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March 2020

Issue 106(1)


Brian Huntley’s Angolan desert quest

Join SA’s bioblitz! Starter guide to hacking Professional tips for better plant pics

COUNTDOWN TIME: Your action plan on climate and biodiversity










Featuring garden spaces specifically designed to evoke the movement towards urban renewal, urban greening, online living and a sense of community; this year our annual must-visit garden show inspires gardeners and newbie greenies of all kinds! Apart from some garden spaces that typify gardens as we know them - but with a twist - the 2020 show delves into the worlds of the ever more common patio living, small and micro gardens as well as small yet liveable balcony spaces... When: 15 February to end May 2020 Where: Lifestyle Home Garden Free entry, pre-arranged guided tours and interesting talks and events accompany the show. Proudly brought to you by




Cnr. Beyers Naudé Drive & Ysterhout Ave, Randpark Ridge, Randburg • Tel: 011 792 5616


March 2020

12 22

Growing tomorrow’s plant people at the City Nature Challenge


Easy pro photography tips to improve your plant pics

UPFRONT Editorial..................................................................................................... 4 Plant news & views................................................................................ 5

START YOUR ACTION PLAN HERE The amazing nature race ................................................................... 12 Quest for Angolan giants and dwarves.................................................. 16 Happier plant snapping ..................................................................... 22 Small differences, big secrets .......................................................... 26 Brian Huntley searches for plant curiosities in the Angolan Namib

Beyond Noah’s ark ............................................................................. 32 Stocktaking SA’s natural treasures .................................................. 34 Rescue mission for a rare amaryllis ................................................ 38 NEW! Find out more: Listings of extra reading and viewing ������� 48

BOTSOC NEWS New BotSoc dynamos ...................................................................... 6 Branch map........................................................................................... 42 Branch events chart............................................................................ 43

36 Stocktaking SA’s rarities and common plants

Branch profile: Kirstenbosch............................................................ 44

COLUMN Eugene Moll on climate change...................................................... 50

Know, grow, protect and enjoy South Africa’s indigenous flora


TAKE BACK TOMORROW IT MIGHT SHOCK YOU to know that some of the good intentions around climate change go right back beyond the 19th-century industrial revolution. Take this from a land survey published in Ireland in 1802 . . . Formerly, trees grew very well in the low lands of Magilligan. Vestiges of ancient planting are still existing; even the sallows, which clump some cottages through this flat, are a great relief to the view. The farmers think, that some great change has happened to the climate, because timber succeeded better in remote periods than at present. I rather think, that the sea is gradually retreating below the ancient level, and that this circumstance may influence the soil. Undoubtedly, all these flats have been submarine, at no very remote epochs. Shells abound two miles to the interior of Magilligan in dry sand; a certain proof, that these materials, which decay in dry exposures, have been laid in their present beds, at a time, possibly, within the era of civilization of this country. That might sound as if the writer has a whiff of the World Economic Forum’s 1 Trillion Trees project. But Rev. G. Vaughan Sampson was commenting in the Statistical Survey of the County of Londonderry with Observations on the Means of Improvement, part of a Dublin Society project, well over two centuries ago.

Interestingly, the Irish government created an incentive for landowners to plant trees. This helped reestablish woods and forests decimated for British shipbuilding since the 16th century. Oil, gas and peat extraction tend to grab Irish headlines today. Substitute coal for peat and you have some of the problems confronting SA’s biodiversity and sustainability. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Ma Jun, director of China’s Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, admitted to the New York Times: China’s emissions [goals] have not been accomplished. We’re still burning half of the world’s coal. We need to do more . . . But all this needs people to join the efforts. Whether we are talking health, relationships or the environment, change is one of the most difficult things for human beings to achieve. Help take back tomorrow for yourself and the generations that follow by exploring some of the innovative ways that you can work with BotSoc in contributing to sustainability and learning about our country’s precious biodiversity. Patricia

ENTER YOUR BEST SHOT NOW! Winner of this edition’s Best Shot is Kerri Keet’s photograph of the drip disa (Disa longicornu). Her tight close-up emphasises the contrast between this luxuriant flower and its shady setting. It was taken at the aqueduct on Table Mountain in December 2019.

Spend some time experimenting with your camera over the holiday and enter your best plant photograph for Veld & Flora’s Best Shot. Here are our guidelines: 1. Only BotSoc members may enter photographs for consideration as Best Shot. 2. Send your Best Shot entry to: info@botanicalsociety.org.za; use ‘Best Shot submission’ as your subject line. 3. The main subject of the photograph should be a plant, part(s) of a plant or plant habitat. 4. Photographs of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and people will not be considered unless shown in clear interaction with a plant or plants.



5. If a photograph includes people, they must be identified by name and their written agreement to publication must be submitted with the photograph. 6. Any photograph submitted must be in jpeg image format and high resolution (absolute minimum 500kb and preferably considerably more). If possible, submit the same size as the original from your camera.

Either attach as a file (please do not embed in the body of your email) or send by www. wetransfer.com. 7. Supply details of when (month and year) and where (general locality), the photograph was taken and provide the correct plant identification if you can.

Happy shooting!



Plant news views MY PLANT PLACE

I am fortunate to have a space within 10 minutes’ drive that takes me out of the urban jungle, into the fresh air and the quiet of nature. Already as I drive towards Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, I am relaxed by the sight of Fernwood Buttress looming above me. Inside the garden, I admire the neat beds and the great variety of flowers

Veld & Flora is published quarterly (ISSN 0042-3203) Vol.106(1), March 2020 EDITORIAL & PRODUCTION Editor: Patricia McCracken Design & Layout: Natasha Arendorf & Francois Swanepoel, Rothko: 021 448 9465 Proofreading: Meg Cowper-Lewis: 028 435 6565 Printing: Tandym Print: 021 505 4200 ADVERTISING General: Barbara Spence, Avenue Advertising (division of The Avenue Company): 011 463 7940; mobile: 082 881 3454; email: barbara@avenue.co.za Classified: Simoné van Rooyen: 021 797 2090; email: info@botanicalsociety.org.za; fax: 021 797 2376 SCIENTIFIC ADVISERS Prof Eugene Moll & Dr Dee Snijman EDITORIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE Linette Ferreira, Bruce Hopwood, Patricia McCracken (chair), Dr Penny Mustart, Jane Notten, Prof Craig Peter, Francois Swanepoel, Sandra Turck & Simoné van Rooyen CONTRIBUTIONS Articles and photographs for publication in the magazine are welcome. Please send your contribution or a synopsis to: The Editor, Botanical Society, Private Bag X10, Claremont 7735; or info@botanicalsociety.org.za


Where: Yellowwood trail, Kirstenbosch/ Table Mountain Who: Marinda Nel

In the cool, restful forest above Kirstenbosch, the spirit finds renewed peace.

Once a contribution has been submitted for publication, this implies that the author or photographer has agreed to Veld & Flora’s terms and conditions of publication, which can be found on the BotSoc website. This includes editing and necessary amendment for the magazine’s readership. Contributions are made on a voluntary and unpaid basis. Veld & Flora’s contents are protected by copyright. DISCLAIMER The opinions expressed in Veld & Flora do not necessarily reflect those of the Botanical Society, its officials and staff or the magazine’s editorial advisory committee. The Botanical Society does not accept responsibility for the advertising content. BOTANICAL SOCIETY The Botanical Society of South Africa is a non-profit organisation incorporated not for gain (Reg. No. 003-394 NPO). Veld & Flora is free to members of the Botanical Society of South Africa. BotSoc’s mission is to win the hearts, minds and material support of individuals and organisations, wherever they may be, for the conservation, cultivation, study, enjoyment and wise use of the indigenous flora and vegetation of southern Africa. CONTACTS National Office: 021 797 2090; info@botanicalsociety.org.za ;

and foliage as I head right up the braille trail towards the huge stone pines. Another turn right and I’m already on the yellowwood trail. The birdsong has changed here. I am inside indigenous forest and away from any crowds. I spot the evidence that porcupine are around and admire the bark of the many trees – mature keurboom, blackwoods, saffron, yellowwoods and many more. When I feel frustrated that I cannot identify the tree or remember its scientific name, I am comforted by recalling what a friend once said, “Names are not important to plants.” At the upper contour path, I turn left, admire and appreciate the water in Skeleton Gorge and its moss-covered rocks. The path towards Nursery Ravine takes me into prototype fynbos – dry and shrublike and a biome away from the shady forest I just walked through. The views across the peninsula are always intriguing and there is always something flowering among the mountain’s myriad plants. I make my way back down into the garden after an hour or more on the mountain – and my spirit has caught up with me.

Follow us on social media Facebook: www.facebook.com/BotSoc

Marinda Nel is national chairman of the Botanical Society.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/BotSocSA

When you have finished with this magazine, please recycle it.

Share your story of the plant place that fascinates or delights you with readers. Send your story with a photograph of the place with the subject line Plant Place to: info@botanicalsociety.org.za MARCH 2020 | VELD & FLORA




DON’T MISS the talk by German lithops guru and author of Wild Lithops Harold Jainta if you are in the Cape Town area on 26 March. You are likely to emerge as enthusiastic as he is about these intriguing stone plants, members of the ice-plant family (Aizoaceae). His presentation will highlight the endangered stone plant-colonies and aspects such as their biology, natural diversity, how this affects current taxonomy and how it could be simplified. Hear him from 11am to 12.30pm in the Colophon Conference Room, Kirstenbosch Research Centre, CBC Building (enter via Rhodes Drive).

Learn more about Lithops hookeri var. hookeri and its stone-plant relatives.

NEW BOTSOC DYNAMOS TWO DYNAMIC NEW RECRUITS at national office are helping BotSoc rev up into a plant-focused conservation organisation that can tackle the environmental challenges of the 21st century. Rupert Koopman (40) has been appointed as head of conservation, leading BotSoc’s relaunched conservation unit. Jo-Anne Isobel King (34) has been appointed BotSoc’s first head of marketing and membership growth. Here are six key points to know about each of them: Rupert Koopman 1. He grew up in Kuils River, the eldest of three. His father was a biology teacher who “was a botany nut” and his uncle ran a nursery. 2. He did his first overnight trail in the Hottentots Holland when he was six years old – “It rained almost all the time!” 3. After matric in Elsie’s River, he studied botany and environmental science at the University of the Western Cape – “I hadn’t known about botany as a career.” 4. After working on environmental assessments and vegetation

surveys, he became a botanist for CREW at SANBI and then a botanist for Cape Nature. He chaired BotSoc’s Kirstenbosch branch from 2011 to 2014 and currently chairs the Fynbos Forum. 5. He was awarded the Cape Action for People & the Environment Award and the Cape Fynbos Conservation Award in 2012 and was recognised as one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top Young 200 in 2013. 6. Rupert, wife Florence and young daughter Amelia admit, "We're only just learning how to garden with sandy soil!” Jo-Anne Isobel King 1. Jo-Anne’s grandfather was a lifelong gardener and made sure “I grew up with my hands in the dirt! I loved helping him and watching the plants grow. My habit of picking, crushing and taking in the scent of any pelargonium leaf I see comes straight from him.” 2. Having excelled in English at school in Gauteng, she used that first in corporate training, then as a copy editor and writer on several magazines both in Johannesburg and at Media24 in Cape Town, where she became a chief copy editor at just 22. 3. By 2016, she wanted to “do something different, outside my comfort zone” and enrolled for B.Com accounting at the George campus of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. 4. Growing up with plants, she had always known she wanted to work for conservation. By coincidence, all her housemates in George were nature-conservation students and their influence 'planted a seed'. 5. She soon became a keen CREW member and a moving force in re-establishing BotSoc’s Garden Route branch, which she chaired.


6. Her goals are for BotSoc branches to become more nationally involved, to help their members enjoy a sense of achievement by contributing to conservation, and to inspire and attract more young members. Interviews: Patricia McCracken Both Rupert Koopman, BotSoc head of conservation, and Jo-Anne Isobel King, BotSoc head of marketing and membership growth, have love of plants bred in the bone.





