Welcome

As a recipient of the 2014 Frederick Dreer Award from Cornell’s Department of Horticulture this blog will be a catalogue of the events, pictures, insights and adventures while in traveling and working in South Africa. Primary objectives of this experiential learning opportunity is to participate in plant conservation and curatorial efforts at Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens, assist in the operations of the Cape Institute of Micropropagation and botanize to become familiar with the Cape Floristic Region biodiversity.

Please feel free to explore the archives

-Miles S. Sax

Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden

My home base of operation while in South Africa was Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden (SUBG). SUBG is the oldest university botanic garden in South Africa and was originally established in 1902 by Augusta Vera Duthie to grow plants for research and for students. The Garden was originally located in front of the Main Building on the west edge of campus.

1907 AV Duthie  (Duthie is the woman in the picture sitting third from left in the bottom row)
1907 AV Duthie (Duthie is the woman in the picture sitting third from left in the bottom row)

In 1922, SUBG was moved under the guidance of Dr. GC Nel to the location where it is currently housed. Greenhouses were built shortly after the Garden’s establishment for plant material that was thought not to be tolerant of Stellenbosch’s climate, either from cold temperatures or rain. Over time many of these plants have proven to be hardy in the local climate and have been moved outside into the main collections. The Garden’s original design was inspired by the Botanical Gardens in Padova, with the concentric circles and bisecting paths in cardinal directions. SUBG’s earliest beds included taxonomic order beds.

Prof GC Nel
Prof GC Nel
1925 (circa) Glasshouses
1925 (circa) Glasshouses
Original Garden map and design ca. 1928
Original Garden map and design ca. 1928

The Garden in its 92 year history has had four curators; Dr. Hans Herre (1925-1962), Mr. Wim Tijmens (1962–1999), Mr. Deon Kotze (1999–2012), and Mr. Martin Smit (2013 – present). With each of these curators, they bring their own style and legacy to the Garden.

Dr. Hans Herre is remembered for his passion and expertise of the succulent plant family Aizoaceae (commonly known as Vygies) that is 96% endemic to Namibia and South Africa. Herre carried out extensive plant hunting expeditions throughout the desert and succulent-rich regions in the Northern Cape and Namibia. One of Dr.Herre’s groundbreaking feats at Stellenbosch Botanic Garden was his successful cultivation of the highly unusual Welwitschia mirabilis plant. Welwitschia mirabilis belongs to the Gnetophyta Division in the Plantea Kingdom and is a slow growing species that produces a woody basal growth with two massive dissecting leaves that divide and extended reaching outwards. These plants are restricted to the coastal fog areas of Namibia and can live for thousands of years. Herre was the first person to successfully grow this taxa from seed through vegetative growth to coning to seed. Herre was of German descent and during World War II was held in a South African internment camp throughout the conflict years. It is at this time that his observation skills grew and he recognized the Mesembs (Aizoaceae) unique seed pods to be highly accurate indicators for plant identification. An early adopter of technology, Herre regularly took photographs and was the first person to take color photos of the mass flowering events of Namaqualand. He used these photos to make postcards which he sent to Europe, highlighting this botanical spectacle and subsequently putting this South African mass flower display on the world map. Looking back at historic records and the diversity of plants grown, many would consider this time period to be the Garden’s heyday in terms of total number of different taxa grown in the Garden. Herre is remembered today for his countless discoveries and contributions to the study of South Africa’s succulent plants. The genus Herreanthus was named in his honor, as were many specific epithets. During Herre’s time he employed horticulturalist Helmut Meyer. Meyer was an exceptional horticulturalist maintaining the diverse holdings in the Garden and bringing many new plants into cultivation. Under Meyer’s thoughtful care and growing prowess he was the first person to successfully cultivate and flower Disa uniflora, which is South Africa’s most commonly known orchid species today.

Herre first color photographs and post card of flowering nemaqualand
Herre first color photographs and post card of flowering nemaqualand
Hans Herre on a donkey cart expidition to Bankfntein near Stinkfontein in the Richtersveld
Hans Herre on a donkey cart expidition to Bankfntein near Stinkfontein in the Richtersveld
1961 Hans Herre, Welwitschia close to Usakos
1961 Hans Herre, Welwitschia close to Usakos
1957 Herre's Chev, Knersvlakte with Gifberg in the background
1957 Herre’s Chev, Knersvlakte with Gifberg in the background
1963 - Prof Rycroft and Sir George Taylor
1963 – Prof Rycroft and Sir George Taylor
Dr Hans Herre with Welwitschia mirabilis
Dr Hans Herre with Welwitschia mirabilis
1966 Helmut Meyer, in Welwitschia huis
1966 Helmut Meyer, in Welwitschia huis
Helmut Meyer in garden
Helmut Meyer in garden
Disa uniflora plants of Helmut Meyer
Disa uniflora plants of Helmut Meyer

Wim Tinjems is remembered for expanding and developing more of the formal garden infrastructure, incorporating trees, exotic plants and physical garden elements. Wim expresses a charismatic and theatrical flare and deep love for plants and garden culture that has extended his reputation both far and wide. Tinjems worked in a series of gardens before taking his tenure at Stellenbosch, including Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Rustenburg Wine Estate. He was instrumental in managing the early days of Harold Porter National Botanical garden as its first curator before moving to the SUBG. Tinjems had a passion for the flora and culture of East Asia and had extensive correspondence in China, Japan, Europe and the United States. He learned to speak Mandarin to aid in his botanical endeavors and collecting trips overseas. He introduced many temperate plant species that now grow in the botanic garden. Tinjems always kept interesting company such as the notable architect and plant explorer Roberto Burle Marx. Tinjems still, to this day, lives in Stellenbosch and visits on a regular basis, regaling visitors and staff with whimsical stories that one is left wondering if they are embellishments or in fact stranger than fiction.

1981 (May) Mr Wim Tijmens and Dr Elizabeth Scholtz in BBG
1981 (May) Mr Wim Tijmens and Dr Elizabeth Scholtz in BBG
1981 (May) Wim Tijmens with Dexter Davies and Andrew Pascoe, Arnold Arboretum
1981 (May) Wim Tijmens with Dexter Davies and Andrew Pascoe, Arnold Arboretum
Wim Tijmens working on Bonsai
Wim Tijmens working on Bonsai
1968 Botaniese Tuin leliedamme
1968 Botaniese Tuin leliedamme
1969 Edward Parrott by with weights on Victoria leaves
1969 Edward Parrott by with weights on Victoria leaves

Deon is remembered for continuing to build the financial stability of Stellenbosch Botanic Garden. Under his watch he incorporated a gift shop, restaurant and retail nursery all of which now play an important role in keeping the Garden financially solvent. Although SUBG works on a relatively small budget, these financial developments allow for the Garden to start to build its programs and expand its operations. Deon successfully was able to de-couple the Garden from any academic department. This allowed the Garden to develop its own mission and vision for the future instead of being subject to the interests of departmental chairs.

