leucospermum muirii (Albertinia Pincushion)

These are the Leucospermums, which are part of the Proteaceae, one of the three key families that typify South Africa’s famous fynbos vegetation. The blooms of Leucospermums are recognised by their unusually long, stout and colourful styles that are the ‘pins’ of the pincushion. Unlike their other Proteaceae relatives, Leucospermums have small inconspicuous bracts around the flowerheads and tooth shaped margins at the end of the leaves.

Leucospermum cordifolium (Orange Pincushion)

Members of the genus range in size from huge shrubs to low growing prostrate species that grow along the ground. The larger more upright species are pollinated by sugarbirds and sunbirds whereas the more prostrate ones are pollinated by rodents. After seeds are set they are often predated by rodents. Those that survive are collected by ants, attracted to a fleshy appendage on the seed. The ants carry the seed underground where they are safe from predation. There they will stay until the next fire moves through the fynbos, allowing the seeds to germinate and the next generation of Leucospermums to grow.

Leucospermum harpagonatum (McGregor Pincushion)

The genus Leucospermum has a total of 48 species, the majority of which are found only in the Cape Floristic Region. There are however two species (L. rodentumand  L. praemorsum) with a range extending north into Namaqualand, two species (L. gerrardii and L. innovans) in Kwa-Zulu Natal and one (L. saxosum) in Mpumalanga northwards into Zimbabwe. The most important centre of diversity for the Leucospermum genus is the Agulhas Plain, where there are a total of 30 species occurring.

Leucospermum heterophyllum (Trident Pincushion)

The plant collections at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens showcase a rich diversity of different members of the genus, many of which are flowering now for visitors to enjoy. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Leucospermum cordifolium, with their large and spectacular orange blooms. This species is a popular and easily cultivated garden plant that is used in the cut flower industry all over the world.

Leucospermum oleifolium (Overberg Pincushion)

Leucospermum fulgens, easily recognised with its large fiery red and orange blooms, comes from limestone fynbos in the eastern Overberg. Sadly as a result of inappropriate fire management and loss of habitat to alien invasive plants, it is Critically Endangered in the wild. Kirstenbosch NBG provides this species and many others with a safe home should the worst happen to its wild population.

Leucospermum hypophyllocarpodendron subsp. hypophyllocarpodendron

There are several members of the genus that have flowers that change colour almost like chameleons as the blooms age. Leucospermum oleifoliumflowerheads are initially yellow, turning a rich orange and then intense crimson red as the flowers age. Leucospermum heterophyllum has flowers that are lime green after they open, changing to a deep wine red over time. Often flowers of different colours are present on the same plant as the flowering season progresses.

Leucospermum heterophyllum (Trident Pincushion)

Why not come and visit Kirstenbosch and see for yourself? Entry to all South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens is free for BotSoc members. The Kirstenbosch Nursery also has a great selection of Leucospermums so garden waterwise and indigenous and consider giving a home to one of these beautiful plants.

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Six ways to give back to the environment this Mandela Day and beyond

Mandela Day calls on us all, every day, to make the world a better place. Each year on the 18th July we look back on what has been done,and forward to what will be done. This year we celebrate 100 years since Nelson Mandela’s birth. All are encouraged to contribute 67 minutes of public service. One minute is given for each year of Mandela’s 67 years of public service,starting in 1942 when he first started to campaign for the human rights of all South Africans.

“I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses. We must never forget that it is our duty to protect this environment”. Nelson Mandela

What are you going to do for your 67 minutes of service? Not sure where to start? Here we offer up some suggestions on how you may want to get involved in serving your community and giving back to your environment.

JOIN A LITTER CLEAR UP

 

Litter: The bane of the life of any environmentalist. We are all far too accustomed to the convenience of packaged foods and other goods. Once that packaging has served its useful purpose in life it usually either ends up in landfill or often becomes environmental pollution. For starters, litter is unsightly and an eyesore. Nobody wants to see it polluting their local nature reserves or national parks. Far worse are its impacts on public health, wildlife and watercourses. Often it will end up finding its way into the sea, impacting on marine life too.

The good news here is that here you can make a difference. For Mandela Day there are many organised litter clearing events happening around the country,to the benefit of our communities, rivers, mountains, nature reserves, national parks and wildlife. Many community groups also have regular cleaning events to clear litter pollution in our wetlands, waterways and on our beaches. Check out social media platforms for more information on events happening around the country and consider lending a hand. Conservation and environmental action starts at home so find out what is going on in your area or start your own initiatives.

CLEAR SOME ALIENS

 

So what is all this talk of ‘aliens’ that has been in the media before and during the current drought? One may be confused into thinking we are referring to extra-terrestrial life here. In fact,alien invasive vegetation comprises plants that have been introduced from overseas that have become invasive in our own ecosystems,outcompeting our local indigenous flora,choking our river systems,often becoming a fire hazard and guzzling far too much precious water that could be filling our dams. There is no doubt,they need to go.