The Tala team celebrate triumphing over bush encroachment.

IT SEEMS TOPSY-TURVY to think of cutting back precious bushveld with its indigenous trees and bushes – but even bushveld benefits from the effects of this. So do the wildlife living on it. If some indigenous plants thrive at the expense of others, the vegetation balance is disturbed and some of the wildlife that depend on it for survival will suffer. Increasing temperatures and changing rainfall because of climate change seem to be making this bush encroachment worse. Like any garden or park, protected areas also need thinning out from time to time as Tala Private Game Reserve outside Pietermaritzburg knows. The 3 000-hectare reserve has no large predators but an interesting variety of other game, ranging from the tiny mongoose up to the biggest of all southern African antelope, the eland. Its 20 or so species of antelope also include oribi, bushbuck and reedbuck. The reserve is a mix of acacia thornveld, open grassland and sensitive wetland.

“Within the reserve are areas with thick vegetation and masses of selfsown scented pod thorn (Vachellia nilotica),” explains general manager Mike Nunan. “This creates a canopy so light cannot get in and grasses are not able to grow. This means that grazers such as rhino cannot find enough food there.” “After we have removed alien plants and thinned over-populated indigenous plants, when the rain comes and these parts are exposed to light, sunshine and animal droppings, the primary grasses will come back. The animals spread out more and are less likely all to graze in one area and destroy it.” Fortunately for Tala, Husqvarna chose the reserve to pilot its veld management toolbox. They sponsored professional equipment such as brushcutters, chainsaws and clearing saws for a work team to eliminate alien vegetation and thin out encroaching bush in a five-step project: 1. Plan: The area was divided into typical plant community units;

important indigenous trees and plants identified and marked; and a certain number of plants were left on slope and runoff areas to prevent erosion. 2. Clear the way: Small unwanted vegetation under trees was cleared with brushcutters fitted with clearing-saw blades. This exposed problem plants and created working space for the chainsaws. 3. Opening up thickets: Chainsaw operators felled the targeted large scented pod thorn trees. They also cross-cut the thick branches to be used as firewood at the lodge. 4. Cutting and clearing: Opening up the dense tree thickets meant the team had better access to lantana and the scented pod thorn canopies so could use clearing saws to cut them into more manageable sections. A team with mulching blades fitted to clearing saws followed to chop the lantana into smaller pieces. 5. Protecting regrowth: The thinnings from scented pod thorn canopies were packed over open and vulnerable areas to protect grasses that are re-establishing from being browsed too soon. This brush packing usually decomposes about the same time as the grasses are well established. 6. Finishing the job: The Tala team completed the reclamation project by using spray bottles of herbicide mixed with red dye to treat and mark stumps. Four months later, after the first good rains, the pilot site was well recovered. Where there were dense thickets, blocking out sun and limiting water penetration, now there are clear areas and new grass attracting plenty of different grazing animals. The pilot provided employment and skills training for local people, sponsored by Illovo Sugar. It had also previously helped have resident rhinos tagged with GPS monitoring devices so they could be tracked 24 hours a day and supports the reserve’s on-site, 24-hour antipoaching patrol. If you need advice on rehabilitation of your land, contact: veld.management@ husqvarnagroup.com MARCH 2020 | VELD & FLORA


BOOKS Everyone concerned with human survival on Planet Earth should read the up-to-date, informative, well-researched and accessibly written South Africa’s Survival Guide to Climate Change by Sipho Kings & Sarah Wild (Macmillan, R295). This is a refreshingly honest attempt by the authors – who admit they do not agree on all issues – to summarise the 'global-climate-change-conundrum', an issue where unbelievably there still are many denialists and far too few yeasayers. Part one looks broadly at how SA has started to change, how cities will be affected (oddly, only Johannesburg and Cape Town are discussed) and explains how to calculate your own carbon footprint. Part two looks at coastal erosion and development, climate change and mental health, the impact of alien organisms and our unsustainable way of living, including plastics, landfills and water. Part three urges readers to 'Maak ‘n Plan', making changes at home and when shopping, through law and using your vote wisely. This book persuaded me that if we all work together our future is not as bleak as I see it. – Eugene Moll Donald Trump might mock teen ecoactivist Greta Thunberg for needing anger management lessons but most of her generation – and older generations – admire her force in speaking truth to power. The appropriately small and direct volume, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference (Penguin, R65), collects together 11 of her rousing speeches, including the pointed ‘You’re acting like spoiled, irresponsible children’ and ‘Can you hear me?’ Each of the speeches makes a good starting point for eco discussion groups. – Patricia McCracken Hugh Clarke received BotSoc’s Marloth Medal for his Illustrated Dictionary of southern Africa Plant Names and has since

completed a trilogy of simple, quick ID wildflower guides. The latest, Wild Flowers of the Cape Peninsula (Struik Nature, R130), is compiled with Corinne Merry, who also contributed most of the excellent photographs. This colour-coded guide covers three species per page, with photographs and short descriptive notes including flowering times. It showcases about 350 of the most common species of Table Mountain, Silvermine and Cape Point. Maps of the whole area show recommended walking routes and this A5-sized volume of 160 pages is daypack friendly. Highly recommended and a steal at the price. – Eugene Moll In last June’s issue, Veld & Flora gave you a taster of Tony Dold and Susan Abraham’s exciting new book, Cultures, Cures & Curiosities (Botanical Society, R390) – and now the full, glorious volume has been launched. The centrepiece of the stunning, visually delightful design is a series of paintings of key species by Abraham. These are complemented by historical illustrations and inviting landscape photographs. As the subtitle puts it, the text covers the Eastern Cape’s plantlore and legend – from where Sir John Barrow believed he would find a unicorn in the early 19th century to how porcupine root might bring business success and the uses of gifbol for high blood pressure. A fascinating read chockful of information plums that needed to be gathered and recorded. Order from the Botanical Society Bookshop: gregory@botsoc-kirstenbosch. org.za; add R99 for postage. – Patricia McCracken Husband and wife Alma Möller and Rolf Becker are fervent amateur botanists who have travelled the length and breadth of southern Africa for more than 16 years. They have taken more than 55 000 photographs and GPS-ed euphorbia populations to produce their Field Guide to the Succulent Euphorbias of southern Africa (Briza, R450). Not since Larry Leach (1909-1996), also an amateur botanist, has anyone invested so much time, energy, persistence and pursuit of excellence on the Euphorbiaceae. This 320-page volume is a boon to keen botanists and succulent growers with its photographs and descriptive text of all 235 species separated by colourcoded page tabs into 20 groups. Additional notes cover the structure and uniqueness of the genus, for example, taxonomic groupings and the poisonous and medicinal values of the plants over time. Most highly recommended. – Eugene Moll Intellectual property rights in South Africa are the quieter but equally crucial relation of land rights, as researcher Laura A. Foster shows in Reinventing Hoodia (Wits University Press, R350). Considered a 21st-century “wonder plant”, it has sparked a fierce battle between those demanding respect (and reward) for the keepers of indigenous knowledge and the SA and overseas biochemical prospectors accused of rights grabs. Today you will find hoodia featured on US medical and health sites, including the US government’s (https://nccih.nih. gov/health/hoodia). Foster combines law, sociology, ecology and biochemistry in her ambitious interdisciplinary approach. The book is demanding in following an academic template and theorising – but worthwhile for anyone who cares about how southern Africa’s plant riches can be protected from profiteering. – Patricia McCracken






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A job well done – some of Kogelberg’s Hardcore Hackers: Nils Rottcher (left), Willem Stiglingh (centre) and Barbara Silcock (right).

UP YOUR HACKING GAME! AT BOTSOC’S KOGELBERG BRANCH, we are amazed to think that we have more than half a century of hacking experience! We have three main hacking groups, each with a great spirit of camaraderie. Members have come up with special names for their hack group – there is the ‘Battle of Betty’s Bay’, for instance, which has lasted 56 years and counting. Members of the weekly group call themselves the ‘Hardcore Hackers’ and proudly wear T-shirts that say on the back: “I cut you down, I paint you blue”! There are opportunities for people of all ages. Our chainsaw operators are known as ‘The Chain Gang’. Tree popper, lopper, bow-saw and secateur users are known as ‘The Light Brigade’, tackling smaller saplings and more easily extracted aliens. Usually there are between 20 and 30 participants, sometimes more, per hack. Our Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay



hack groups each meet once a month. The weekly Hardcore Hackers meet on Wednesdays, operating in rotation in the Rooiels, Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay areas. When you are trying to control alien vegetation, our advice to other branches is to be systematic. Here are our top seven tips: 1. Raise awareness: Many people in your area may not realise how extensive alien invasive vegetation is and which are problem plants. 2. Involve the community: Highlight the camaraderie of hacking groups – name and thank every volunteer via social media and your newsletter. 3. Keep good records: This shows progress and helps you motivate for more hackers. It also promotes a strong sense of collective identity among hackers. 4. Focus on technique and teaching the necessary skills, such as how to cut, treat with herbicide and so on.

5. Tool up: Provide the correct tools. It is worth a branch investing in quality chainsaws, tree poppers in various sizes, loppers, bow saws and secateurs. Maintaining the tools is also important. We have a responsible person assigned to each chainsaw, of which there are many. Much pride is taken in cleaning, sharpening, servicing and using chainsaws responsibly and safely. 6. Educate: During one hack where we targeted New Zealand christmas trees (Metrosideros excelsa), a small stand of Cape boekenhout (Rapanea melanophloeos) was chopped down by accident. This underlines how important it is to give volunteers an introduction to indigenous trees. 7. Celebrate the end of each hack: We call it ‘the aftermath’. A celebration with refreshments provided, much as players hit the ‘19th hole’ after a golf tournament, boosts team spirit. – Tim Attwell

HONOUR OUR BOTSOC ACHIEVERS BotSoc’s annual honours and awards mark achievements and contributions to promoting and appreciating SA’s wildflower heritage. Please make sure all nominations are submitted to BotSoc national office by 15 May. The categories are: Bolus Medal: For an amateur botanist who has made a significant contribution to our knowledge of southern African flora through publications in recognised scientific literature, does not earn his/her living from these publications but may have received formal tertiary-level training in botany. Marloth Medal: For any amateur or professional botanist who has produced scientific literature of a popular nature to stimulate public interest in southern Africa’s indigenous flora.  Schelpe Award: For the best article on growing southern Africa’s indigenous flora published in Veld & Flora during the year. Denys Heesom Medal: For any person or organisation that has made a significant contribution to eradicating alien vegetation in southern Africa.  Cythna Letty Medal: For anyone whose published botanical illustrations have made a significant contribution to promoting SA plants. Dudley D’Ewes Medal: For anyone who effectively promotes southern African plants and their conservation through the media (newspapers, popular journals, radio and television, but excluding books).  Percy Sergeant Medal: For anyone who effectively promotes southern African plants and their conservation through photography.  Botanical Society Flora Conservation Medal: For anyone who has contributed considerably towards the preservation and conservation of southern African plants, such as landowners, financiers, educationalists and others.  Honorary Life Membership: For any BotSoc member who has rendered exceptional services to the society or one of its branches. Voted on by members present at the society’s AGM.. Botanical Society Certificate of Appreciation: Awarded at branch level for a BotSoc member’s valuable contribution to promoting southern African plants and/or BotSoc’s aims and objectives.


For more details and a copy of the required nomination form, mail: info@botanicalsociety.org.za. Remember that both proposer and seconder must be BotSoc members in good standing.

Hugh Clarke celebrates his Marloth Medal with (from left): his wife Fenja, BotSoc national chairman Marinda Nel and his daughter Nikki.

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The amazing nature race

Jacques van der Merwe (centre) from the City of Cape Town teaches young scholars about wildlife and iNaturalist during the 2019 Cape Town City Nature Challenge.