Deon Kotze
Deon Kotze

Martin Smit, although only in the job for just over a year, brings his expertise as a life long horticulturalist and botanist. Martin has earned two masters degrees, one in plant physiology from The North West University in South Africa and the other in Public Horticulture from Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware. He has received training in Royal Botanic Garden Kew’s International Diploma in Botanical Garden Management. Martin brings to the Garden a contemporary view of public gardens with a focus on engaging the public directly with plants and he holds a strong plant conservation ethic. He is already shifting the direction of the organization to minimize exotics and increase wild collected, endemic South African species. Non natives in the Garden have to earn their place by possessing a wow factor or to illustrate a point. Under his guidance he has implemented the use of IrisBG collections database manager to maintain a high level curatorial standard and plant records. Accurate plant records are considered a basic standard for recognition as a botanic garden and a system that is wanting or non existent in the majority ofSouth African gardens. Recognizing the unique nature of SUBG he also tactfully incorporates exotic plants of high horticultural interest to create a dynamic garden experience that generates veneration of the diverse beauty of plants. This approach of mixing the scientific collection with the interesting and aesthetic enables visitors from across the spectrum from the laymen to specialist to appreciate the Garden. As the Garden continues to develop under his watch it will continue to express a high level of horticultural proficiency and gain recognition as a model for botanic gardens in South Africa.

2014 Martin Smit with daughter and Aria on Victoria leaf

Stellenbosch Botanic Garden is in many ways unique in its history and plant collections. While the world class garden Kirstenbosch is often highlighted as the premier botanical attraction to see on the West Cape, Stellenbosch BG fills a unique niche in the garden world of South Africa.

Due to governmental mandates national botanical gardens are only allowed to research, grow and display South African native species. While in a country like South Africa that houses an extremely rich diversity of plant species of high conservation and ornamental value, these rulings have little impact on the ability for gardens to create an environment that fulfills both an aesthetic and conservation minded mission. While international visitors to South Africa are often awe struck by the unusual displays of the Cape Region’s flora, to the every day South African these plants are the usual and may not inspire the same enthusiastic reaction. Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens, on the other hand, is able to grow and display anything that falls within its plant collection policy. This allows for interesting plants to be grown regardless of their origin. The Victorian Water Lilly (Victoria cruizana) is grown at SUBG and is a perfect example of a highly unusual plant that grabs visitors’ attention and engages them into the wonderful world of plants.

Dec. 9th 2014 Arostolochia gigantean – the family!
Dec. 9th 2014 Arostolochia gigantean – the family!

2014- victoria cruziana

Orchid House w/ Typhonodorum lindleyanum (Water Banana)
Orchid House w/ Typhonodorum lindleyanum (Water Banana)

- Orchid House with small victoria‘s in dam DSC_0032

Dec. 9th 2014 Arostolochia gigantean – the family!
Dec. 9, 2014 Arostolochia gigantean – the family!

DSC_0028 Arostolochia gigantean Flower

The Garden itself houses a number of interesting collections of note.

Bonsai:

South Africa’s oldest and largest bonsai collection is housed at SUBG. This collection exhibits plants with many traditional elements and plant material but also has its own African flare. Many of the trees are untraditional selections of South African trees that have been adapted to the eastern practice of growing dwarfed trees. This garden will also provide the visitor with an opportunity to explore a few of the styles of Bonsai that are unique to South Africa. This includes the Baobab style which attempts to mimic the Adansonia digata tree that grows throughout tropical Africa and is recognized as one of the world’s largest in girth. One may also experience a tree in the Pierneef style that mimics the stereotypical umbrella branching savannah tree style.

This Buddleja saligna is done in the pierneef style of Bonsai (one of Africas unique bonsai forms) and has been judged as one of the top 100 bonsais of the world outside Japan
This Buddleja saligna is done in the pierneef style of Bonsai (one of Africa’s unique bonsai forms) and has been judged as one of the top 100 bonsais of the world outsideof  Japan

Carnivorous Plants:

Stellenbosch BG exhibits a collection of carnivorous plants, mainly comprised of South African species along with an assortment of species from North America.

Heliomhora minor
Heliomhora minor
Carnivorous plant collection
Carnivorous plant collection
Drosera regia
Drosera regia

Vegetable Garden:

The vegetable garden is designed to display an assortment of foods, spices and other hedged edges. The plant materials selected come from all over the world and illustrates the connection of people and plants.

Fern House:

The fern house exhibits a variety of shade loving southern temperate and sub tropical plants. As one may imagine the main collection consists of tree ferns and other diminutive fern taxa.

Cyathea brownii
Cyathea brownii
Fern House
Fern House
Fern House
Fern House

Succulent Gardens:

Two greenhouses are dedicated to the growth of succulent plants. Much of the collection is composed of remnants from Garden history with a strong focus on South African taxa. The collections also include representation from Madagascar and its African allied plant species as well as some cacti and succulents from North America and other desert regions. In addition to the greenhouses themselves there is also a rockery section of the garden that features many succulent plant species.

Ceropegia ampliata
Ceropegia ampliata

Drosanthemum bicolor solatary

Aloe dorotheae – An endangered Tanzanian aloe species
Aloe dorotheae – An endangered Tanzanian aloe species
Jamesbrittenia bergae
Jamesbrittenia bergae
Stapelia gigantea
Stapelia gigantea

The Great Trek

Great Trek Whole Country
Great Trek Whole Country

In order to get a feel for the diversity of vegetation and landscapes in South Africa, I planned a 3 week road trip to explore some of the natural areas and botanical gardens across the country.  The Western Cape is recognized as having the highest concentration of endemic plant species and containing the main components of the Cape Floristic bioregion.  Although this region is usually the one most often visited and considered to be of high floristic interest by the international community, the rest of South Africa is also extremely rich in its floral diversity.  With large variation in geology, altitude, seasonal and quantity of rainfall, all of these factors have influenced the various distinct biomes that make up South Africa.  During the trip I visited all of the major biomes focusing on seeing natural areas that represent the unique flora of that particular region.  Biomes included Fynbos, forest, thicket, grassland, savanna, succulent and Nama Karoo.  This post will go through various locations visited throughout the trip.

South Africa Bioregions
South Africa Bioregions
Great Trek Western Cape
Great Trek Western Cape

On the first portion of my journey I headed down to the area known as the Garden Route.  The area has received such a name not for the abundance of cultivated landscapes but for the stretches of coastal forest that dominate the landscape. This area has a distinctively different feel compared to the shrub-dominated West Coast or the sub tropical East Coast.  A popular destination because of the area’s iconic cliffs steeply descending into the ocean and the unique forests, it’s the smallest of any of the biomes in South Africa.