Many of our local community groups are taking action here, so check out their social media platforms to find out where and when and get involved.

PLANT A GARDEN

 

With the current drought and impacts of a changing climate making their presence known, now is a more important time than any for us to realise that growing indigenous and gardening waterwise is a necessity rather than a choice. Growing a water guzzling European style garden with swimming pools,sweeping lawns,roses and hydrangeas needs to be a thing of the past in our water scarce country. Perhaps a garden in your local community is looking dead and sad following several dry summers and needs cheering up?

If there is a communal outdoor space you know that needs some love,why not donate some indigenous plants and work with and support the owners in making them grow. Not only will it benefit the people that use it but also the local wildlife too. 

JOIN A FRIENDS GROUP

 

Do you use a green space in your community regularly for recreation? Chances are your local park or nature reserve will have a Friends group. Friends groups are a strong force for community conservation and a place to volunteer your time and skills to the benefit of your local environment.

They liase with the main management authority for the space and might get involved in alien clearing,litter picking, environmental education, restoration work, conservation planning, organising talks and walks and much more. Your membership fee will go to helping support their work in conserving and making that green space that you use the place it is. Why not consider volunteering too? Get involved, attend events and consider serving on their committees for a rewarding way to give back to your community.

SHARE

Raising awareness about the importance of conserving and protecting our environment is a key way to inspire others to get involved. So don’t keep quiet about your efforts, share them with your friends and networks on your social media platforms. Our partners at WESSA (Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa) are inviting you to join the #WESSAChallenge and pledge your 67 minutes for a better environment, then post a pic of you,your family and friends doing your bit for the environment this July. 

DONATE

Feeling too pushed for time to squeeze in any volunteering? Why not consider making a donation to a charity of your choice to support their vital work?

At the end of it all, don’t forget that every day should be a Mandela Day. Make time to serve your community and help protect and conserve your local environment. Community conservation is a critical force and anyone can make a difference.

Wildflower Wonders: Where to find the best blommetjies this Spring

This winter, after three long and dry years in succession, the rain came. The drought’s impact has been pervasive, affecting the economy, agriculture, tourism and much more. Above average rainfall this June has provided some respite and improved dam levels, but we are far from out of the woods yet.

However, good winter rains are making it increasingly likely that we will have some wonderful displays of wildflowers this spring. Already there are beautiful carpets of Oxalis giving their winter display along our road verges. We have hand-picked for you a selection of our favourite places to go and experience the Cape’s world famous wildflower displays. All of these stunning places are within five hours drive of Cape Town, easily accessible on a weekend for those of you with limited time available.

NAMAQUALAND 

Nieuwoudtville

The small town of Nieuwoudtville lies at the top of the Bokkeveld Escarpment, five hours drive north along the N7 from Cape Town. It is not without reason that it is known as the ‘Bulb Capital of the World’. The town is home to Hantam National Botanical Gardens (NBG) one of South Africa’s newest NBGs, run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Hantam NBG is 6000 Ha in size encompassing Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld, Nieuwoudtville-Roggeveld Dolerite Renosterveld and Hantam Succulent Karoo.

This unique range of untransformed habitats makes this the place to see many of the rare and special plant species known from the Bokkeveld Escarpment. The garden has nine different hiking trails that allow those of differing levels of fitness to explore as they please. Members of the Botanical Society enjoy free entrance to this and all of South Africa’s NBGs. Additional tourist information for the area can be found at www.nieuwoudtville.com

WEST COAST

West Coast National Park

West Coast National Park lies on the coast between the small towns of Yzerfontein and Langebaan just 1.5 hours drive north of Cape Town. The park is a mix of Strandveld and Hopefield Sand Plain Fynbos.  During August and September visitors to the park are rewarded by the most spectacular displays of flowers in the Seeberg and Postberg sections of the Park. For the more energetic the two day overnight Postberg hiking trail can be done, with an overnight stop (bring your own tents) at Plankiesbaai. Bookings and tariff information can be obtained from Geelbek Information Centre on 022 707 9902. Entrance to the park is R76 for South African Nationals and residents (with ID) and free for Wildcard Holders.

Tienie Versfeld Nature Reserve

Tienie Versfeld Nature Reserve is 20 Ha in size and found just outside the Swartland town of Darling, an hour north of Cape Town. The reserve was formerly part of a farm that was donated to the Botanical Society by Marthinus Versfeld. Marthinus’s sister Muriel was one of the founder members of the Darling Wildflower Society. The reserve is open all year round, but the most spectacular blooms can be seen during the spring season from August to September. Entrance to the reserve is free.

Waylands Farm Wildflower Reserve

Also near the beautiful town of Darling is the fantastic Waylands Farm Wildflower Reserve. The reserve was founded by Fredrick Duckett in the early 1900s and is home to more than 300 different plant species, many of which are geophytes. The reserve forms an integral part of the farm and is grazed from late November to the end of April each year. The spring flower season reaches its peak from the end of August to early September.