Ready, steady . . . bioblitz! Will you help Cape Town defend its title as the winner of the global City Nature Challenge – or help your own city try to snatch it from them? BY MEGAN SMITH & TONY REBELO




realise you have just helped prove that you are living in the most biodiverse city on earth! We had planned our attempt at the unique City Nature Challenge as if we were trying to win a World Cup – not for sport but for working against the clock to catalogue Cape Town’s biodiversity. At the end of April every year, the City Nature Challenge has members of the public around the world recording as much wildlife as they can within their city in just four days on the citizen-science, social-media platform iNaturalist. We found it was huge fun learning more about our city’s nature and competing with cities around the world to do it – and, of course, winning helps! Last year was the first time that Cape Town competed, alongside 150 cities, including only two other African cities: Nairobi in Kenya and Port Harcourt in Nigeria. When the four-day competition timed out, we were thrilled to discover just how well we had done. Team Cape Town had racked up 4 587 species, itself about 15% up on the ambitious target set for us by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). That won us the title of most biodiverse city in the world. We had left trailing well behind us Hong Kong in second place with 3 596 species and Houston, USA, with 3 367. Cape Town participants also recorded 53 775 observations, significantly above the 50 000 target. In this category, La Paz, Bolivia, was a

distant second with 46 931 observations and San Diego, USA, third with 38 241. It might sound like beginner’s luck that Cape Town walked off with the title at our first attempt but we were lucky to have a great strategy thanks to our organising team of City of Cape Town biodiversity branch and CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) at SANBI. We believe that there could be great results coming out of other southern African cities and when it comes to more competition, we in Cape Town say bring it on! “I enjoyed watching my CREW and iNaturalist friends stepping up and giving it their all,” recalls Petra Broddle, volunteer champion for the Blaauwberg Conservation Area CREW group. “We loved and laughed about the trauma of the identification phase, which I was unprepared for!” Friends of Tokai Park heritage committee member and 2019 City Nature Challenge volunteer Alberta van Rooyen spotted the alien prickly moses (Acacia verticillata) during the challenge. She says: “It gives a warm feeling to non-ecologists when they [can] contribute to fynbos conservation by pointing out aliens.” The 2020 City Nature Challenge runs from 24 to 27 April. Gaborone in Botswana has signed up as have four other SA cities including George, Nelson Mandela Bay, Durban and Tshwane, and a total of over 250 cities worldwide. To help you make an impact on the City Nature Challenge leaderboard for your city, here are some of our key lessons from our 2019 experience . . .

1. COLLABORATE TO BIOBLITZ Collaborating with a large group of organisations and clubs contributed a lot to our success in the 2019 City Nature Challenge. The enthusiasm of organising team City of Cape Town biodiversity management branch and the Cape CREW team was infectious and pulled in other organisations such as various CREW and WESSA volunteer groups – plus 15 others!



PIC TIPS FOR CITY NATURE CHALLENGE 2020 • Taking a clear picture of a species is vital because it must be identified from a photograph uploaded to iNaturalist. • Remember to get in as close as you can and to use your zoom to fill the entire frame – a black dot cannot be identified! • For plants, take at least three pictures: a close-up of a flower or fruit, ideally showing the front and back; a picture of a branch showing the arrangement


and shape of the leaves on the stem; and a habitat shot showing the entire plant in the context of its environment. • For insects, take at least three pictures: a close-up of the head showing the mouthparts and antennae; the entire creature showing the segments of the feet, thorax and abdomen; and one of it in its habitat. One of the pictures should have something to show the scale: a finger or ruler will do. • There is no limit to the number of photographs, so take pictures of the underside, a side view, the texture of the shell or bark and so forth.

Take plenty of photos to help confirm a plant’s identity. For this Wiborgia obcordata, that meant: (1) close-up of the flower showing the shape of bracts and sepals and how they are arranged; (2) photo of the species in its natural habitat; (3) another feature, such as this pod.






CREW volunteers bioblitz for plants at Tygerberg Nature Reserve.

To give you an idea of the breadth of support you can raise, these included: Southern Underwater Research Group (SURG), Scouts South Africa, Sun Valley Eco-Watch, Long-term Intertidal Monitoring through Participation, Evaluation and Training (LIMPET) Programme, Fynbos LIFE, Cape Herpetology Club, Cape Flats Nature Reserve, South African National Parks (SANParks) Honorary Rangers, Kommetjie Environmental Awareness Group, Renew the Elsieskraal River Association, V&A Waterfront, World Wildlife FundSouth Africa, Botanical Society of South Africa Kirstenbosch Branch, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Freshwater Unit at SANBI, Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET), Two Oceans Aquarium, DSK German School, Communitree and the Cape Town Mountain Club. Our 2020 City Nature Challenge will target even more stakeholders and we



hope that organisations such as Cape Nature, SANParks, Table Mountain Fund, Rotary South Africa, and the Beach Co-op will join in. Our aim is to unite conservation-driven organisations and institutes for a common cause. Cape Town’s biodiversity, although unique, is severely under threat and we need to innovate ways for the public to get involved in helping to preserve it.

2. BUILD PARTICIPATION The one challenge category where Cape Town did not excel was the number of participants. Our largest gap was among the youth, including tertiaryeducation students and scholars. Since the City Nature Challenge is also an environmental education exercise, we are trying hard to involve students by running events with CTEET and tertiary institutions for biology clubs and students with biology majors so they

can apply their theoretical knowledge while having fun.

3. SHOWCASE YOUR CITY Each 2019 City Nature Challenge stakeholder and collaborator extensively marketed the challenge and the bioblitz events that they hosted. This marketing, along with fun prizes on offer for participants who excelled in the challenge, helped raise interest high and resulted in Cape Town beating its species and observation targets. In the longer term, it is also key to promoting and ultimately helping protect the city’s biodiversity. For the 2019 City Nature Challenge, City of Cape Town libraries donated free WiFi access over the four days of the challenge for participants without internet access to upload observations. This also helped add to the publicity and buzz around the event.

CITY NATURE CHALLENGE 2020: WHEN, WHERE, HOW April 24-27 (Friday to Monday) 2020: The actual challenge – all observations must be made over these four days. April 28-May3 2020: Uploading and identification of observations. This cuts off at midnight, 3 May 2020. Please join one of our identification parties if you are able to help identify plants, animals and fungi. The parties will focus on certain groups and show people what needs to be done. Anyone in the world can contribute to identifications and you can help any of our southern African cities. Join the southern African City Nature Challenge entrants on iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2020-cape-town https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2020-durban https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2020-gaborone https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2020-garden-routedistrict-municipality https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2020-nelsonmandela-bay https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2020-tshwane

4. BE PREPARED Many people were unfamiliar with the iNaturalist app and were excited to discover how it enables quick and convenient observations without the hassle of dealing with a computer. The app’s online help includes video tutorials, guidelines, etiquette and instructions. We found, though, that the training workshops run by SANBI and City of Cape Town for both the organisations’ staff and volunteers helped generate camaraderie among participants. For our 2020 City Nature Challenge, iNaturalist and photography training workshops led by SANBI and the City of Cape Town biodiversity branch will be posted on the iNaturalist Facebook page and as news on the project page. Keep checking for any updates.

5. SET UP YOUR BIOBLITZ We found this a really effective and fun way to make observations for the

challenge. Target your favourite open places in your city and make as many observations as possible. You can do this informally on your own, with your family and friends, or even as a fun office event. Targeting a range of habitats for species variety is important and you can also join an organised bioblitz. These are usually led by a biologist or reserve manager, which helps make it a fun learning experience. For the 2020 City Nature Challenge, our organised bioblitzes had themes such as rocky shores, forests, wildflowers, mushrooms, birding, snake and amphibian searches. They were led by some of our most highly regarded experts such as Drs Margo and George Branch, Drs Bryan and Robin Maritz, Cape Nature botanists, CREW leaders, and City of Cape Town biodiversity branch staff.

6. CELEBRATE YOUR ACHIEVEMENT Wherever you finish on the leaderboard, you will have had a wonderful experience and contributed interesting data to understanding of your city’s biodiversity. At our celebration, we made sure that we acknowledged all the support we received from participating organisations and organised a prize-giving for participants. The top prizes of a weekend at Cape

Nature or Montispectus for uploading the most observations and species went to CREW volunteers Magriet Brink and Helen Pickering.

ALL THE FUN OF NATURE You can find the time and date of bioblitzes on the iNaturalist southern Africa Facebook page (@iNatureZA) and as news posts on each city's 2020 City Nature Challenge iNaturalist project. If you are unsure about what events are happening in your local neighbourhood, check with your nearest nature reserve or city park to see what activities they are hosting. Keep track of the leaderboard here: https://www.inaturalist.org/ projects/city-nature-challenge-2020 CNC2019 and winning the title of the world’s most biodiverse city has boosted camaraderie among conservation organisations and spurred greater interest from the general public in local biodiversity. We wish all the cities participating an exciting and epic challenge. It is sure to be fun and exciting – don’t miss out and let’s try to make SA win the title again! Megan Smith and Dr Tony Rebelo work at SANBI’s threatened species unit in Cape Town. Contacts: M.Smith2@sanbi. org.za; T.Rebelo@sanbi.org.za



Quest for Angolan giants and dwarves

Brian Huntley's first sighting of a dwarf baobab near Moçâmedes.

BRIAN J. HUNTLEY recalls the long and the short of two of his favourite plants in Angola




THERE ARE PLANT TREASURES that you remember all your life and new encounters that bring back that same thrill of excitement. This is the story of two of my favourites from Angola, that intriguing country of dramatic contrasts in landscapes and of remarkable biodiversity. One of these special plants is a recent acquaintance but the other I have known for nearly half a century. My wife Merle and I arrived in Angola in 1971 as I was taking up a job as scientific adviser to the government. My first assignment took us round the country, visiting all the national parks for which I was to be responsible for ecological surveys and management plans. It was a glorious and eye-opening trip, taking us from the endless miombo woodlands of the central plateau, into the ultra-desert of the Namib and later north to the equatorial rainforests of Cabinda. We still feel privileged to have seen the home to giant sable antelope in Luando Strict Nature Reserve and the forest habitats of the greatest and tiniest of primates in Cabinda. We were able to get to know some of the country’s 6 850 plant, 291 mammal, 278 reptile, 111 amphibian and 940 bird species. In 2019, it took our team 549 pages to present a succinct outline of Angola’s biological wealth in the book Biodiversity of Angola (see p.48 for details). As a result of the country’s tragic civil war, from 1975 to 2002, wildlife tourism has only recently revived. The good news is that South Africans no longer need visas to visit Angola.

THE WELWITSCHIA RIDDLE Back in 1971, we started our first reconnaissance by heading east to the giant sable country of Luando. After taking in the miombo in Bicuar National Park, about 120 kilometres south-east of Lubango, we went to the Namib in western Angola, ending in Iona, the country’s largest national park. Here we saw for the first time endless desert plains dotted with Welwitschia mirabilis. This plant seemed such a botanical enigma to Charles Darwin (1809-1882) that he compared its evolutionary importance in the plant kingdom to that of the duckbilled platypus, at the time a riddle for biologists trying to find an evolutionary bridge between reptiles and birds.

Almost as unexpectedly, welwitschias share some characters of the two great sections of the plant kingdom. They are cone-bearing plants with separate male and female plants (gymnosperms) like conifers but also have water-carrying tissue (xylem) like flowering plants (angiosperms). The first scientific record of this strange plant came just over 160 years ago. In September 1859, Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch (18061872), the father of Angolan botany encountered the species in the Namib, just south of the coastal village of Moçâmedes, almost 1 000 kilometres south of Luanda. Welwitsch collected more than 8 000 specimens of 5 000 species of Angolan plants during his eight years in the country. Of these, 1 000 species were new to science. Yet even he was overcome by emotion on first meeting the plant that has become known as Welwitschia mirabilis. He wrote: I could do no more than kneel down on the burning soil and gaze at it, half in fear lest a touch should prove it a figment of my imagination. When Welwitsch’s specimens of the plant arrived at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, director Sir Joseph Hooker (1817-1911) was equally amazed. He declared it: A discovery that I do not hesitate to consider the most wonderful, in botanical point of view, that has been brought to light in the present century. The name that Sir Joseph Hooker gave Welwitschia mirabilis reflects both his sense of wonder and his tribute to Welwitsch. No other close plant relative of welwitschia has been discovered, making it an extraordinary one of a kind (monotypic family and genus). Despite such enthusiasm, not all observers were so impressed, however. English explorer and hunter Alexander Barns (1881-1930) dismissed it in 1926 as: ‘such a dwarf and degraded travesty of its magnificent relations (conifers) of northern climes.’