Knysner Heads
Knysner Heads
Gazania ringens Knysner Heads
Gazania ringens Knysner Heads
King Edwards VII a champion Podocarpus falcatus tree in Deepwall Forest Reserve
King Edward VII – a champion Podocarpus falcatus tree in Deepwall Forest Reserve
Olea capensis and towering above the forests providing a feel for the canopy of the area
Olea capensis – towering above the forests providing a feel for the canopy of the area
Flowers of the shrub Trichocladus crinitus a one of South Africas few native species in the Hamamelidaceae family.
Flowers of the shrub Trichocladus crinitus – one of South Africa’s few native species in the Hamamelidaceae family.
Leaves and naked buds of Trichoclauds crinitus. This shrub is one of the dominate species found in the understory of the forest of the Garden route
Leaves and naked buds of Trichoclauds crinitus – this shrub is one of the dominate species found in the understory of the forest of the Garden Route
Natures Valley Nature Reserve
Nature’s Valley Nature Reserve
View of Natures Valley. From this perspective it can be observed that where the picture was taken is principle Fynbos vegetation and the forests that the Garden Route is known for are only found in the valleys and on the slopes of areas almost directly adjancent the ocean.
View of Nature’s Valley – from this perspective it can be observed that growth (where the picture was taken) is principally Fynbos vegetation, and the forests that the Garden Route is known for are only found in the valleys and on the slopes of areas almost directly adjacent the ocean.
Harveya sp.  a parasitic member of the Orobanchaceae family found in the Fynbos components shrublands that grow above the sloping cliffs in the Garden Route Area
Harveya sp. – a parasitic member of the Orobanchaceae family found in the Fynbos components shrublands that grow above the sloping cliffs in the Garden Route area
Another massive yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus) found in a river valley in Natures Valley area.
Another massive Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus) found in a river valley in Nature’s Valley area
Storms River Mouth – Observe the clear delineation between forest on the right and its abrupt transition to Fynbos vegetation farther upslope
Storm River Mouth – observe the clear delineation between forest on the right and its abrupt transition to Fynbos vegetation farther up slope
Storm River Mouth – Costal forest vegetation
Storm River Mouth – Coastal forest vegetation
Fynbos vegetation giving way to coastal forest bellow
Fynbos vegetation – giving way to coastal forest below
Leucospermum sp. growing above Storm River Mouth
Leucospermum sp. – growing above Storm River Mouth

Baviaanskloof is a 1.2 million acre nature reserve located in the Eastern Cape province.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring both endemic flora and important archeological sites of early human inhabitants.  It is thought that people have inhabited the area for as far back in time as the Middle Stone Age (ca. 100,000 – 30,000 B.C,).  The flora of this region can differ significantly depending on the altitude and exposure of the landscape.  Deep river valleys that often bisect the mountains in the region can support small patches of forest vegetation.  The thicket biome is predominantly covered with shrubs and small trees, many with succulent adaptation.  Considered almost to be a transitional zone, one will find components of many of the other biomes closely associated such as species allied with members of the succulent Karoo in open valleys and hilltops, to forests in riverine gullies to Fynbos elements in the higher mountainous regions.

Bavians Kloof
Baviananskloof

DSC_0987

Aloe Ferox and arid landscape of the South African interior
Aloe Ferox and arid landscape of the South African interior
View of shrub and semi dessert landscape of Baviians Kloof World Heritage Site
View of shrub and semi desert landscape of Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site
Cave used as dwelling site
Cave used as dwelling site
Mouth of Cave
Mouth of cave
Cave rock art
Cave rock art
A water supply in close proximity to cave the aquis plant aponogeton distachyos traditionally eaten as food source in South Africa
A water supply in close proximity to cave – the aqueous plant aponogeton distachyos traditionally eaten as a food source in South Africa

GREAT TREK – East Side

Great Treak - East Cape

Umtamvuna Gorge

Umtamvuna Gorge in the province of KwaZulu-Natal features deep sandstone cliff faces that support coastal forest in the low lands and grasslands on the upper elevations and rims of the canyon.  This and the few other gorges in the region support a high diversity of tree species and endemism; for example, the Oribi Gorge which is less than 60 km (37 miles) with similar geology but only share 24% of the same 1514 angiosperm species. (A synfloristic comparison of Oribi Gorge and Umtamvuna Nature Reserves, T.J. Edwards 1998)  These gorge systems have preserved flora of older plant species lineage,  acting as a site of refuge while also being subject to invasion of the newer lineages of species as climate changed, introducing new flora to the region.

Oribi gorge
Oribi Gorge
Oribi Gorge
Oribi Gorge
Forests in Oribi gorge
Forests in Oribi Gorge
View into the Umtamvuna gorge
View into the Umtamvuna Gorge
Educational sizes identify some of the endemic flora of the Umtamvuna gorge at the local accommodation
Educational sizes identify some of the endemic flora of the Umtamvuna Gorge at the local accommodation
View looking down at the diverse tree canopy of Umtamvuna
View looking down at the diverse tree canopy of Umtamvuna Gorge
High grasslands flanking the gorges and the contrasting forests bellow
High grasslands flanking the gorges and the contrasting forests below

Durban Botanical Gardens

Durban Botanical Gardens sits in the middle of the bustling, busy, third largest city in South Africa.  Located on the Eastern Coast it receives summer rainfall and is considered to be semi tropical in the plant communities it supports.  Durban Botanical Garden is unique for a number of reasons.  It is South Africa’s oldest surviving botanical garden with its establishment in 1851.  It is managed by the city itself and the administration is carried out in coordination with a number of municipal partners.  This is a notable difference from the majority of gardens I have visited up this point with most of them either being private collections or under the purview of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).  SANBI gardens such as the internationally known Kirstenbosch are interesting in their own right typically displaying strictly local and native flora and usually containing large natural areas adjacent to the gardens themselves, but do not showcase or grow non-native plants.  Durban Botanical Garden, on the other hand ,grows and has a focus on exotic plants not necessarily native to South Africa or the African continent.  Historically its development had more of a European and British influence with a focus on introduction of plants of economic value into the country and to catalog flora of South Africa for international partners such as the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew.  This English- influenced history can be felt in the garden’s design and historical elements such as the footprint of an old Victorian glass house.  In the past, Durban was noted as playing a major role in the introduction of valuable horticultural crops into the country including sugar cane, coffee and pineapples, many of which are still grown in the farmland around Durban.  The garden effectively acted as a pipeline to help build agrarian practices and support food security in South Africa.  Under the guidance of farmer, botanist and Curator John Medley Wood, the garden undertook the construction of an herbarium to further progress the collecting, identification and exploration of the native flora of the Kwazulu-Natal region.  To date the herbarium is still functioning with over 100,000 specimens, although it is now under the administration by SANBI.

