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.

Paintbrushes of the Veld: Spotlight on Haemanthus

Article and photos by Zoë Poulsen

Known for its bizarre paintbrush-like flowers, the genus Haemanthus is one of the most famous of the Amaryllidaceae family. When autumn comes to the veld and little else is in flower, these strange blooms emerge from the dry earth where they have been lying dormant over the summer months. The genus is endemic to Southern Africa and found only in Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland with the main centres of diversity being central and southern Namaqualand and the Knersvlakte around Vanrhynsdorp. Some species are widespread and occur across a wide variety of different habitats whereas others are specialists adapted to a specific habitat niche. Some Haemanthus from winter rainfall areas flower in profusion after fire has cleared overstorey vegetation. Most members of the genus grow in colonies, a phenomenon perpetuated by the peduncles leaning towards the ground under the weight of the seeds as they ripen leading to germination around the parent plant.

Above: Haemanthus albiflos growing in afrotemperate forest habitat on the Garden Route.

Haemanthus albiflos is one of only three evergreen species of Haemanthus. It was first described and illustrated by N.J. Jacquin in 1797 from material collected from the Cape. This species is distributed from Stilbaai eastwards to northern KwaZulu Natal where it grows in coastal and riverine forest, thornveld and valley bushveld in light to deep shade. Flowering takes place from May to October.

Top & Above: Haemanthus coccineus in flower and fruit on the Bokkeveld Escarpment.

Haemanthus coccineus is the most widely distributed members of the species. It is found from southern Namibia southwards to the Cape Peninsula, eastwards to the southern Eastern Cape and inland to Sutherland and Ladismith. This species is found in habitat as varied as its distribution, growing on soils derived from sandstone, granite, quartzite, shale and limestone. Haemanthus coccineus is often found in rocky habitats where it commonly grows in the shade of boulders. In contrast it is also found growing on coastal dunes. Flowering occurs from February to April.

Above: Haemanthus barkerae flowering in habitat.

My first encounter with the intense pink inflorescences of Haemanthus barkerae was a lonely flowerhead lying on the ground after having likely been removed by foraging baboons. This species is endemic to South Africa’s Northern Cape, distributed from Louriesfontein to the Hantamsberg and northern Tanqua Karoo where it grows on heavy clay soil. Haemanthus barkerae was only recently described, previously being thought to be part of Haemanthus pumilio until it was revised by Dee Snijman in 1984. Flowering takes place from March to April.

Above: Haemanthus canaliculatus flowering after fire in Hangklip Sand Fynbos.

Haemanthus canaliculatus is another range restricted member of the genus, known only from the Overstrand coast between Rooiels and Betty’s Bay. It was first collected in Betty’s Bay by a Mrs. M Brunt in 1943, but not described until 1966 by botanist Margaret Levyns in the Journal of South African Botany. The species epithet of Haemanthus canaliculatus refers to the deeply channelled leaves that typify this species. It is a wetland specialist, growing in peat in Hangklip Sand Fynbos. It flowers in profusion after fire, growing in dense colonies. Haemanthus canaliculatus is Endangered on the Red List of South African Plants as a result of housing development reducing the number of populations.

Above: Endangered Haemanthus pumilio flowering in habitat.

Last but not least is the diminutive Haemanthus pumilio, its species epithet meaning ‘dwarf’ in reference to its low growing habit. This species was first described in 1797 by N.J Jacquin having been introduced to RBG Kew by Francis Masson who collected it at an unrecorded locality at the Cape. Haemanthus pumilio is endemic to the lowlands around Stellenbosch and Paarl where it grows on gravelly clay flats in renosterveld vegetation. Much of its habitat has been lost as a result of urbanisation and transformation for agriculture and it is now only known from a handful of sites. Flowering takes place from March to April and the seeds are thought to be water dispersed. Haemanthus pumilio is listed as Endangered on the Red List of South African Plants.

Out of the Ashes: Post Fire at Harold Porter NBG

Text and images by Zoë Poulsen

New Year’s Eve 2019: In the small Overstrand town of Betty’s Bay a boat flare was set off, landing in the fynbos on the mountains above. The stage was set for what was to be one of the biggest blazes of this year’s fire season. Each year across South Africa’s Fynbos Biome as temperatures rise and summer comes, the veld becomes a tinder box, prone to ignition from rockfalls, lightning strikes, that carelessly thrown cigarette stompie, or a boat flare let off in a reckless moment of thoughtlessness. In summer the beautiful, highly biodiverse, fire prone and fire dependent fynbos can be a tough neighbour to live alongside when wildfire comes knocking at the door.