THE GIANT OF MORRO DO SOBA Of the many hundreds of thousands of Welwitschia mirabilis scattered across the Angolan Namib, one quite literally stands out above all the others. MARCH 2020 | VELD & FLORA



Brian Huntley sizes up the largest-known Welwitschia mirabilis, inland of Cabo Negro.

This is a magnificent specimen that would startle Sir Joseph Hooker even more – it is nearly 1.5 metres high and 10 metres in girth. The plant has not increased in size in the nearly 50 years since I first encountered it on a dry sandy riverbed, near a site known as Morro do Soba, just a few dozen kilometres from where Welwitsch himself first met up with the species. No other welwitschia in Angola or Namibia matches it for size. Professor Harold Pearson (1870-1915), founding director of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and world authority on gymnosperms, discovered the likely reason for this when he travelled to Angola in 1909 specifically to study welwitschia. Pearson noted that two or more welwitschia growing close to each other can graft together – and then push upwards rather than spreading outwards. The giant of Morro do Soba may have endured more than 1 000 years of life in the Namib. We trust that it will be safe for many centuries to come. Climate change is an emerging threat but the possibility of vandalism is of more immediate concern.



BONSAI BAOBAB It was spring 1972 when I first encountered my second plant treasure. Ecologist Ken Tinley and I set off early from the then quaint village of Lubango in southern Angola to attempt to climb Serra da Neve an isolated 2 489-metre mountain (inselberg) that rises precipitously above the Namib plains south of Benguela. Our plan was short lived. A storm along the high escarpment and plateau caused flash flooding along the Bentiaba River. Try as we did, our heavily laden Land Rover could not get through. We turned back to search for another route. In our meanderings we came to Pedra Grande, a huge granite outcrop on the old road to Moçâmedes. We climbed up the lower slopes and were soon amazed by the sight of dwarf baobabs. They looked just like bonsai specimens rooted in the great cracks of the granite dome. What a contrast to the giants that populate the lowlands of Angola from the Cunene to the Congo – yet charming and intriguing in their ability to survive on

the fringes of the Namib. This first encounter with dwarf baobabs prompted me to search for more specimens, deeper into the desert. I did not succeed for more than quarter of a century and managed only to track down some isolated outliers just inland of Moçâmedes. They seemed remote and lonely, like outcasts from the dense populations that follow the base of the Angolan escarpment some 80 kilometres inland.

FINDING A DESERT DWARF But in early 2019, a surprise awaited me from an unexpected source. When finalising the Biodiversity of Angola, I happened to look at a new website AngolaAmbiente. Founded by a group of keen field workers in Angola, it features many photographs of birds, mammals, reptiles, frogs, dragonflies and plants, including publishing the first photographs of several species new to science. My interest was immediately attracted to a photo of an amazing baobab, of huge circumference but very modest height, standing alone on an extensive rocky plain otherwise devoid

of woody plants. I immediately traced the photographer, school teacher Alice Afonso. I emailed her: “Could we meet, wherever you found this baobab, on 23 May?” I asked. “Yes, indeed,” was her immediate response. Good luck and good timing are key to getting things done and I was fortunate to find that my Angolan friend Pedro Vaz Pinto, famous for rescuing the giant sable, would be in Luanda then. Pedro insisted on driving me south to search for the baobab and also for more specimens of a gecko that he had recently rediscovered – the first record of the species in over a century since the type specimen was collected by Dr William John Ansorge (1850-1913) in 1903. We headed south in Pedro’s trusty Landcruiser along the main highway that leads from Luanda to Namibia and eventually South Africa. The road was in reasonable condition as far south as Benguela but the coastal route that we took towards our destination near Lucira became increasingly challenging. Watching the vegetation change from baobab clump savanna into acacia thornveld then mopaneveld and finally succulent desert and arid


This Welwitschia mirabilis population stretches across the gravel plains of Iona National Park, Angola.

This dwarf baobab has grown on a granitic outcrop 40 kilometres inland of Moçâmedes, Angola.





Top: Exploring a giant baobab near Chitado. Below: The lone desert baobab’s flowerhead is dried up and its fruit tiny.




Brian Huntley gets to know the ancient dwarf baobab at Farol de Santa Marta.

grasslands compensated for the hard, 16-hour drive until we crested a high ridge overlooking the Atlantic. Below us the tiny speck of a lighthouse could be seen against the setting sun. We had reached our destination: Farol da Santa Marta. Alice and her fisherman husband Luis had made the tough seven-hour drive south from their base in Benguela to meet us at the lighthouse. This enthusiastic and delightful Angolan couple had initiated a voluntary project to rehabilitate this beacon at the most remote and desolate point on Angola’s 1 200-kilometre coastline. We pitched our tents on a chilly windswept promontory above the wild waters of the upwelling Benguela current, rich in fishes, dolphins, whales, and on the rocky shoreline, huge beds of tasty mussels. After a good sleep, we took an early walk across the old marine platform. Four hours later, a small smudge appeared through the mirage of desert. The smudge transformed into a squat lump, then a hazy ball covered by spindly branches. Then the unmistakable outline of a baobab emerged, leafless in winter undress, a lonely figure on a hostile plateau.

A BAOBAB LONER This remarkable tree stands naked, solitary, perhaps 50 kilometres away from the closest fruiting baobab population. The tree carried small, desiccated flowers, with tiny seedless fruit. Although leafless and covered in lichen, the tree’s whole robust body had a heathy texture, glowing pink and purple against the grey landscape. Surprisingly, it was not in a deep sandy river bed nor at the base of a granite outcrop like the dwarves near Moçâmedes, where occasional runoff from sea mists could concentrate. It was on a barren flat pavement of unforgiving calcrete, where rainfall is less than 30 millimetres a year. The area’s dense coastal fog must be a major source of moisture for the tree and for the low Karoo-type (karroid) scrub and succulents around it, as well as their diverse reptile and insect companions. We immediately wondered what this crazy baobab was doing out here in its loneliness? How did it get here? What is its age? The last question might be the first answered. In recent years, South African scientists and colleagues from Romania and the USA have undertaken advanced

radiocarbon analyses of baobabs across southern Africa. Their results are interesting but disturbing. The oldest baobabs range from 1 200 to 2 400 years of age. But of the 13 oldest records, nine have died in the past decade. This sudden die-off might be coincidental, or it might be related to climate warming, as has been suggested for some quivertree populations. The baobab of Farol de Santa Marta might well be over 1 500 years old. Its robust body, which appears to be a melding of three main trunks, might yet yield secrets of its age and of changing climates over many centuries. Collaboration with Angolan colleagues will hopefully lead to more research on the Namib’s desert dwarves and to protecting them effectively for future centuries. Brian J. Huntley, former CEO of the NBI and SANBI, has been involved in biodiversity conservation projects in Angola since 1970, including four years as ecologist to the Angolan National Parks from 1971 to 1975. He continues to work on Angolan ecology as a member of the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, University of Porto, Portugal. MARCH 2020 | VELD & FLORA


Happier plant snapping

The colours of this water lily pop because it has been shot on an overcast day – and with little or no shadow, you can shoot directly overhead to make it the star of your picture.

If one of your resolutions for this year is to improve your plant photography, pro shooter CHRISTOPHER LAURENZ has some top tips for you PHOTOGRAPHS: CHRISTOPHER LAURENZ




FASHION, MODELS AND LUXURY HOTELS make up much of my daily photography work, with some gritty, hard-news images thrown in as well. All these shoots have one thing in common – delivering the highest quality to the client’s brief, even if that includes photoshopping a faint crease out of a pillowcase. To recharge, I escape to the bushveld and shoot all the images I want, the way I want. That freedom to experiment makes everyone a better photographer. My tips can work whether you want to take your photographs with a smartphone or with the pro and enthusiast’s gold standard, a single lens reflex camera (SLR). You can pay as much or as little as you like for a digital SLR and the new mirrorless cameras often come with interchangeable lenses, giving you a version of an SLR in a very portable package. Of course, with digital cameras, you no longer have to count the cost of film so you can take as many variations as you like. But they must be variations. You will learn very slowly if you are simply taking exactly the same image every time. Instead, change the angle, change the focus and depth of field, change the subject.

A mix of textures and colours invites the eye to roam around your picture – either quietly with the subtle colouration of the fern and blossom photographs or more dramatically in the contrasts of flowers, berries and leaves of the waterberry tree.



Above: Make your landscapes more dramatic by choosing a close point of interest as your focus and keeping the depth of field shallow. Left: Give a familiar mesembryanthemum fresh impact by placing it slightly off-centre.

DOWN & DIRTY Be prepared to lie flat in the dust and mud if that gives you the best angle for your shot. Get down on a level with the flowers you are shooting so you can come in close and tight with your camera. Shooting low and upwards at a plant will frame it against the sky, giving you fantastic impact.



Throw out the rulebook that says you should shoot only in the ‘golden hour’ after dawn and before dusk. If you are on a roadtrip, you probably will not have the luxury of being in every place where you want to shoot at the ‘golden hour’. There is no best time for shooting but you can create your best time by moving round a plant and experimenting with the angle of your light and your camera. This simple technique also saves you from carrying flash or reflectors to add stronger light to sections of the shot.


Avoid simply taking the easy way out and standing over each plant to shoot it. You will rarely get the best from your subject this way and your pictures will all have a boring sameness to them – remember you are not shooting for a catalogue. Taking a few moments to experiment with angles is an investment that will pay off. This will help you decide what you want to capture. If the flower pops against its background, you can accommodate more context to show the kind of terrain where it grows. If the flower is spotted, you need to go in close to break the camouflage effect. Similarly, if a flower is very discreet, you are likely to need to be close up so that it stands out from its background.

There are three main variables that you play with in photography: 1. Lighting Never be frightened of light. We are taught to keep the sun behind us but all too often that flattens the subject and makes your picture boring. You can avoid this with an SLR by using your aperture settings. But that is still doing it the safe way. Instead, experiment with shooting into the sun. You will get a much more three-dimensional portrait of the plant that will highlight the flower’s veins or the plant’s roots. Or try the sun to one side of you. 2. Point of focus Generally, you need to focus on the most intricate part of what you are shooting – the veins in a leaf or petal or the centre of the flowerhead. Or you might want your shot to tell a story about interactions with plants, so you would focus on the insect at the tip of a leaf or the eye or whiskers of the animal that is browsing on the plant. Plants are mainly static, which helps with focus but you might want to capture motion blur. To do this, you would usually focus on and track your main subject – say, leaves floating through the air – which would mean that your background would be more blurred. 3. Depth of field This term simply refers to how much of the shot is in focus. You can use this as an element of the composition to lead the person

looking at your shot into the photograph and highlighting the detail you want them to see. On a smartphone, you can add this with a bokeh effect but the blur is much cruder than the subtle effect you achieve with an SLR. Shallow depth of field means that only objects close to the camera are in sharp focus and the background is blurred – this helps an interesting detail stand out from a busy background. Deep depth of field works well for landscapes, for instance, giving a wide range of clarity. But you cannot achieve a picture where everything is sharp – and anyway it would look very unnatural. Enjoy your plant photography – and reward yourself with an SLR and a macro lens as soon as you can! Christopher Laurenz is a Durbanbased professional photographer (chris@laurenz.co.za). He was interviewed by Patricia McCracken.

PAYBACK TIME For all of us, as the saying goes, the more we practise, the better we get. But look for these pointers when you are reviewing your photographs and the practice time you have invested will pay you back with improving success: • Think about why a particular version of an image appeals to you and another one looks like a mess – this will sharpen your skills for your next shoot. • If you need to clean up your pictures a lot on your editing programme after your shoot, that is a signal to you that you needed a different angle. • Avoid cropping your photographs routinely – you will lose quality in the images. The guideline is always to get it right in the viewfinder before you shoot.