The garden was originally established in 1851 and with a suitable climate to support trees the garden has a well developed arboretum with interesting specimens from across the world.  This, along with the garden’s formal design, gives this landscape a highly unique feel for a South African garden.  In the last few decades the garden was highly diverse in terms of the types of horticulture the institute supported: from extensive ornamental Canna displays and hybridizing dating back to the 1960’s; to growing and displaying a full taxonomic and collection of the genus Erythrina; to anthropologically significant plants such as Ficus religiosa (the fabled  tree under which the Buddha reached enlightenment while meditating); to plant conservation such as growing Encephalartos woodii, a robust tree cycad that is extinct in the wild and only grows in cultivation.  Having such a diversity of plantings and program support is in many ways the ideal for botanical gardens reaching across disciplines and providing an engaging environment that can bring the art and science of horticulture to the public.

DSC_0057

Sunken Garden, remnant of one of the gardens historical elements
Sunken Garden – remnant of one of the garden’s historical elements
Pathway leading up to the former site of victorian style glass house. The tree cycad specimens adjacent to the walk are the extinct in the wild cycad Encephalartos woodii.
Pathway leading up to the former site of Victorian style glass house. The tree cycad specimens adjacent to the walk are  extinct in the wild cycad Encephalartos woodii.
Encephalartos woodii with homo sapian for scale. This magnificent cycad was restricted to a tiny population in the Kwazulu-Natal province.  Only male plants of this species exist today leaving only removal of basal vegetative growth as an effective means of propagation.
Encephalartos woodii with homo sapian for scale – this magnificent cycad was restricted to a tiny population in the Kwazulu-Natal province. Only male plants of this species exist today leaving the removal of basal vegetative growth as the only an effective means of propagation.
ndering path through the cycad collection
Meandering path through the cycad collection
Fern Dell
Fern Dell
The semitropical climate is friendly to spontaneous growth of many garden specimens such as staghorn ferns (Platycerym sp.)
The semitropical climate is friendly to spontaneous growth of many garden specimens such as Staghorn ferns (Platycerym sp.)
 young specimen of the Kauri Pine (Agathis australis) a tree species native to Australia and New Zealand that in the wild is one of the largest trees in the world.
Young specimen of the Kauri Pine (Agathis australis) – a tree species native to Australia and New Zealand that in the wild is one of the largest trees in the world.
The two cousins Agathis australis (left) and the Auracaria sp. (right with flat top) both notable specimens and members of the Araucariaceae family. Araucariaeceae is a fascinating family that is a member Antarctic floral kingdom finding related species in southern temperate zones such as New Zealand, Patagonia, and Southern Ocean Islands
The two cousins Agathis australis (left) and the Auracaria sp. (right with flat top) both notable specimens and members of the Araucariaceae family.  Araucariaeceae is a fascinating family that is a member of Antarctic floral kingdom finding related species in southern temperate zones such as New Zealand, Patagonia, and Southern Ocean Islands
Ficus religiosa –  The tree species that Buddah was said to have reached enlightenment while meditation underneath its branches
Ficus religiosa – the tree species by which the Buddha was said to have reached enlightenment  underneath its branches while meditation
A young Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata). An African tree species found in dry climate savannah in north east South Africa and extending northward in range. It is notable for growing to extremely large sizes in diameter (One of the worlds largest) and adapt to dry regions.
A young Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) – an African tree species found in dry climate savannahs in north east South Africa and extending northward in range. It is notable for growing to extremely large sizes in diameter (one of the world’s largest) and adapted to dry regions
Durban BG had an interesting array of sculptural art throughout the garden. This piece as well as a few others across the garden are old tree stumps that were left in place and carved directly on site into sculptures.
Durban Botanical Garden has an interesting array of sculptural art throughout the garden. This piece as well as a few others across the garden are old tree stumps that were left in place and carved directly on site into sculptures.

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The Cannon Ball Tree (Couroupita guianensis) Watch your head!
The Cannon Ball Tree (Couroupita guianensis) – watch your head!
Flower of the Cannon Ball Tree (Couroupita guianensis)
Flower of the Cannon Ball Tree (Couroupita guianensis)
A specimen of the Kosi Bay Palm (Raphia australis) which boasts the largest leaves of any plant in the world. Raphia australis is the only palm tree native to South Africa and is monocarpic, meaning it flowers only once in its life.  ( 6ft+ Homo sapian at bottom right for scale)
A specimen of the Kosi Bay Palm (Raphia australis) –  which boasts the largest leaves of any plant in the world.  Raphia australis is the only palm tree native to South Africa and is monocarpic, meaning it flowers only once in its life (6ft+ Homo sapian at bottom right for scale)

Great Trek - North East

Drakensburg

IMG_1125 IMG_1126

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is in South Africa’s Savannah biome and characterized by the grassland vegetation with sparse trees cover. Major drivers of the ecology of this biome are minimal rainfall, fire and grazing by hordes of large animals.  This biome is the largest in South Africa comprising almost 50% of the land area and is what is famed to support the iconic large populations of classic African fauna including lions, elephants, panthers, rhinos, giraffes and hippos.  This biome extends north into the adjacent countries in Africa including Botsawana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.  Development of land in this biome as been kept to a minimum likely from the unsuitability for farming, the lack of reliable water and the presence of malaria in the area.

Savanna landscape
Savannah landscape
Adansonia digitata - The worlds southern most Boabab Tree
Adansonia digitata – the world’s southernmost Boabab Tree
Adansonia digitata - Boabab Tree
Adansonia digitata – Boabab Tree
Adansonia digitata - Boabab Tree
Adansonia digitata – Boabab Tree
Typical Savanna vegetation with grasslands and sparse tree cover
Typical Savannah vegetation with grasslands and sparse tree cover
Arborists! Oh I mean Giraffes
Arborists! Oh, I mean giraffes
The unusual fruits of the sausage tree (Kigelia Africana)
The unusual fruits of the Sausage tree (Kigelia Africana)
Sausage tree (Kigelia Africana) from afar
Sausage tree (Kigelia Africana) – from afar

Walter Sizulu National Botanical Garden

Walter Sizulu National Botanical Garden is situated in the sprawling urban center of Johannesburg.  With its metropolitan location, it is  the second most visited garden in the country next to Kirstenbosch.  I had the privilege of touring the collection with Assistant Curator Andrew Hankey, both a kind and fascinating individual with extensive plant and natural history knowledge of South Africa. Andrew has been with the Garden since the late 1980’s, less than a decade after the Garden was established.  With much of the Garden’s improvements occurring within the last 30 years of his tenure, it was a privilege to have the landscape interpreted through one of its principle developers.

Walter Sizulu is tucked in away in a small river valley flanked by cliff sides and sloping hills that are managed as nature reserves adjacent to the Garden.  After driving through suburban sprawl and neighborhoods protected by a maze of high, barbed wire and electric fencing, arrival in the tranquil environment of the Garden is a stark contrast to the area’s surroundings.  The Garden is located in a steep valley with cascading waterfalls, wandering rivers and steep cliff faces.  Acting in a similar manner as the trails that meander Ithaca’s gorges, such as Cascadilla or Six Mile Creek, the contrasting topography of steep slopes and gorges effectively acts as a façade, transporting the visitor out of the built environment and into a wild world.  It is no surprise that this garden has become an urban oasis.