CEDERBERG 

Ramskop Wildflower Garden

Three hours drive north of Cape Town on the N7 is the small town of Clanwilliam, which lies at the foot of the Cederberg Mountain chain. Adjacent to the municipal campsite on the banks of the Clanwilliam Dam is the beautiful Ramskop Wildflower Garden. There are more than 300 species of different wildflowers to be seen, and spectacular views down over the dam and up to the Cederberg mountains beyond. Entry is R25 and the gardens are open until 4:30pm during August and September. (Info: 027 482 8000).

Biedouw Valley

 

The Biedouw Valley is one of the Cederberg’s hidden wildflower gems. It can be reached either via Calvinia or the Pakhuis Pass from Clanwilliam. The Biedouw River is one of the tributaries of the Doring River. The valley is bounded by the Biedouw Mountains to the north and the Tra Tra Mountains to the south. The name ‘Biedouw’ refers to the common plant name ‘Bietou’, although there are several plants that go by this name so it is not clear to what species the name originally refers. In spring local farmers restrict livestock grazing in the area to further enhance the stunning wildflower displays. 

CAPE TOWN  

Rondebosch Common

 

Rondebosch Common lies at the heart of Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs. This 40 Ha site is of international conservation importance, being one of the last fragments of Critically Endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, a highly biodiverse vegetation type that only occurs in the greater Cape Town area. It is home to around 250 plant species.

The site is under the custodianship of City Parks and their work is supported by the Friends of Rondebosch Common, affiliated with the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA). Each spring the Friends run a series of walks lead by dedicated volunteers to see the spring flowers on the Common. All are welcome and becoming a Friend is encouraged to support the valuable conservation work taking place. More information can be found on the Friends’ Facebook group.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/Friends.of.Rondebosch.Common/

 

Out of the dust: A mass flowering of Brunsvigia bosmaniae

The small Namaqualand town of Nieuwoudtville lies on the Bokkeveld Escarpment, just north of the border between the Western and Northern Cape. It is reached via the Vanrhys Pass, named after Petrus Benjamin Van Rhyn who was a clergyman and member of parliament in the old mission settlement of Troe Troe. The pass winds its way up from the quartz gravel plains of the Knersvlakte to the high altitude renosterveld and fynbos of the escarpment, home to many rare endemic plant species.

It is not without reason that Nieuwoudtville is known as the ‘Bulb Capital of the World’. In spring the veld comes into bloom in a plethora of colour, drawing visitors from all over South Africa and beyond to see the spectacular displays. Here BotSoc partner the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) manages Hantam, one of the country’s newest National Botanical Gardens (NBG). Hantam NBG is more than 6000 Hectares in size and conserves habitat of Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld, Nieuwoudtville-Roggeveld Dolerite Renosterveld and Hantam Succulent Karoo. Visitors to the garden have a choice of nine different walking trails to explore the garden, of differing lengths to suit all levels of fitness.

The last couple of years has seen South Africa experience the worst drought in living memory. Water has become a commodity all too precious and the winter rain that brings the veld into bloom in spring did not come. The veld remained dry and the bulbs remained dormant,  with the drought impacting on livelihoods in farming, tourism and on wildlife.

However, as the hot and desperately dry summer ended, autumn arrived at the Cape. And this autumn the rain came. Ephemeral streams long dry started to flow and green returned to the veld. The rain triggered the coming of an extraordinary phenomenon, last seen in Nieuwoudtville four years ago. On municipal land managed by Hantam NBG and the adjacent WWF Wildflower Reserve, the previously dry ground began to crack, and flower buds began to emerge.

These flowers are the huge autumn flowering geophyte Brunsvigia bosmaniaeor Maartblom, a member of the Amaryllidaceae family. This species is distributed from southwestern Namibia southwards to Tygerberg north of Cape Town and inland to the Roggeveld and southern Tanqua Karoo. It is most common around Nieuwoudtville and Vanrhynsdorp where it occurs in huge and dense colonies. The type material was first collected near Piketberg in 1927 but did not flower in cultivation until 1932.

Huge moisture filled bulbs allow this plant to survive long periods of drought. Their flowering is triggered at the end of summer when intense thunderstorms arrive following incursions of tropical air that arrive in Namaqualand from the north. These perfect conditions to trigger flowering do not happen every year: These Brunsvigias often have a long wait to reproduce.

As the days go by and the Brunsvigias come into flower, the veld slowly turns an intense shade of pink. The blooms are the size of footballs. Word spreads and visitors come to Nieuwoudtville from far and wide to see this spectacular floral display. The display is fleeting, lasting around a fortnight. As flowering ends the infruitescences dry out and come adrift from the bulb, allowing the wind to blow them across the landscape, distributing the seeds as they go. Meanwhile, flowering done, the huge leaves start to emerge, and will remain until the bulb goes dormant during the summer months. The Brunsvigia bosmaniae of Nieuwoudtville must now wait, until the next autumn thunderstorms come.