Small differences, big secrets


If you are baffled by the Cape’s bounty of ericas, you have plenty of company – there is even a global research network digging deep to find out why fynbos is dominated by hundreds of different erica species

A scarlet sea of Erica pillansii blooms at the epicentre of Cape erica diversity, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.








Top: Seth Musker documents a population of the rare Erica nevillei on the Cape Peninsula. Middle: The team documents an erica in the field. Bottom: Ted Oliver and Nic le Maitre (formerly Stellenbosch University) locate Erica remota.




Top: At Cape Point, Anina Coetzee inspects Erica coccinea to see whether pollination has taken place. Bottom: Erica pannosa was found at Greyton.


More than erica species are currently recognised, almost 700 of which are from the Cape floristic region, mostly in fynbos vegetation

488 erica species (60%) have been included in molecular phylogenetic analyses Some ericas can grow into trees up to metres tall (E. arborea from the northern hemisphere)


Erica flowers can be as long as (E. junonia), or shorter than (e.g. E. muscosa)





The largest numbers of species were described by: R. A. Salisbury (17611829; species); H. C. Andrews (1794-1830; species); and, during the past 52 years, by South African botanist E.G.H. Oliver ( described as new and renamed from other genera as ericas)



Observations of ericas on iNaturalist: and counting, from 2 693 observers and 846 identifiers. Most observations (by far): Tony Rebelo (3 126)

21 546



72% of ericas are pollinated by insects; by birds; by long proboscid flies; by wind; and fewer than by rodents According to SANBI’s Red List, species/ subspecies of erica are considered threatened; a further critically so; are extinct; more extinct in the wild

15% 5%









LIVING RIGHT NEXT TO your closest relatives should be a challenge. How Cape erica species achieve this without obvious rivalry for space, nutrients, sun and even pollinators is one of the many questions that puzzle their human fans. A fundamental challenge to erica enthusiasts is that most erica species inhabiting the Cape fynbos look remarkably similar to one another – uniformly shrubby with narrow leaves. “Is this a familiar face – or is it another friend I haven’t yet met?” you wonder as you walk through the Cape fynbos. From stepping out, on the trail up to the peak, then back down again, dozens of new encounters lead to mounting uncertainty. Can this form still be Erica placentiflora, or is it yet another different erica species? Another mountain, a change in season, and it all begins anew. Even fynbos fundis often groan, “So many small pink jobs!” when you start talking about ericas. We all find it dishearteningly easy to lose track when counting erica species while walking through fynbos. Ericas never fail to surprise you – which is their frustration for some, their challenge for others. The sheer numbers of erica species can seem overwhelming. As far as we currently know, there are almost 700 different erica species in the Cape floristic region. This is so unusually high even for such a spectacularly diverse region that Erica easily wins the title of the plant genus with most species in the region. The Cape is home to nearly 90% of the world’s known erica species. Cape ericas diversified in the last 10 to 15 million years. Despite being just half the age of northern hemisphere heathers, they are an order of magnitude more species rich. Ericas excite botanists because we hope that by analysing how factors such as ecology influenced the evolution of their species diversity, we might get answers that we can apply to the Cape floristic region in general. We are asking questions such as: What drove the evolution of so many different erica species? How can such similar species live so close together? Why does one population of a particular species have white

• • •

Erica fascicularis blooms on the Perdeberg.

flowers, but another pink, or red?

• If so, are these really the same species? • What is the genetic basis of changes in flower colour? • How threatened are the various species and how can we conserve them?

GETTING OUT THE TOOLBOX Some ericas are widespread but very variable. Many are rare, growing only in small areas or just one tiny area (narrowly endemic). They are often highly threatened, whether by habitat destruction, inappropriate fire regimes, encroaching invasive species or even just by the risky business of living in small populations in an uncertain world. Many of these questions concern events that happened deep in the past.

Often fossils can give biologists clues about how species and communities evolved millions of years ago. But in the Cape, plant fossils are generally rare and incomplete, making them difficult to interpret. Instead, our network of researchers in South Africa and across the world is now pooling experience in a range of approaches including ecology, evolution, taxonomy and conservation to search for these answers. From this toolbox of methods, DNA evidence is helping us plant detectives unlock the evolutionary secrets of ericas. The instructions for building any organism are encoded in long DNA sequences of just four different base pairs packed into each of our cells. These DNA sequences are passed down from parents to offspring and from ancestor to descendant species, while steadily accumulating changes or mutations. MARCH 2020 | VELD & FLORA


Biologists can infer how closely related different species are by comparing different individual plants’ DNA. By comparing the sequences to highlight shared inherited changes, we can reconstruct a branching history – much like a family tree – known as a molecular phylogeny. This family tree is helping explain how erica species evolved in the Cape – and it turns out that the Cape species are all closely related.

BIRDS & BEES Flowers of Cape erica species can be of different sizes, shapes and colours. However, different species can also have strikingly similar large or small, narrow or broad-tubed, colourful, dull or scented blooms. These varied flower patterns often reflect highly specific supply-anddemand relationships with a number of different types of pollinators with characteristic and peculiar needs, from birds to bees, flies with a long proboscis, moths, rodents or even the wind.

that similar flower colours in different species are caused by different genetic changes. All these different means to the same end seem rather complicated for something as seemingly simple as having white flowers. You can stumble over Erica sessiliflora, E. thomae, E. viscaria, E. pinea or E. plukenetii, all of them white flowered and all within a few metres on a hike into the mountains at Kleinmond, for instance. It is odd to think that each species’ similar white flowers has a different origin. Many whiteflowered species are only distantly related, and the same applies to the red and yellow ones. The wider erica family tree shows that many pollination characteristics – such as the large, colourful flowers with plentiful nectar visited by birds – have originated multiple times independently. This happened so often that perhaps shifts between different kinds of pollination systems might explain at least part of the remarkable numbers and diversity of Cape erica species.

Like many other plants in the Cape fynbos, for ericas to survive, they must achieve successful pollination and banking of seed before the next fire. Species that optimise their pollen-delivery system will produce more offspring than those that do not. Specialising on particular pollinators, however, could result in locally adapted populations being reproductively isolated. This can set them off along their own evolutionary road to form diverging, independent species. The five highly distinct subspecies of Erica plukenetii appear to be some way down this path. One way in which plants can influence the movements of their pollinators is by signalling to them with different colours. Plenty of erica species have different colour forms across their distribution range. Bird-pollinated ericas in particular often have between two and eight different flower colour forms within one species. Research has shown











2: 3: 4:


This fly with a long proboscis visits Erica irrorata at Hansiesberg in the Cape winelands – nearly three quarters of all ericas are pollinated by insects but only 7% by long proboscid flies. A female malachite sunbird visits Erica plukenetii subsp. plukenetii – 15% of ericas are pollinated by birds. A moth visits the night-scented Erica plukenetii subsp. breviflora. A honey bee feeds on Erica labialis.


To know erica species, how they interact in the natural world and where they occur is to understand the precarious future they face to survive in the wild. No one person can get everywhere and see everything – though it’s fun to try! So it is crucially important to delineate species on evidence from numerous sources. A collection such as the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden can bring together lifetimes of mountain-hopping, giving us an overview through its plant specimens, samples, images and associated information of a region’s plant diversity dating back decades or even centuries. This helps us correctly describe a species, placing it in the appropriate context of plant structure, distribution and DNA sequences, complemented by information on local habitats, soils, pollinator distributions, altitude, rainfall and much more. All this can also help us spotlight species that face habitat loss and extinction. Many erica species occur in conserved mountain areas but


This article was inspired by a meeting of erica researchers and enthusiasts at SANBI, Kirstenbosch, in March 2019. The meeting was supported through a DFG grant to Mike Pirie.

Grade 5 learners work together in groups to observe and describe Erica cerinthoides.

it is particularly those restricted to lowland areas that face habitat loss and extinction as urban areas and farming continue to spread. Here the small lowland Cape Nature and private nature reserves are crucial in preserving and restoring both endangered species and the full complexity of the ecosystems – including pollinators – that support them. An erica, Erica verticillata, is the flagship species of the largely lost Cape Flats sand fynbos, reduced to just 11% of its original extent. The species was believed to be extinct but was part of an international rescue effort when live plants were found preserved by botanical gardens and private collectors around the world. Ten examples of this species were found, brought back to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and restored to Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area, Rondevlei Nature Reserve and Tokai Park (see Veld & Flora, March 2007). Successful conservation efforts are also helping restore it along with its complex fynbos community and ecology in the wild. But we still need to resolve the worth that plants conserved away from their natural range (ex situ) will have in the future. Can we even say that these plants are all true E. verticillata? Or were any of them cultivated hybrids with other species, making them less valuable for restoration programmes? On the other hand, are any of the plants genetically distinct, making them more valuable? Once again, DNA-based approaches can come to our aid.

Molecular work will be useful to test the genetic diversity and origins of both the parent plants and the first generation of seedlings produced after a controlled burn at Rondevlei in 2013. The story of E. verticillata has been so far a story of hope. Beyond ericas, the answers to this research will play a crucial role in guiding us in conserving any threatened species or those that are extinct in the wild.

Dirk Bellstedt of Stellenbosch University works on biochemistry and all things DNA. Anina Coetzee of the University of Cape Town works on pollination ecology, particularly bird pollination. Anthony Hitchcock, formerly of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, works on ex-situ and in-situ conservation. Martha Kandziora, formerly of the University of California, Merced, USA, works on macroevolution. Seth Musker of the University of Bayreuth, Germany, is currently based at UCT, working on phylogenomics, particularly the E. abietina/ E. viscaria complex. Timo van der Niet of the University of KwaZulu-Natal works on pollination ecology, particularly E. plukenetii and E. denticulata. Nicolai Nürk of the University of Bayreuth works on macroevolution. Michael Pirie of the University Museum of Bergen, Norway, works on systematics and evolution (michael.pirie@uib.no).

DID YOU KNOW? Erica was described in 1753 by the father of modern taxonomy, Carolus Linnaeus (1770-1778). Ericas quickly became the It Plant for wealthy gardeners. Two centuries ago, excitement over the great diversity of ericas becoming available sparked what became known as the Cape heath craze. Making a garden display of different ericas was a good choice because in several areas, the hardiness that they had developed back home in the Cape fynbos meant they needed relatively little special care to survive at the other side of the world. Plus the collection could be expanded fairly easily as there are hundreds of different erica species.

HELP SOLVE THE ERICA PUZZLE There is an enormous number of different aspects to the seemingly simple question, “Why are there so many erica species?” To those many knowledgeable and enthusiastic citizen scientists, young and old, ranging the fynbos – you can help! Well-documented observations posted on iNaturalist (https://www. inaturalist.org/) feed into the body of data that we need to understand species distributions and variability better. Join the community, get in touch and share your expertise.




Beyond Noah’s ark

Anthony Hitchcock celebrates the first generation of whorl health (Erica verticillata) restored to Cape Town's Soetvlei wetland, Tokai.

Thanks to BotSoc, ANTHONY HITCHCOCK represented South Africa at a global conference in Rome and shares its powerfully determined messages of motivation to protect earth’s biodiversity ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME, they say – and so it proved for Anthony Hitchcock, former nursery, living collections and threatened species manager at SANBI, Kirstenbosch. Last year he was awarded a BotSoc grant that helped enable him to present a paper at a conference with the theme ‘Science and actions for species protection’ organised by the Vatican’s prestigious Pontifical Academy of Sciences, established in the Vatican City in 1936 by Pope Pius XI. It was Anthony’s plant-conservation track record that had him singled out as



the only South African to present among a varied list of participants from China to Ethiopia and from Indonesia to France. He had led the successful recovery and restoration of the whorl heath (Erica verticillata) – which had been thought to be extinct since 1950. (See Veld & Flora, March 2007; PlantzAfrica; and this issue’s article on ericas.) For the conference, Anthony took a broader theme, ‘From single species reintroduction to ecosystem restoration and management’. His paper was selected for publication in a volume of the conference papers.