Waterfall and flanking cliffs on the western extent of the garden
Waterfall and flanking cliffs on the western extent of the garden

The Garden is designed around the river whose path playfully wanders throughout the extent of the Garden.  The source of the river is a cascading waterfall on the eastern extent of the property, which acts a reference point and is an iconic feature of the Garden. In an effort to intersperse the natural environment with the cultivated, the Garden’s development attempted to find a balance between the two extremes.  As a general rule, if pathways and gardens were designed in close proximity to one side of the river, the area directly on the opposite side of the river was not developed. The intent has been to keep corridors available for the plant and animal life to be able to connect to this important water source, move freely, and have access to the Garden’s larger natural areas on its fringes.  This naturalistic design provides both an ecosystem service to the biota of the region and also gives the Garden a playful feel, keeping the visitors engaged by tempting them to explore and find out what secrets are hidden beyond the next bend in the river.

Pathway along the river
Pathway along the river
Wildlife corridors adjacent to river
Wildlife corridors adjacent to river
View of the garden valley from gardens bird hide
View of the garden valley- from gardens bird hide

The Garden focuses on both researching and growing the native flora and has also done a magnificent job at designing a number of interesting gardens to draw in the public’s attention.  More formalized features include an arboretum, water wise garden, succulent garden, muti (medicinal) garden, fitness garden, geological garden, grasslands garden, children’s garden and cycad garden.

DSC 0365 – Water Wise Garden
Water Wise Garden
Podocarpus collection in the Arboretum
Podocarpus collection in the Arboretum
Johannesburg experiences winter frost which challenges many of the tree species attempted to grow in the garden. Visible dieback in this picture is from winter cold damage.
Johannesburg experiences winter frost which challenges many of the tree species attempting to be grown in the Garden. Visible dieback in this picture is from winter cold damage.
Grassland garden featuring flora from the grasslands that a major flora community in the east central portion of the country
Grassland garden featuring flora from the grasslands that are a major flora community in the east central portion of the country
Succulent garden mostly focusing on plants from the summer rainfall region in the eastern part of the country. Summer rainfall succulents tend to make better garden subjects comparatively to the succulents plants found in winter rainfall region of the western part of the country.
Succulent garden – mostly focusing on plants from the summer rainfall region in the eastern part of the country.  Summer rainfall succulents tend to make better garden subjects compared to the succulent plants found in the winter rainfall region of the western part of the country.
The fitness garden – an unusual and unconventional garden feature that is apparently popular with visitors providing an outdoor gym space and driving gate admissions.
The fitness garden – an unusual and unconventional garden feature that is apparently popular with visitors providing an outdoor gym space and driving gate admissions.
The muti or traditional medicine garden
The muti or traditional medicine garden
Children’s Garden
Children’s Garden
Entrance to the geologic garden – This garden using large rocks from the surrounding area to walk visitors throughout the geologic history of the earth. These boulders themselves are the dominate feature of the garden with the plantings only adding interest to the main geologic subjects.
Entrance to the geologic garden – this garden uses large rocks from the surrounding area to walk visitors throughout the geologic history of the earth. These boulders themselves are the dominate feature of the garden with the plantings  add interest to the main geologic subjects.
The geology of South Africa is one of the largest determiners of where population centers have developed informing the agricultural, horticultural, live stock and extractive industries of the country.  This garden brings to light the varying mineralogy of the country giving context to the biotic communities that have developed from the stones pedological transformation to soils
The geology of South Africa is one of the largest determinants of where population centers have developed, informing the agricultural, horticultural, live stock and extractive industries of the country. This garden brings to light the varying mineralogy of the country giving context to the biotic communities that have developed from the stone’s pedological transformation to soils
Witwatersand Gold Bearing reaf – Mining has been a major extractive industry in South Africa over the last century. Gold
Witwatersand Gold Bearing reef – mining has been a major extractive industry in South Africa over the last century.  Gold.
Petrified wood towards the end of the walk
Petrified wood – towards the end of the walk

As with other national botanical gardens, some of the most interesting plants that are of research or conservation value are kept in the nurseries behind the scenes in the formal “collection”.  Walter Sizulu Gardens was no exception.  Vast holdings of succulents focusing on genera of the summer rainfall region were tightly packed into one of the larger greenhouse facilities.  Far less precisely order as the contrast Karoo Botanical Gardens, Walter Sizulu had no shortage of fascinating succulent genera and diversity representing the mind boggling diversity of the country.

Succulent Greenhouse
Succulent greenhouse
A 12 year old hybrid of the Aloe dichotoma and Aloen barberae. This cross grows extremely quickly and giving the impression of the slow growing Quiver Tree (Aloe dichotoma) native to the winter rainfall region in the north western cape.
A 12 year old hybrid of the Aloe dichotoma and Aloen barberae – this cross grows extremely quickly and gives the impression of the slow growing Quiver Tree (Aloe dichotoma) native to the winter rainfall region in the north western cape
Ledebouria in bloom
Ledebouria in bloom
This Ledebouria leaf secretes a sticky substance that a causes sand and soil to stick to the leaf, perhaps an adaptation to prevent grazing of the small leaves
This Ledebouria leaf secretes a sticky substance that causes sand and soil to stick to the leaf, perhaps an adaptation to prevent grazing of the small leaves

One of the primary plant conservation efforts the Walter Sizulu is working on is the preservation of Dioscorea strydomiana a member of the yam family (Dioscoreaceae).  This species was only recently discovered (2003) and described (2010).  Wild populations are under threat because they are subject grazing from large animals as well as collection for traditional African medicine.  Less than 200 individuals of this species are known to exists in the wild.  It is recognized by Royal Botanical Gardens Kew as one of the most endangered plants in the world.  In an effort to preserve the species, Andrew and the Garden have been busy working on developing horticultural practices to grow the plant in ex-situ collections.  The effort is to both see if the plant can be grown horticulturally to provide a medicine source without wild collecting as well as to establish new populations in a cooperating nature reserve.   One of the hardest challenges with cultivation of medicinal plants for the Muti markets (traditional plant medicine markets) is the perception by the public that plants grown in cultivation don’t possess the same medicinal properties as wild collected ones.  This is a similar belief to the traditional medicine practices in China where people believe that the more scarce the plant the more powerful it is.  To some extent this has actually been proven true by the fact that plants grown in cultivation oftentimes are growing in ideal conditions. Often many of the medicinal compounds found in these plants develop as secondary metabolites that are generated in greater concentration in response to stressful conditions.  This poses a particular challenge, but not an insurmountable one, as it pushes the horticulturalist to grow plants under “controlled” stressed environments.