Above: The lower section of Harold Porter NBG three weeks after the Betty’s Bay fire.

Fuelled by strong winds, the fire moved quickly down the mountain flanks in the early hours of the morning, leaping across the R44 and threatening the nearby settlements of Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay and Hangklip. Terrified residents were evacuated as fire teams fought the blaze through the night. Tragically one life was lost and two other people were seriously injured. As windspeeds rose to gale force, for days the blaze raged through thousands of hectares of the Kogelberg above with numerous fire teams across municipalities working around the clock on multiple fire lines.

Above: Leopard’s Kloof at Harold Porter NBG three weeks after the Betty’s Bay fire.

On Friday 11thJanuary, further fuelled by gale force winds, to the horror of residents and all others watching, when it was thought to be almost under control in the area, the wildfire flared up again, barrelled down from the mountains into Harold Porter NBG and onwards into the heart of the town. Fire teams fought in desperation to save lives and property, but 41 houses were destroyed and 28 were badly damaged. Many people lost everything and the community was left reeling by what was one of the worst wildfires affecting the Overstrand in more than 30 years.

Above: The bridge at the bottom of Leopards Kloof after the Betty’s Bay fire.

Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens sits at the heart of Betty’s Bay, where the Kogelberg meets the town. The gardens are integrated within the surrounding fynbos landscape and the forested Leopard Kloof and Disa Kloof. Although many parts of the garden and its infrastructure were lucky enough to emerge relatively unscathed, a considerable area burnt in the fire and the fynbos surrounding the garden looked like a lunar landscape when visiting just after the fire.

Above: Burnt seedheads open to shed their seeds hours after the fire.

Blackened stems of fynbos shrubs stuck at awkward angles above ash covered ground, starting at zero waiting for life to return again. The landscape appears desolate and devoid of all life. Occasionally seen in the veld are the sad remains of a tortoise or snake who stood no chance. Nature can be cruel.

Above: Stream below the Zigzag Trail in Harold Porter NBG three weeks after the Betty’s Bay fire.

And yet without fire there would be no fynbos. No matter the cause fynbos will always burn.  Fire is an integral part of the ecology of fynbos vegetation. Many plants within the fynbos are completely dependent on fire to regenerate, flower or grow anew from seed. While walking through this blackened landscape just three weeks after the fire, frogs could be heard calling from the brown tannin coloured streams running through the fynbos, seeming an incongruous sign of life going on despite the devastation.

Above: Fynbos below the R44 burnt in the Betty’s Bay fire. Seedheads have opened already to disperse seed, triggered by the fire burning through the veld.

Within hours of the fire the cones of members of the Proteaceae family open, spilling their seeds onto the ground, leaving a cornucopia of food for those rodents that have survived. Fynbos wildlife has adapted in many ways to survive when fire moves through the landscape. Insects and birds will fly from the fire and many insects and spiders will survive as eggs or pupae buried in the soil or underground in ants nests. Many reptiles are adapted to take refuge in rock cracks or rodent burrows. Tortoises often survive veld fires in this way but often there are some that aren’t so lucky. Larger mammals often run from the flames. Numbers of some rodents such as the Pygmy Mouse will actually increase after a fire owing to their preference and tolerance of more open landscapes.

Above: Mountain slopes above the R44 burnt in the Betty’s Bay fire. Note the areas of green between rocks acting as fire refugia for fire sensitive flora and relatively safe havens for escaping wildlife.

In the upper reaches of the botanical gardens above the sweeping lawns and formal flowerbeds, across the ash covered landscape the first few green shoots of re-sprouting plant species are starting to emerge already. Two weeks after the fire splashes of red can be seen against the grey ash on the upper slopes by the more observant of garden visitors. These are colonies of Fire Lilies (Cyrtanthus ventricosus), their profuse flowering triggered by the heat of the fire. Flower buds can emerge as soon as two weeks after a burn, followed by leaves that grow throughout the winter before dying back in late spring. They will not be seen flowering here again until after the next fire.

Top & Above: Fire Lilies (Cyrtanthus ventricosus) flowering at Harold Porter NBG in the first two weeks after the Betty’s Bay fire.