The academy's aim is to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences and the study of related problems involving the philosophy and theory of knowledge creation (epistemology). The conference had been prompted by a recent papal encyclical in which Pope Francis strongly criticised modern consumerism and its catastrophic effect on biodiversity. He wrote: Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see,


because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.

ARKS ARE NOT ENOUGH “The academy and the conference recognise that ‘Noah’s Arks for the 21st century’ simply will not be enough to prevent global loss of species,” explains Anthony. “We need to act much more comprehensively than simply using institutions such as botanial gardens, zoos, natural-history museums and national parks as islands of protection.” The conference focused especially on such knowledge hubs used by schools and universities because they combine public education, conservation knowledge and action and because together they reach hundreds of millions of people, including youth. “These institutions committed to better coordinating their research and outreach to communicate and reinforce the message of changing social attitudes to limit biodiversity losses and species extinctions,” reports Anthony. “By engaging broadly with science, society and spiritual movements, the conference aimed to mobilise youth to protect our planet’s endangered ecology and change the way ahead for humanity.”

visitor attendance and income by concentrating on displaying decorative bedding plants and ornamentals rather than conserving all plants. Estimating how many plant species are extinct in the wild is very difficult but Smith believes this is “undoubtedly many more than we think”. Botanic gardens may be “last refuges” for some of these plant species but this does not mean they can survive only in botanic gardens and seedbanks, especially as not all plants can be successfully propagated. He applauded the work of Anthony and other similarly minded horticulturists in aiming to reintroduce species to the wild and create new and sustainable populations of these plants.

ACTION POINTERS Participants’ concerns were summed up in their sombre concluding statement: An estimated one fifth of all life forms other than bacteria are in danger of extinction in the next few decades, and as many as half by the end of the 21st century. At least 80% of these species are unknown


• The extinction rate now is • •

estimated to be 1 000 times its historical rate and increasing continuously. Social justice, combined with a deep, sincere concern for one another, must form the basis for international conservation efforts if they are to succeed. Loss of species and of biodiversity is an important concern because of their intrinsic value as well as their potential value in future, changing world ecologies, such as in agrobiodiversity. By losing species and biodiversity, we limit or lose the mechanisms of nature’s future evolution. The Convention on Biological Diversity's post-2020 global biodiversity framework must become more ambitious than it has been in the past, particularly in facilitating cooperation among nations while enough time remains to save a major proportion of the world’s existing biodiversity.

– compiled by Patricia McCracken

6 REASONS TO THINK GREENER PLANET Climate change is a big enough challenge, says US researcher Prof Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden – but he warns that we must still remember how our lifestyles, expectations and the pollution we cause are fundamental factors that help drive it . . . 1. The planet is facing its sixth extinction – and this is due to human impact on

CONSERVATION IN ACTION Anthony’s paper, in a session including contributions from China, the UK and the USA, was praised as a practical example of conservation in action at a botanical garden. “Can botanic gardens conserve all of the world’s rare and threatened plant species?” was the provocative question from Paul Smith, secretary general of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, in his presentation. The answer is broadly yes, he believes – if botanic gardens help defend plant diversity and systematically prevent plant species extinctions. But he is concerned about the publishor-perish pressure on academic botanists and the pressure on specialist horticulturists to boost gardens’

the planet, not natural causes as with previous extinctions. 2. The human population has already more than doubled from 3 billion in 1959 to 7.7 billion in 2019 and is estimated to reach 10 to 11 billion by the end of the 21st century. 3. Compounding this problem are human greed and the ever-increasing need for dwindling resources of the planet. 4. World consumption is currently estimated by the Global Footprint Network to be 175% of what the world can stand. 5. If everybody lived at the same level as western Europe does, we would pass the world’s capacity for sustainable productivity by 1 March each year. 6. Rich nations are draining poor nations’ resources at a vast rate – 19 of the world’s 24 poorest nations are in Africa and already their resources have been depleted. Raven concludes: “Simply expecting all the poorest countries to develop into thriving economies while working on the conservation programmes we intend for them is a non-starter. Unless we approach a system of better social justice, charity equivalence and love for one another around the world we haven’t got a chance.”




Stocktaking SA’s natural treasures

SANBI’s Ismail Ebrahim and citizen-scientist CREW volunteers proudly show off Polhillia ignota, a plant that had not been found for 80 years and was believed extinct.





This sweeping coastal landscape is protected within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal but is still under pressure.

Make good on your New Year resolution to help look after South Africa’s natural heritage by helping a global trendsetting scientific mission detect and protect our country’s exceptional biodiversity BY SHAHIEDA DAVIDS & ZIMKITA MAVUMENGWANA

IT MAKES A GOOD BRAG FACT for anyone proud of South Africa’s natural heritage – SA is one of the world’s top three megadiverse countries . This is calculated by numbers of plant and marine species found nowhere else on

earth. SA has a rich diversity of species, wide range of ecosystems and high levels of species found only in this country or even just in a small part of it (endemics). That is the good news. The bad news, as we begin this new decade, is that nearly half of all South Africa’s 1 021 ecosystem types are threatened with ecological collapse. This shocking estimate comes from South Africa’s national biodiversity assessment (NBA). This is put together about every eight years, led by BotSoc’s partner, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). This massive scientific reportback was released in October 2019 by Minister of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries Barbara Creecy and revealed: 452 ecosystem types at risk 1 in 7 of the 23 312 indigenous species assessed threatened with extinction 14% of SA’s 20 401 plant species threatened with extinction 85% of threatened birds, plants, freshwater fish, amphibians, mammals and butterflies underprotected About 99% of estuarine areas and 88% of wetland areas are threatened – with less than 2% of these well protected

• • • • •



Plants and freshwater fish have the highest proportion of species that are not protected. The generally poor ecological state of many of our rivers is reflected in freshwater fish being SA’s most threatened species group.

In several ways, we simply cannot afford to shrug this off as, “Too bad, so sad.” We need to tackle the major pressures on SA’s biodiversity – habitat loss, changes to freshwater flow, overuse of some species, pollution, climate change and invasive alien species. Restoring and protecting smaller coast, estuary and freshwater ecosystems has to be a priority because this secures the essential benefits that they provide to people and species. Climate change is already having an impact on people and ecosystems – but healthy ecosystems can help us adapt. The NBA revealed that the impacts of climate change can be seen within most species groups. Biodiversity is important for our everyday lives – insects pollinate our crops, wetland and river plants clean our water, estuaries are nurseries for our commercial fish species, and ecosystems like kelp forests and dunes protect us from large waves and sea-level rise. For many families, SA’s unique biodiversity also pays the bills. It has been an important factor in tourism, for example, taking over from mining as one of the lynchpins of our growing economy: Up to 418 000 jobs in SA are related to biodiversity Biodiversity tourism is worth R31 billion to our economy each year More than 2 000 medicinal plant species in South Africa support a traditional medicine industry worth about R18 billion a year

• • •

JOIN THE TEAM The NBA reveals what we need to monitor and what research we need to prioritise to fill knowledge gaps. It shows that SA’s biodiversity is still abundant and relatively well protected – but it is unevenly distributed





Young red roman (Chrysoblephus laticeps) mature in seaweed beds and are then found on SA’s near-shore reefs.

geographically and faces extreme pressure. Work has already started on the next NBA, with data collected by citizenscience projects fed into the species Red Listing processes all the time. You can help contribute to the next NBA by becoming a citizen scientist, too. Here is what it took to put together the 2018 NBA: Nearly 5 years of research and analysis amounting collectively to 75 person years 478 scientists, technicians, practitioners, interns, students and volunteers including those from the BotSoc/SANBI CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) project Contributors from 93 institutions Apart from learning more about and enjoying SA’s exceptional biodiversity, citizen scientists contribute their time and skills to help conserve SA’s exceptionally diverse species and ecosystems. You will help collect scientific data with scientific experts – anything from recording the first species to flower in spring to collecting water samples in a river to assess the water quality.

• •

There are more than 50 active biodiversity citizen-science projects in South Africa and several thousand citizen scientists contribute data to these projects. Get involved through online platform iNaturalist or join the CREW programme, which is coordinated across the country.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE You will also be contributing to international oversight by organisations such as the United Nations. The UN General Assembly has already declared 2021 to 2030 the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. If we are to achieve this, we need all the help we can get. Globally, we have to scale up massively our restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems to fight the climate crisis and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity. Fortunately, SA’s efforts to protect our biodiversity are already improving. Now more than two-thirds of ecosystem types and 63% of species assessed are represented in protected areas. Plus protected areas have expanded both on land and in the

ocean. Twenty new marine protected areas were declared in 2019. For checks and balances, the 2019 global assessment report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services mirrors much of our countrylevel assessment of increasing risks to species and ecosystems.

PROTECTING OUR FUTURE Here in SA, the NBA’s wealth of information is used as a detailed, primary tool by the SA government, civil society and the scientific community. The NBA rates our progress, telling us where we have succeeded and failed in managing conservation and ecosystems both on land and in the sea. The NBA’s evidence helps the government deal strategically with SA’s water scarcity and habitat degradation issues, for instance, and curb pressures on indigenous species. By being part of the NBA team, you could be helping

to shape national and international environmental policy and planning. The NBA’s results feed into SA policies and strategies such as the National Biodiversity Framework, the National Spatial Development Framework and the National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy. The NBA also supplies data for SA’s international reporting obligations, such as our report for the Convention on Biological Diversity and our reporting on UN sustainable development goals. It’s time to come hunting natural treasure with us and help make a difference! For the full set of NBA materials, including a synthesis report, seven technical reports, datasets, maps, supplementary and popular products, go to: http://nba.sanbi.org.za/ Shahieda Davids is a SANBI science writer (s.davids@sanbi.org.za). Zimkita Mavumengwana is a SANBI science outreach officer (z.mavumengwana@ sanbi.org.za).

WORLD’S TOP 17 MEGADIVERSE COUNTRIES These 17 countries together contain more than two thirds of the world’s biodiversity: • Venezuela • USA • South Africa • Philippines • Peru • Papua New Guinea • Mexico • Malaysia • Madagascar • Indonesia • India • Ecuador • Democratic Republic of the Congo • Colombia • China • Brazil • Australia


Rescue mission for a rare amaryllis Tracking down and updating what we know about an endangered plant sometimes takes a CREW BY VATHISWA ZIKISHE, PAMELA SGATYA & TONY DOLD PHOTOGRAPHS: TONY DOLD

The delicate and endangered Amy’s apodolirion (Apodolirion amyanum) showing its flower tube, bulb and characteristic purple speckles on the lower half of the leaf.




WE WERE HORRIFIED. An upmarket housing estate rose to one side of us, a municipal industrial zone to the other. We were at Bushman’s River Mouth in the Eastern Cape, about 25 kilometres west of Port Alfred. The site looked nothing like the patch of wild rush iris where Tony Dold had collected the endangered amaryllis, Amy’s apodolirion (Apodolirion amyanum), nearly a quarter-century earlier. This delicate amaryllis is restricted to a small area in the Eastern Cape’s Bathurst district. It is known from fewer than five locations and declining due to ongoing habitat loss.

It felt as if our hopes of repeating Tony’s success were plummeting. We had already drawn a blank at the Brooklands Cycad Reserve, managed by Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism, where we were thwarted by bureaucratic red tape. At Kariega private nature reserve, where Tony had also found the plant in 1998, manager Jason Loest welcomed us most hospitably. Sadly, though, this time we drew half a blank. We found Amy’s apodolirion – but only four plants in leaf and one in bud. Despite our initial fears, we were actually luckier among the residential housing and industrial buildings at

Bushman’s River Mouth. We were surprised to find a lingering, healthy population of about 40 plants, some with flowers. We returned over the following months to gather fruit from the plants as well. But our fear remains that, if the housing continues to expand, this population of the endangered Amy’s apodolirion will be lost altogether as its habitat disappears.