Growth medium trails for Dioscorea strydomiana to determine best protocols.
Growth medium trials for Dioscorea strydomiana to determine best protocols

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Dioscorea strydomiana Five years after sowing. Visible growth of the tuber at the base of the plants can be observed by this point in its life cycle. In the back center is an older specimen.  Note the phenotypic and biomass difference across the seed lot.
Dioscorea strydomiana – five years after sowing. Visible growth of the tuber at the base of the plants can be observed by this point in its life cycle. In the back center is an older specimen. Note the phenotypic and biomass difference across the seed lot.

And now, last but not least, just a few more pictures of interesting specimens from the collection.

 outlandishly striking blooms of Jamesbrittenia bergae
Outlandishly striking blooms of Jamesbrittenia bergae
An assortment of the cute and quirky Euphorbia bupleurifolia
An assortment of the cute and quirky Euphorbia bupleurifolia
Encephalartos transvenosus – A tree cycad known to grow as a single population forming a dense “forest” in the Modjadji region of Limpopo.
Encephalartos transvenosus – a tree cycad known to grow as a single population forming a dense “forest” in the Modjadji region of Limpopo
A massive Ensete vetricosum in from the Musaceae (Banana) family. Known to be monocarpic (Flowering once, setting seed and dying)
A massive Ensete vetricosum in from the Musaceae (Banana) family – known to be monocarpic (flowering once, setting seed and dying)
The landscape was adorned with a plethora of Celtis africana forming beautiful shade trees throughout the garden. The genus has related species in North America such as Celtis occidentalis which can be found locally in Ithaca.
The landscape was adorned with a plethora of Celtis africana forming beautiful shade trees throughout the garden. The genus has related species in North America such as Celtis occidentalis which can be found locally in Ithaca.
This ones for you Bill Miller! A mass planting of Ornitholagum sp. Making for an excellent native ornamental bulb and one that is often found when botanizing throughout the velds (fields) of South Africa
This one’s for you, Bill Miller!  A mass planting of Ornitholagum sp. making for an excellent native ornamental bulb and one that is often found when botanizing throughout the velds (fields) of South Africa
The Dancing Couple
The Dancing Couple
A tree that was struck by lighting killing half of it and one of South Africa’s many interesting arboricultural interventions.
A tree that was struck by lighting killing half of it and one of South Africa’s many interesting arboricultural interventions
Another interesting arboricultural attempts to save this cracked Celtis Africana.
Another interesting arboricultural attempts to save this cracked Celtis Africana.

Vergelegen Wine Estate

The Western Cape region of South Africa is internationally recognized for its Mediterranean climate and capacity for producing excellent wine grapes.  As a result a large export industry has developed along with wine tourism locally.  Vineyards typically offer tasting rooms, vineyard tours, restaurants, gardens and accommodations.  With a history of cultivation of grapes for over 300 years, many of these vineyards have substantially large land holdings engaging in activities aside from strictly viticulture including natural land preservation, habitat restoration and plant conservation.

Vergelegen wine estate was visited so as to explore the historic garden.  Vergelegen was established in 1700 by the Governor of Cape Town, Willem Adriaan van der Stel.  Willem was the son of Simon van der Stel who preceded him in the role Commander of Cape Town.  Simon is noted in the European history and development of South Africa for his active role in exploration of the country.  While many previous Cape Town Commanders were content handling their affairs from the relative comfort and protection of the Cape Town Fort, Simon on the other hand was an active explorer.  Simon founded the town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape area and did much to promote agriculture and horticulture in the region.  Observing the climate of the Western Cape, Simon recognized the potential for a wine industry in the region, establishing his own vineyard known as Groot Constantia and promoting the practice among local farmers.  Simon’s conviction toward the development of the industry was demonstrated by his political efforts and influence in the Netherlands.  At the time, French Huguenots (Calvinist Protestants) had fled to the Netherlands for asylum after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes that had protected their religious freedom in the past, resulting in persecution from the Catholics.  Simon coordinated with the Dutch government to provide passage and refuge for the Huguenots in South Africa recognizing that many of them, being skilled French viticulturists, would jump-start the wine industry.  This greatly helped in matching the region’s ideal wine growing climate with competent horticulturists and effectively laying the groundwork for putting South Africa on the map as one of the great wine producing countries of the world.

Williem Adriaan van der Stel shared his father’s passion for horticulture and established Vergelegen to be a vineyard and estate. Vergelegen in Dutch translates to “far situated” and is located roughly a day’s horse ride from Cape Town.  Its remote location was reportedly in part to hide its size and enterprise since much of the estate was questionably funded through back channels from the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

With an international influence through Williem’s position in the Dutch East India Company, the development of horticultural was one of his primary interests.  As a result, Vergelegn is a garden that has historically been involved in the introduction and growth of various plants to South Africa for their economic and ornamental qualities.  The garden is a mixture of formal elements representing the European garden influence with many of the gardens designed on axis aligned on the cardinal directions, with hedge borders and walled gardens.  The massive land holding is flanked by vineyards and the coastal mountain range at the property’s extent.   An arboretum enchants the landscape with many mature tree specimens including English Oak (Quercus robur), Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), Coral Tree (Erythrina lysistemon), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) and Tea (Camelia japonica), showing the international horticultural influence from Europe, East Asia and Africa.  The garden boasts the oldest Quercus robur in the country, estimated to be over 300 years old and only barely remains standing through extreme arboricultural intervention.

Other sections of the estate are less manicured including small remnant stands of Podocarpus falcatus or the Yellowwood. Yellowwood historically was one of South Africa’s premier timber trees because of its large growth and distribution throughout the coastal Western Cape.  Large individual trees can still found in areas such as the Garden Route and are recognized as South Africa’s tallest trees outside of cultivation.  Often forming dense stands, small pockets of the iconic species can be viewed on the property.

View looking towards the mountains where the Estate property ends
View looking towards the mountains where the estate property ends
Former dwelling and central house on the property
Former dwelling and central house on the property
Formal gardens surrounding the house
Formal gardens surrounding the house
300 year old camphor trees (Cinnamonum camphora) bordering the house. This tree was highly prized for its economic value. It’s properties include use as a spice, medicine, insect repellent and creating smokeless gunpowder.
Dead stump and living Camphor tree. This Indian tree species historically as cultivated through coppicing and re-sprouting
Dead stump and living Camphor tree. This Indian tree species historically is cultivated through coppicing and re-sprouting
Central bowl of Camphor tree showing its massive size.
Central bole of Camphor tree showing its massive size.
 Oldest English Oak Quercus robur in South Africa from afar planted at some point between 1700 – 1706 by Willem Adriann van der Stel.
Oldest English Oak Quercus robur in South Africa from afar planted at some point between 1700 – 1706 by Willem Adriann van der Stel