As the weeks and months go by, further triggered by autumn and winter rain and cooler temperatures, seeds will germinate and grow, their dormancy having been broken by the heat from the fire. Many plants such as Orchids and many annual species will take advantage of the removal of the shade from the shrubby overstorey to grow and flower. Bulb species commonly flower en masse soon after a burn. When spring comes around the veld will be blooming in a profusion of colour. This is a time to observe and learn about this extraordinary growth and change in the fynbos of Harold Porter NBG and the surrounding area.

Above: New shoots of fynbos post fire resprouters starting to emerge after the Betty’s Bay fire.

There are no words for the human losses from this wildfire. My heart goes out to all those affected. And yet after this tragedy there will come new life in the veld. It may not seem so now amidst the chaos, pain, loss and destruction, but out of the ashes of this fire will come new life, like a phoenix. Time to watch and wait…..

Above: The first new shoots of geophytes (bulbs) emerging at Harold Porter NBG after the Betty’s Bay fire.

Life on the Edge: Saving the Albertina Sisulu Orchid from Extinction

Written by Zoë Poulsen, Photos: Andrew Hankey

One in five of the world’s plants are at risk of extinction, according to the State of the World’s Plants report published by experts at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. We are more than aware of the ongoing threats to our tigers, our rhinos and the other charismatic mammals. But quietly under our feet and in our backyards, often unbeknown to us, many other species are also making their final journey towards extinction, to be known only to future generations from photographs and herbarium specimens.

Top & Above: The beautiful Albertinia Sisulu Orchid (Brachycorithis conica subsp. transvaalensis)

Rainforest giants may come crashing to the ground or go up in smoke, fuelled by the unrelenting demand for making a quick buck from timber or to become monocultures for palm oil. Other species may fall victim to transformation of ecosystems by the scourge of alien invasive plants or quietly disappear underneath another shopping mall, another block of luxury apartments or that perfect house by the sea.

Above: One of the iconic Black (Verraux) Eagles of Roodekraans that also call the Sugarbush Ridges home.

As this habitat loss has happened, scientists and conservationists have risen to the challenge in a desperate battle to come up with increasingly innovative ways to save our biodiversity. Plant species under threat? No worries, we can store it in a seed bank. Habitat under threat? No problem, we can make an offset. Ploughing up critically endangered biodiversity for barley? No problem, we can restore it later…. It is vital that with the plethora of tools now at conservationists’ fingertips we do not become complacent. There is no better alternative in conserving ecosystems and their biodiversity than conserving habitats, making sure they are not destroyed. We cannot keep our species in perpetuity ‘in the zoo’ with no home to return to.

Above: The Critically Endangered habitat of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid at Sugarbush Ridges.

The home of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid is under threat, a home where the iconic Verreaux’s eagles of Roodekraans soar, found adjacent to South Africa’s Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens. Plans to make Sugarbush Ridges an urban conservation area are at risk and the City of Mogale Municipality have instead approved plans for high density housing.

The Albertina Sisulu Orchid (Brachycorithis conica subsp. transvaalensis) was once known from several localities across Gauteng and Mpumalanga. However, urban development has all but wiped out the majority of habitat for this species and it was last seen in 1956. That was until 2007 when a population of c.130 plants was discovered growing above Walter Sisulu NBG, to date the only viable remaining habitat for this species. The Albertina Sisulu Orchid is thus listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the Red List of South African Plants.

Above: Local High School and Proteadal Conservation Association field trip to Sugarbush Ridges, with demonstration of erosion control.

Brachycorithis conica subsp. transvaalensis was named after anti-apartheid activist Albertina Sisulu (also known as Ma Sisulu) in this her centenary year by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. The species was first discovered in 1918, the same year that Albertinia Sisulu was born in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. In 1955 Albertina Sisulu joined the ANC Women’s League and participated in launching the Freedom Charter, the same year that the orchid was named by Kew botanist V.H. Summerheyes. In 1956 Albertina Sisulu marched alongside Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn with 20,000 other women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the same year the orchid was last seen in Gauteng before its rediscovery above Walter Sisulu NBG in 2007. It could not be more fitting that Brachycorithis conica subsp. transvaalensis now be known as the Albertina Sisulu Orchid.

Top & Above: Beautiful butterflies of Sugarbush Ridges.