THE BOLUS MYSTERY Following our breakthrough with Amy’s apodolirion, one more Eastern Cape member of this small, southern African genus remains a mystery. Only three of the six species are quite well known. Apodolirion lanceolatum occurs in the Western Cape – although Tony Dold found a plant that he believed to be A. lanceolatum in the western Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape, which Dee Snijman confirmed. A. macowanii occurs in the Eastern Cape and the Natal crocus (A. buchananii) occurs in KwaZuluNatal, eastern Free State, eastern Lesotho and Swaziland. The Western Cape’s A. cedarbergense is still misunderstood (see main article). The remaining species is A. bolusii from the Graaff-Reinet area. In fact, we know this only from the type specimen collected by Harry Bolus in 1868. It has never been seen again. This sparse record means that A. bolusii is assessed as data deficient – but there may be some hope. Tony has found what appears to be the species just west of Pearston, between Graaff-Reinet and Somerset East. The Eastern Cape CREW group now plans to visit the area where Bolus collected his specimen (type locality) to try to Helen Vanderplank’s painting of Amy's apodolirion.

relocate the species.




Vathiswa Zikishe gets down to examine apodolirion specimens – they typically seek cover between dense, clump-forming rush iris (see below).

This unusual amaryllis was discovered as recently as mid-September 1975. Grahamstown botanist Amy Jacot Guillarmod (1911-1992) found the plants at Brooklands farm, Bathurst, about 15 kilometres inland from Port Alfred. Dr Jacot, as she was affectionately known, was surveying the cycad reserve that had recently been proclaimed on a portion of the farm. She prepared a voucher specimen of three bulbs with leaves and flowers, although no fruit, for the Selmar Schonland Herbarium in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown). Attached to this is a painting of the plants by the Albany Museum’s artist Helen Vanderplank (1919-2005), known for her two wildflower guides of the Port Elizabeth region. The plant is now so elusive, though, that it could not be found to be illustrated with its relatives for the beautifully illustrated Amaryllidaceae of southern Africa by Graham Duncan, Barbara Jeppe and Leigh Voigt, published in 2016. In addition, there was some confusion about identification. Correspondence in the Compton Herbarium, Kirstenbosch, shows that a photograph of Amy’s apodolirion taken at Kariega several years ago appears on page 36 of the book but, unfortunately, under the name Apodolirion cedarbergense. Later in the book there is a similar confusion between the flowers of two species in the painting of the Cedarberg apodolirion. In fact, the flowers of Cedarberg apodolirion appear on the left and Amy’s apodolirion on the right.

A GROWING CHALLENGE Back in 1978, however, Dr Jacot showed a plant she had collected to visiting German botanists Dietrich and Ute Müller-Doblies. They collected a bulb to grow in Germany. When it flowered two years later, they prepared a herbarium specimen of a flower and an immature leaf to send to the South African National Herbarium in Pretoria. In 1986, Dietrich Müller-Doblies described the species, naming it Apodolirion amyanum after Dr Jacot. Unfortunately, there were some gaps in this description. But



this was all that Duncan and his coauthors had to follow as there is, to our knowledge, no other published information available. Dietrich Müller-Doblies had named his Pretoria specimen as the reference specimen (holotype) and added that he had deposited more specimens of the same plant (isotypes) at Berlin and Kew – but our correspondence with these herbaria shows that this did not happen. Apodolirion bulbs have just one flower each year but often flowers abort if conditions are unfavourable. Possibly the growing conditions for Amy’s apodolirion were not optimal in Berlin. Tony Dold lodged herbarium specimens in the late 1990s at the Selmar Schonland Herbarium but the plant was almost forgotten until SANBI’s CREW programme prompted efforts to document rare and endangered wildflowers more thoroughly.

CONSERVING AMY’S APODOLIRION We made several return visits over the following months to Bushman’s River Mouth and were rewarded with fruit, a club-shaped berry which pushes up above the ground when almost mature. We have contributed new specimens to the SelmarSchonland Herbarium and updated the species description as shown in the panel. We also noted that both the Kariega and Bushman’s River populations of Amy’s apodilirion grow shallowly in fine soft sand, forming clumps beneath the rush iris (Bobartia orientalis). The delicate apodolirion flowers are apparently protected from the elements and herbivores by the rush iris’s dense, compact growth. Only an occasional single plant grows in the open. Flowers in deep shade can reach up to 150 millimetres long above ground but those in the open are shorter. We were interested to find that the flower segments (tepals) are not wine red as previously reported by Dietrich Müller-Doblies but are pure white above and tinged reddish near the throat. This shading becomes rose red at the base of the reverse surface and paler for most of the length of the

tube. The purple-speckled lower half of the leaf is unique to this genus. Each flower lasts for two or three days and the fruit develops slowly from flowering in August to fully developed fruit in March. Rediscovering Amy’s apodolirion at Bushman’s River Mouth is significant and we have made sure it will not go unnoticed by local authorities. We notified the Ndlambe municipality of its occurrence and status and are waiting for their response. Tony has also sent photographs to Leigh Voigt towards a painting.

Eastern Cape CREW continues to document our threatened flora and welcomes comments and suggestions to Vathiswa Zikishe (v.zikishe@sanbi.org.za), SANBI’s CREW coordinator for the region. Pamela Sgatya is a Groen Sebenza Intern, hosted by CREW Eastern Cape. Tony Dold is curator of the Selmar Schonland Herbarium at the Albany Museum, Makhanda.

UPDATING AMY’S APODOLIRION Müller-Doblies 1986 & holotype

CREW 2019



Globose, with greyish papery tunic, (12-)14(-17)mm diam.; subterranean neck 10-15mm long


Few, ±25mm long, 5mm wide

Single or paired, (90-)150(-200) mm long, exceptionally up to 300mm in deep shade; 5mm wide, widest in upper third, soft, smooth, dark green, shading pale green and densely purple speckled in lower half

Flower tube

50mm long

(25-)42(-72)mm long, exceptionally up to 100mm, rose red below tepals, paler towards the base, white at base


More or less wine red

White above, tinged rose red below and in throat


Not seen

Included, reaching top of lower anthers, stigma club-shaped



Strongly jasmine scented



A reddish club-shaped berry, up to 30mm long, 5mm broad; ±12 seeds, 3-4mm diameter, are visible through the membranous skin. The subterranean base of the fruit is filled with translucent fluid that is scentless and tasteless




BRANCHES BotSoc branches are formed by members who support BotSoc’s mission and objectives. Members are automatically affiliated to their nearest branch. Most branches send out newsletters to local members. Branch activities are mainly driven by volunteers who organise talks, walks, awareness campaigns, CREW outings and fundraising. Opposite you will find a summary of activities confirmed at the time of going to press – please check with the branch contact for updates.



 LBANY: A Contact National Office

ALGOA: Contact National Office​

FREE STATE  FREE STATE: Deon Potgieter deonpotgieter@iclix.co.za GAUTENG  BANKENVELD: Johann van den Berg johann@pccom.co.za


WESTERN CAPE  CEDERBERG: Contact National Office  GARDEN ROUTE: grbotsoc@gmail.com

 PRETORIA: Stefan Veldsman enviro@gemscience.co.za KWAZULU-NATAL


 WAZULU-NATAL COASTAL: K Suvarna Parbhoo-Mohan S.Parbhoo@sanbi.org.za botsoc-kzn@mweb.co.za  WAZULU-NATAL INLAND: K Isabel Johnson isabelmarionjohnson@gmail.com


L IMPOPO: Contact National Office

L OWVELD: Frank Webb Cell 082 804 3486 Tel 013 744 0705 frank.webb@nelweb.co.za

 IRSTENBOSCH: K Keith Kirsten Contact Catherine Gribble (Branch Manager) 021 671 5468 catherine@ botsoc-kirstenbosch.org.za

 KOGELBERG: Tim Attwell attwells@mweb.co.za S  OUTHERN OVERBERG: Stephen Smuts southernoverberg.botsoc@gmail.com

 EST COAST: W Hedwig Slabig slabigh@gmail.com

 WINELANDS: Contact National Office

 ATIONAL OFFICE: N Simone van Rooyen 021 797 2090 info@botanicalsociety.org.za

To find out more about BotSoc, you are welcome to contact your local branch or our head office or to visit our website: www.botanicalsociety.org.za Participation in all BotSoc activities is at the individual’s personal risk. BotSoc may not be held accountable for any injury, loss or damage to individuals or their property.








To 15 March



Lady Tait Botanical Art Exhibition, Richard Crowie Hall, Kirstenbosch

Branch Office 021 671 5468

15 March, 8am



Echo Valley, Spes Bona, above Kalk Bay: walk from yellowwood tree. Reasonably strenuous, 4-hour hike. Meet at Boyes Drive turnoff

Branch Office 021 671 5468

March, details TBC

West Coast


Visit Langebaan to see March lilies: date TBC depending on rainfall

Con Meyer 082 027 6225

21 March 2.30pm

Free State


Brandkop Conservancy, Pellisier, Bloemfontein: guided walk. Meet at Bloem Water offices

Deon Potgieter 083 599 7145

22 March

West Coast


Darling area

Con Meyer 082 027 6225

26 March 11am



SANBI presents: ‘Wild Lithops: SA botanical treasures’ by Harold Jainta at the Colophon Conference Room, Kirstenbosch Research Centre, CBC Building (enter via Rhodes Drive)

27 March, 5pm

Free State


‘Meet the frogs of the botanical garden’: programme for primary-school learners. Meet: educational centre, Free State NBG

Deon Potgieter 083 599 7145

4 & 5 April 9am


Plant fair

‘Go wild!’ Kirstenbosch Plant Fair, Kirstenbosch Stone Cottage grounds

Branch Office 021 671 5468

18 April, 8.30am



Silvermine: reasonably strenuous, 4-hour hike. Meet at carpark next to dam on left inside entrance gate

Branch Office 021 671 5468

18 April, 9.30am


Botanical Explorers

Maytenus: meet at Lowveld Botanical Garden, Gate 2

Frank Webb 082 804 3486

25 April 3pm

Free State


‘Know your shrubs’: informative walk around Karoo vegetation type in Free State NBG. Meet at potting shed, Free State, NBG

Deon Potgieter 083 599 7145

2 May 9.30am

Free State


Motsetse trail, Free State NBG: guided walk. Meet entrance foyer, Free State NBG

Deon Potgieter 083 599 7145

10 May 9am



Rhodes Memorial: easy, 3-hour walk. Meet at Rhodes Memorial

Branch Office 021 671 5468

16 May, 9.30am


Botanical Explorers

Gymnosporia: meet at Lowveld Botanical Garden, Gate 2

17 May

West Coast


Speaker TBC; Saldanha/Langebaan area

23 May, 9.30am

Free State

Branch AGM

Guest speaker TBC. Meet: educational centre, Free State NBG

Frank Webb 082 804 3486 Con Meyer 082 027 6225 Deon Potgieter 083 599 7145

20 June, 9.30am


Botanical Explorers

Diospyros & Euclea: meet gate 2, Lowveld NBG

Frank Webb 082 804 3486

28 June

West Coast


Yzerfontein Bavaria

Con Meyer 082 027 6225

Every Sat, 8am

Harold Porter National Botanic Garden


5km parkrun

Garden: 028 272 9311



Invasive alien plant control, Betty’s Bay

Frik Potgieter 084 600 9891


Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden

Early access from 6am for BotSoc members; free Green Gym

Branch office 011 958 5177

First Sat of each month, 8.30am Daily

See branch website or Facebook page for fuller details, event updates, fees for non-members and booking details. For walks, check with event contact in case of cancellation due to rain and remember sunblock, hat, water and a jacket.



10 quick questions for . . . Kirstenbosch

The seed of BotSoc was sown at Kirstenbosch more than a century ago - and members are as welcome as ever to help sustain this world-renowned botanical garden

This beautiful landscape in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was taken by branch member Bipin Prag.