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With Bill Thomas from Chanticleer Gardens USA for scale squatting a central cavitiy the tree has developed
With Bill Thomas from Chanticleer Gardens USA for scale – squatting in a central cavity that the tree has developed
reme arboriculture intervention on the inside of the English Oaks central cavity.
Reme arboriculture – intervention on the inside of the English oak’s central cavity.
Podocarpus falcatus with central tree and ring of smaller growth creating thicket of vegetation
Podocarpus falcatus – with central tree and ring of smaller growth creating thicket of vegetation

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Podocarpus falactus growth
Podocarpus falactus growth
 Podocarpus falcatus table made from a single slab of the prized wood.
Podocarpus falcatus table made from a single slab of the prized wood.
Champion Podocarpus falcatus known as the The King Edward VII tree (Central in photo towering above the canopy) seen in habit in the Garden Rout area of South Africa.  36.9 meters tall (121 ft) and 6.65 meters in diameter (21 ft)
Champion Podocarpus falcatus-  known as the The King Edward VII tree (central in photo towering above the canopy) seen in habit in the Garden Route area of South Africa. 36.9 meters tall (121 ft) and 6.65 meters in diameter (21 ft)
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King Edward VII (Podocarpus falcatus) – at base with people for scale (right)
King Edward VII (Podocarpus falcatus) towering towards the sky in habitat
King Edward VII (Podocarpus falcatus) – towering towards the sky in habitat

Drosera regia

Carnivorous plants stand out as one of the most unusual of all adaptations. The ability to consume required nutrients through the enzymatic degradation of insects has fascinated anyone who has come across a Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) or pitcher plant (Saracina sp. or Nepanthese sp.). Although less obvious than some of their carnivorous cousins, sundew (Drosera sp.) are equally interesting and can be found in the wild of every continent (aside from Antarctica).

Sundew, or Drosera, gained its name because of the “dew like” mucilage secretion that form drops at the end of the leaves of the plants in the genus. Droser are most closely related to Dionaea (Venus fly trap) of all the carnivorous plants. The center of diversity is found in Australia with close to 50% of the 194 known species to be found there. Drosera has a preference for a boggy habitat and can be found in seeps, swamps and other continuously saturated lands. Their carnivorous adaptation is the growth of a gland bearing stalk that secretes mucilage that attracts small insects. Once insects are trapped on this “fly paper” some species will wraps their leaves around their pray before releasing esterase, peroxidsase, phosphatase and protease enzymes (Karnivoren, biologie und kutur, W. Barthlott et al. 2004) that digest and degrade the insect bodies, thus harvesting essential plant nutrients.

South Africa is known to have a number of Drosera species including Drosera regia, one of the most spectacular within the genus. Drosera regia is aptly dubbed the King Sundew and has not come to receive such a commanding common name for nothing. Aside from its insectivorous appetite, this species is known for its unusually large foliage. With single leaf blades able to grow upwards of 70 cm (27 inches) it is undoubtedly regal in the hierarchy of the Droseras. Because of this strange and alarmingly large growth, this species has become a fascination in the botanical community among collectors and carnivorous plant aficionados.

Drosera regia is known to occur in an extremely small natural range. It is found only in one river valley on the Bains Kloof Pass in South Africa. Most accounts will note that even within this valley, only two known populations can be found and exhibit small morphological differences. In talking with various local botanists, they report anywhere from two to four populations that have been found or stumbled upon.

There are conflicting view points on the conservation status of Drosera regia. A challenge, oftentimes faced by plant taxonomists or conservationists, is the attempt to place artificial frameworks onto biological organisms. The challenge arises from attempts to strictly describe organisms that are typified by morphology, phenotype and reproductive plasticity. In the South Africa Red List of Threatened Species, this D. regia is currently listed as “Rare” although a 2009 assessment described it as the lowest conservation status of “Least Concern.” Others will argue that this species should be considered “Vulnerable” or “Endangered” (at risk of extinction) due to its extremely small distribution, over-harvesting from collectors, and threats from encroaching grasses and shrub species. This shows some of the practical challenges that face plant conservation efforts. With South Africa’s vast flora and countless species that face similar threats, only the most rare or most threatened species tend to receive conservation focus.

Grown in cultivation, Drosera regia can be found in botanical gardens and with specialist carnivorous plant collectors. Still a target for unethical plant collectors, this species is at risk by a combination of both habitat loss and over-exploitation.

Stellenbosch Botanical Garden’s first curator Hans Herre came out to Baines Kloof and was able to re-discover the population. Herre was dropped of into the remote mountain region and was left with 4 days to explore the mountains, rivers and tributaries in search of the reportedly robust species. After days of searching, Herre finally located a living population on the fourth day of his excursion. Examining historical records, it has been observed that Drosera regia once grew in Stellenbosch Botanical Garden’s collections, undoubtedly a result of Herre’s collecting in the area.

Because of the confusing conservation status of Drosera regia, little effort has been placed on the preservation of this species. With Stellenbosch Botanical Garden’s historical cultivation of the species and because of the lack of protective efforts for Drosera regia, it has become a priority for their growing conservation program. A series of steps was planned out to secure plants and develop a management plan. The first is field exploration to find the viable populations and identify their exact locations. Congruently Drosera regia from garden provenance are being secured to explore the horticultural specifications of growing this species in cultivation. In coming years, this will be followed up by repeat visits to the known localities, ethical collecting of seeds from each population, and cultivation within the living collections. This approach will allow for the Garden to focus on monitoring the populations in the wild (in-situ) as well as preserve their germplasm in the Garden (ex-situ).

A trip out to Baines Kloof was planned at the end of September in attempts to find populations of Drosera regia. After a full day of hiking through mountainous terrain we were lucky enough to location one population just prior to having to turn back before dark. Martin Smit Stellenbosch BG Curators was the first in the party to location the Sundew glimmering in the late day glow. With this find he stands as the second of four Stellenbosch BG curators to locate and explore Drosera regia in this locality. With a legacy of conservation efforts this garden is making continuing contributions to plant preservation and keeping with gardens principles, which have sustained it for over ninety years.

Below are pictures from the exploration of Baines Kloof

Baines kloof river
Baines kloof river
Baines Kloof landscape
Baines Kloof landscape
Reunited at last! Stellenbosch BG Curator Martin Smit spots the elusive Droser regia. Hans Herre Stellenboschs BG’s first curator re-discovered this species growing in Bainskloof after four days of hiking in the remote valley.
Reunited at last! Stellenbosch BG Curator Martin Smit spots the elusive Droser regia. Hans Herre Stellenboschs BG’s first curator re-discovered this species growing in Bainskloof after four days of hiking in the remote valley.
A happy curator
A happy curator
Hat for Scale – Drosera regia
Hat for Scale – Drosera regia
Other drosera species growing in same habitat as D. regia
Other drosera species growing in same habitat as D. regia
Sticky mucilage that captures insect prey
Sticky mucilage that captures insect prey
Leaf unferling after wrapping up and digesting an insect
Leaf unferling after wrapping up and digesting an insect
glowing in habitat with sun backlighting
glowing in habitat with sun backlighting
Drosera consuming its prey
Drosera consuming its prey

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The Company Gardens

The Company Garden is South Africa’s oldest garden, established in the 1650s and originally created to supply the Dutch East India Company’s enterprise as a station for much needed fresh food on long sea voyages. The garden quickly outgrew its capacity to provide adequate crops with the expansion of Dutch trading routes and the start of the eastward development of farming on the Cape Flats and the provincial granting of land to support the building trade industry.