A team of conservation heroes have now come together to save the home of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid at Sugarbush Ridges, in an effort to bring about conservation of this unique and precious habitat in perpetuity. The Sugarbush Ridges Coalition comprises the Botanical Society of South Africa, one of South Africa’s oldest conservation nonprofits, local community group Proteadal Conservation Association, nonprofit Wild Orchids of South Africa, the Roodekraans Black Eagle Project and Walter Sisulu NBG.

Top: Gladiolus permeabilis, Above: Albertina Sisulu Orchid

The Sugarbush Ridges Coalition team are working towards a vision of conserving the area and home of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid in perpetuity as an urban conservation area. The case concerning the development proposals is imminently due to be heard in the High Court of Gauteng. The Coalition is fundraising for vital conservation management interventions to help achieve conservation goals. This work includes training rangers, fencing, environmental education and clearance of alien invasive plants in addition to fighting unsustainable developments that threaten the integrity of the site. Without this essential work the Albertinia Sisulu Orchid may be lost forever, with the other species that call this place home also losing one more habitat stronghold.

Above: Close up of the exquisite blooms of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid.

Help us save the home of the Albertina Sisulu Orchid by donating to the vital conservation efforts of the Sugarbush Ridges Coalition. More details on how you can help can be found here:

We thank you for your support.

Spotlight on Pelargoniums: Stalwarts of the Waterwise Garden

Article and photos by Zoë Poulsen

In 2015 South Africa experienced its driest year since records began in 1904. On average we receive just 497mm of rainfall per year, far below the global average. As climate is changing we are forecast to receive yet hotter and drier conditions with more extreme drought events becoming more frequent, alongside greater pressure on our water to supply a growing population. Although the risk of ‘Day Zero’ becoming a reality is still fresh in the Western Cape’s collective memory, as dam levels have risen the perception has grown that the drought is ‘over’ and the temptation is strong to quietly slide back to our water wasting ways. No more is that the case than in our gardens.

Top: Pelargonium betulinum Above: Pelargonium exstipulatum

The most successful gardens are those that grow with their environment rather than against it. We need to move away from that traditional European idea of a garden as a sweeping green lawn with pampered roses and pots full of pansies. Having a drought proof garden does not have to mean living with a sea of prickly cacti or installing plastic turf. There are many plants that, once established, can survive a dry summer with little or no additional water. These should be the stalwarts of the waterwise garden.

Top: Pelargonium quercifolium Above: Pelargonium fruticosum

The genus Pelargonium has many members that make beautiful but bomb proof additions to the garden. No less than 219 species are found in Southern Africa and the genus name is derived from the Greek word ‘Pelargos’ in reference to the similarity of the shape of the seed to the beak of a stork. Their long flowering season provides ongoing colour and interest long after the many spring blooms have finished their annual display.  We took a walk at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens to explore the sheer variety one can consider growing.

Top: Pelargonium coronopifolium ‘fragrans’ Above: Pelargonium panduriforme

Pelargonium betulinum is known for its large and attractive blooms, which are deeply veined and vary in colour from white to purple. The leaves are sometimes used medicinally for coughs and other chest ailments by being placed in boiling water and the vapour from the steamed leaved then inhaled. It can be propagated easily from softwood cuttings and is both wind and drought tolerant, also making it suitable for coastal gardens.

Top: Pelargonium greytonense Above: Pelargonium capitatum

Pelargonium fruticosum has delicate finely divided leaves and at up to 450mm in height is suitable for a smaller space in the garden. It produces delicate pink flowers throughout the year, peaking from September to November. This species is propagated easily from seed or cuttings. Regular watering is required initially after planting but one it is established will be tolerant to both drought and windy conditions.

Top: Pelargonium inquinans Above: Pelargonium suburbanum

Another easily grown and adaptable member of the genus is Pelargonium quercifolium, also known as the Oak Leaved Pelargonium. It is relatively fast growing and can reach up to 1.75m in height, flowering from August to January. This species grows well in both sunny and semi shaded areas of the garden. Pelargonium quercifolium has been used in the treatment of hypertension, rheumatism and heart disease. The dried leaves remain aromatic and can be used in potpourri.

Top: Pelargonium ternatum Above: Pelargonium citronellum

Pelargonium citronellum is also known as the Lemon-Scented Pelargonium. The strongly scented leaves can be used as a culinary herb, crystallised for use in puddings, used in potpourri and in finger bowls. Flowering takes place from August to January. It grows well in both full sun and light shade.

Why not consider making space for Pelargoniums in your garden? More detailed cultivation tips can be found at