I love the idea that Kirstenbosch seems today to be on such a perfect site, yet the founding director Harold Pearson (1870-1916) had apparently planned to place the garden on the wooded Groote Schuur slopes. It is believed that young botanist Neville Pillans (1884-1964) guided him through Bishopscourt to what is today the Kirstenbosch entrance. Pearson exclaimed, “This is the place!” I have never met anyone who could disagree with that! The government of the time made it a condition of Kirstenbosch’s founding that the Botanical Society was also established to encourage public support and raise funds to help sustain this new national botanical garden initiative. Kirstenbosch eventually became a branch in its own right in 1985.

IS YOUR BRANCH 2 WHAT LIKE TODAY? Kirstenbosch is the Botanical Society’s largest branch and now has more than 10 000 members. We offer members a wide range of activities, especially walks and book launches. We are fortunate to be able to put together some largescale events as well, such as: a talk by Paul Zammit, director of horticulture from Toronto Botanical Gardens, on biodiversity and the new garden ethic;

and staging the Lady Tait botanical art exhibition of paintings lent to us from the UK. Our current fundraising projects include donating a lawnmower, funding a six-month internship for plant recording and labelling, and raising funds for solar panels to generate power for the garden.


Everyone was delighted that we could bring back this annual event last year, which is an important fundraiser for the Kirstenbosch garden. This year it will be on 4 and 5 April with the exciting ‘Go wild!’ theme (see panel). Gardeners love our plant fair because they have the unusual opportunity of buying in one place some fynbos and other indigenous plants that are usually stocked only in scattered, specialist nurseries. Most of these buyers know exactly what they are looking for so names and varieties have to be absolutely correct and our offering must be varied and spot-on in every way. That is why we also showcase new allied products and biodiversity know-how alongside the plants.



A significant number of members volunteer in various ways – garden guiding, weeding in the garden, working in the nurseries, hacking and helping with projects such as digitisation in the herbarium. We have various subcommittees to organise our outreach programmes, alien invasive clearing and conservation.



Canadian horticulturist Paul Zammit gave an enthralling talk on biodiversity and the new garden ethic.

It is breathtaking – an iconic botanical garden set in one of the most scenically beautiful parts of the world, overlooked MARCH 2020 | VELD & FLORA


by the stunning slopes of Table Mountain, itself a world heritage site. It showcases the Cape floral region, one of the world’s richest areas of biodiversity. That is why Kirstenbosch is also one of the world’s most visited gardens with a million visitors a year – not many gardens can boast those numbers.


Difficult question because can anybody say there is an area they dislike! I love the fragrance garden, especially in different seasons, and the view from the boomslang canopy walk is breathtakingly beautiful.



I believe the entire Cape Flats sand fynbos and Cape Flats sand dunes strandveld is under huge threat and needs urgent attention. This includes the Tokai forest areas, as well as the Edith Stevens large seasonal wetland park. 


Above: The garden’s tree canopy walkway, known as the boomslang, was opened in 2014 and shot to the top of Kirstenbosch visitor must-sees.

Enjoying the launch of the prestigious exhibition of Lady Tait’s historic botanical art are (clockwise from top left): Raymond Hudson; Beryl Ferguson, SANBI board chair; botanical artists Marilyn Noakes and Gill Condy with exhibition curator Mary van Blommestein; Keith Kirsten with Sheila Fagan and Helen Campbell.





We are delighted that BotSoc National has re-established its conservation unit, which will work with all branches nationally, and look forward to working with their new head of conservation. This will help our branch conservation subcommittee ensure they address some of these pressing issues and inform and educate the public about them.  

I want to see BotSoc given its due and properly recognised as South Africa’s premier organisation for the conservation of wildflowers, plants and their environment. Our members will help spread this message and knowhow widely and thousands of them will be environmental activists playing guardian roles all over the country. With government, the private sector and civil society working together the potential impact of our collaborative efforts could be significant. We are working on refining our transformation, conservation and marketing strategies that will be rolled out over the next 10 years and highlight the power of a civilsociety, member-based organisation, operating across the country with impactful programmes in the conservation sector.




Besides the ground orchids – the blue disa (Disa graminifolia) is a special favourite – I personally love the watsonias and the wild malva (Pelargonium cucullatum) in summer.

- Branch chair Keith Kirsten was interviewed by Jo-Anne Isobel King

GO WILD WITH KIRSTENBOSCH! At the 2020 Kirstenbosch Plant Fair

a difference. Restoring balance in

on 4 & 5 April, Kirstenbosch Branch

our gardens is the first step towards

challenges you to Go Wild!

restoring a natural balance on a global scale. Our physical health and mental

nature, in all its untamed diversity,

well-being are intimately connected

into your garden. By cultivating

to our environment. Cohabiting

compassion for all species, we can

peacefully with wildlife in our home

create balanced and equitable gardens

spaces roots us in place and connects

that support and sustain all living

us more profoundly to nature and to

things, opening us up to the value and

one another.

beauty of the everyday wilderness.

Our plant fair is an important

Make a start at our annual

fundraiser for the Botanical Society

Kirstenbosch Plant Fair by choosing

in order to help contribute to

from 15 000 plants from Kirstenbosch

conservation, outreach and education

and other indigenous growers in the

projects, and towards sharing the

Cape, all available at superb prices.

wonder of our unique botanical

Kirstenbosch horticulturists and other


plant gurus will be on hand to answer

Save the date: Saturday 4 &

your plant and gardening questions

Sunday 5 April; Kirstenbosch Stone

in person. As always there will also

Cottage Grounds; 9am-4pm on

be an interesting array of plant and

Saturday, 9am-2pm Sunday.

garden-related products on sale, plus

Keep an eye on our Facebook

delicious food and beverage offerings.

page for the plant availability list and

In this time of climate change


We encourage you to welcome

regular updates about plants we’ll

and mass extinctions, urban wildlife

be featuring www.facebook.com/

gardens really matter and can make


Top left: A Cape sugarbird (Promerops cafer) rests on a pagoda (Mimetes cucullatus) with its prey; top right: a splendid king protea (Protea cynaroides); below: this rocket pincushion (Leucospermum reflexum) dazzles with colour.



CLASSIFIED ADVERTISEMENTS FIND OUT MORE All titles featured are available on open access or from libraries: Quest for Angolan Giants and Dwarves: Brian J. Huntley * B.J. Huntley, Wildlife at War in Angola: The rise and fall of an African Eden (Pretoria, 2017). * B.J. Huntley, V. Russo, F. Lages & N. Ferrand: Biodiversity of Angola. Science and Conservation: A modern synthesis: https://rd.springer.com/ book/10.1007/978-3-030-03083-4 Rescuing a Rare Amaryllis: Vathiswa Zikishe, Pamela Sgatya & Tony Dold * G. Duncan, B. Jeppe & L. Voigt, The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa (Hatfield, 2016). The Truth is Inconvenient: Eugene Moll * Extinction Rebellion activist Roger Hallam on BBC Hard Talk: https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=9HyaxctatdA * Prof Yuval Noah Harari speaking at the World Economic Forum, Davos, January 2020: 'How to survive the 21st century: https://youtu.be/gG6WnMb9Fho


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Cell: 083 440 2774

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Restored veld cottage in pristine coastal Fynbos adjacent to the Heuningnes Estuary of Cape Nature's De Mond Reserve. Linen supplied for four guests and two bathrooms (mes), possibly six. Clear night skies and abundant bird life (Fynbos endemics, wader hotspot and home to the Damara Tern). Exquisite botanical sightings in spring.

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March 2020

Issue 106(1)



Brian Hu ntley’s Angolan desert qu est

Join SA’s bioblitz! Starter gu to hackingide Professio for bette nal tips r plant pic s


Your act


ion plan

on climate


and biodiv


Relaxing getaway in the Overberg. Ideal for bird lovers, stargazers & romantics. Self-catering, well-equipped cottage. 3 beds; mes shower; swimming pool. Easy reach of Arniston & Elim Wine Route. Pets and children welcome. 082 773 4747 or jenhall@iafrica.com

TIERFONTEIN RONDAWEL Self-catering rondawel for two in the Southern Overberg, near Baardskeerdersbos. Situated on a lily pond in pristine, natural fynbos. Tranquil and relaxing, beautiful walks and kloofing with excellent birding. 083 306 8882 www.tierfonteinrondawel.com

FIJNBOS LODGE AND SPA Betty's Bay Discover Kogelberg biosphere, Harold Porter Botanical Gardens Stoney Point breeding Penguin colony and pristine beaches 1 hour from Cape Town Int. Tel 0712940509 or 0712210608 Visit https;//Fijnbos Lodge and Spa.co.za johannkrog@gmail.com 0712040509

HEMEL EN AARDE VALLEY – CORDALE FARM COTTAGE Tastefully renovated self-catering farm cottage. Fully equipped for 6. Beautiful fynbos, farmland, plentiful bird life and mountain scenery. Sleeps 2-6. cordalecottages@twk.co.za www.cordalecottages.co.za MARCH 2020 | VELD & FLORA



The truth is inconvenient EUGENE MOLL muses on why climate sceptics blow off his socks RISING SEA-SURFACE TEMPERATURES and their massive impact globally contributed to causing vast floods in Beira, Mozambique, at the beginning of this year – and are to me part of the ample evidence of rapid climate change globally. On a geological timescale, similar changes have occurred in the earth’s past but never so quickly. I am usually focused singlemindedly on the wonders of the botanical world, where many plants locally have already gone extinct or are likely to become extinct in the next few decades, mostly due to human impacts. But the scale of fire, for example, has forced me to look more globally – massive fires in Greece and California, huge areas of Australia and of the Amazon rainforest ablaze and even the Arctic on fire. We in the Western Cape have just gone through one of the worst droughts on record and right now the drought in the Northern Cape Province is extreme.



Middleburg in the Karoo has just had its warmest winter in more than 100 years. And the litany of disaster goes on . . . According to environmental activist George Monbiot, who writes extensively for the UK Guardian, we are no longer facing climate change but a climate crisis. Key to motivating me to write this column, though, was listening to a BBC HARDtalk interview with Roger Hallam, an activist in the “Extinction Rebellion” in the UK.

MORE, FASTER ACTION I have been aware of the Compassionate Conservation movement globally. I know about novel ecosystems. I understand how Cape fynbos heathlands are driven by a lack of plant-available nutrients. This is why we need to tailor real day-to-day care for the environment that we actually live in, not some westernised plan for our world. Just recently it was announced that Kriel in Mpumalanga now has the world’s second-highest sulphur-dioxide emissions. Kriel was beaten only by Norilsk, Russia. An earlier study also showed that Mpumalanga has one of the world’s highest rates of nitrogen dioxide levels. Environmental NGO Groundwork is putting together a case against the South African government for failing to act on toxic air in the highveld – because this problem has been well known for more than quarter of a century yet nothing much has been done to counter it until now. Air quality is, in fact, a far-reaching environmental problem, affecting human health and plants alike. Grassland, our most threatened biome, is being poisoned by toxic, aerial inputs.

Instead of fixing the root of the problem, we blithely go about collecting seeds for the Millennium Seed Bank project to store these cryoscopically at great expense in an underground vault at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK.

DO WE REALLY CARE? I realise I am one of those who has been fiddling while Rome burns when I hear Roger Hallam and his Extinction Rebellion supporters give us just 10 more years to change! My own soonto-matriculate grandson protests weekly, along with many other likeminded young South Africans, about climate change and other pressing issues for the next generation. But are the parents and grandparents of these youngsters really people caring for the earth, as we like to think of ourselves? Or do we – and I include myself here – have our heads buried in the sand as the world and life expectations we have manufactured since the industrial revolution are too much to behold?



Confirm Eco Zone (Veld assessment)


Identify Natural Vegetation And Sensitive Areas


Identify invasive and encroaching species 4

Plan the operation 5


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Veld & Flora March 2020  

To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and to lighten the hearts of all those in South Africa and around the world who are confined by lo...

Veld & Flora March 2020  

To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and to lighten the hearts of all those in South Africa and around the world who are confined by lo...