The Company Garden itself is in the heart of Cape Town and has a cosmopolitan feel. Historical elements exist such as the vegetable and rose gardens. A traditional Dutch design was employed with linear paths transecting at ninety-degree angles, creating a series of formal, hedged gardens and “rooms.” Although the Garden has developed over the centuries adapting with the times and evolving with the influence of each ruling nation, the Garden maintains many of its historic aspects.The Garden today has both formal elements, such as a straight central axis, and now features playful meandering paths and a plant palette reaching across the globe. Some examples include Wisteria sinensis (Japan), Norfolk pines (South Pacific islands), Cercis chinensis (China), Pyrus commonus (Eastern Europe to Asia), Magnolia grandiflora (North America), Quercus robur (United Kingdoms), Clivia nobilis (South Africa), and Podocarpus falcatus (South Africa). This assorted plant array tells the cultural history as well as the importance of connecting to the plants where people came from. This diversity of plantings and the having of many mature tree specimens give the garden a feel unlike any of the others visited so far on the trip. The largely divergent planting palette gives rich texture, varying scale, colors, blooms and plentiful experience for the visitor.

The ever-presence of contrast and great diversity has been the continued theme of this trip so far. The Company Garden expresses this not only in its plant use but also by its visitors. A must see for any city tourist or casual Cape Town dweller, the Garden is being explored by people across multi-cultural and socioeconomic spectrums. This is a great resource for the city of Cape Town to have and one that is dearly loved by the community. On a busy Saturday, the majority of lawns, benches and walkways had a steady flow of visitors, lounging, strolling or feeding the local fauna. The homeless sleeping in quiet corners to the dapperly dressed people from other walks of life converged on this space to take in the day and enjoy the Garden’s ambience.

Map of Garden and surrounding area
Map of Garden and surrounding area
Pyrus commonis 'Saffran Pear' - South Africa's oldest known cultivated tree brought from the Netherlands circa mid 1600's
Pyrus commonis ‘Saffran Pear’ – South Africa’s oldest known cultivated tree brought from the Netherlands circa mid 1600’s
Government Ave - Oak Alley
Government Ave – Oak Alley
The newly renovated vegetable garden
The newly renovated vegetable garden
Wisteria pergola
Wisteria pergola
Wandering playful path
Wandering playful path

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Aloe barberae
Aloe barberae
Rose Garden
Rose Garden
Aruacaria heterophylla
Aruacaria heterophylla with people enjoying the gardens

Tienie Versfeld

The benefit of remaining in a locality for an extended period is the opportunity to adjust to its pace and, to an observer, experience it in its own time. To move past one’s first impression and to start to understand the nuances and subtleties that come with time and shared experiences together is a gift. Having the opportunity to visit gardens, natural areas and plants more than once allows for this relationship to be built and to get to know these places and organisms in their own right.

Donald Peattie stated it best when he described getting to know the trees that typify the landscape in the Northeastern United States:

“The first reward of tree study – but one that lasts you to the end of your days – is that as you walk abroad, follow a rushing stream, climb a hill, or sit on a rock to admire the view, the trees stand forth, proclaiming their names to you.  Though at first you may fix their identity with more or less conscious effort, the easy-to-know species soon become like the faces of your friends, known without thought, and bringing a host of associations” – Donald Culross Peattie “A Natural History of Trees”

Learning a new herbaceous or bulb flora is much the same but the time spent getting to know each is fleeting. For South African botanists each year brings the promise of traveling to new localities to meet new floristic friends or returning to the tried and true sites to be greeted with the familiarities of old acquaintances.

Being a neophyte to a flora, especially one as diverse as South Africa’s, is a humbling experience and I must admit I am still in the gawking phase of my floristic relationships. Drawn to the more garish, my eye is slowly adjusting to the refined beauty of the glasslike Restios or scrambling shrubs. The shrubs and Restios at times can have a rather drab appearance but cannot be missed because of the structural components they play in the landscape. Appreciating and understanding these elements allows one to see the “forest from the trees.” As the season turns away from bulbs and into early summer so does the botanist’s attention turn towards the greater diversity of plants and the ecological role they play.

Tienie Versfeld is a site that I have had the pleasure to explore on three occasions so far. The site is 2,072 hectares (5,120 acres) in size and was donated to Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden in 1957. It is a site with marshy lowlands, drier grasslands and has not been plowed or extensively managed (aside from fire) for many decades. Just driving past on the road on a cloudy day, it would be easy to miss out on the great diversity of bulbs and geophytes that occupy the site. When the weather is warm and the sun is shining, the majesty of the site is fully expressed. A natural treasure and attraction for visitors who are exploring the town of Darling or heading to the West Coast National Park, this reserve is a must see from August – October.

The photos from this post will display some of the flora encountered while visiting this site with a break of about two weeks between observations. The community was drastically different in display even over this short period of time.

First visit to Tienie Versfeld – Early September

Drosera cistiflora - Carnivorous plant, notice
Drosera cistiflora – a.k.a – The Snot RoseDrosera cistiflora
Sparaxis bulbifera
Lachenalia pallida
Lachenalia pallida
  • Moraea tripetala
    Wachendorfia paniculata
    Wachendorfia paniculata
    View of the veld
    View of the veld

    Tienies Versfeld late September

View of the veld
View of the veld
Romulea eximia
Romulea eximia
Geissorhiza monathos
Geissorhiza monathos
Geissorhiza radians
Geissorhiza radians
Geissorhiza radians mass
Geissorhiza radians mass
Geissorhiza radians
Geissorhiza radians
Ixia maculata
Ixia maculata
Monsonia speciosa
Monsonia speciosa

During the second trip out to visit Tienie Versfeld we also had an opportunity to visit the Darling Flower Show. The show in principle was similar to the Bredasdorp with displays featuring wild collected plants exhibited in naturalistic settings. The Darling Flower show was smaller in size compared to Bredasdorp but the attention to detail was higher and the displays more naturalistic in feel.

Darling Flower Show Entrance
Darling Flower Show entrance
Flower arraignment
Flower arrangement
Flower identification display
Flower identification display
Strandveld
Flower display
Flower display
Renosterveld
Renosterveld
Sandveld habitat
Sandveld habitat
Sandveld habitat
Sandveld habitat

Dreer Award, Cornell, Cornell Horticulture, South Africa Flora, Public Gardens, Botany, Stellenbosch Botanic Garden