By Roxanne Daniels
The excited Masters students from the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town (UCT) travelled on a very hot day to Worcester on Wednesday 1 April to see and learn about the succulents at the Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens. They stopped along the way at a petrol station and inevitably bought some crunchy ‘padkos’. Their current course lecturer, Timm Hoffman, accompanied them and after being shown around and encouraged to ‘interact’ with the South African succulents, they were led to the ‘for sale’ section where they were to choose their favourite succulent and purchase it. The purchasing process was accompanied by being issued with a licence to own the plant. The plants were carefully put into the back of one of the vehicles to ensure their safety for the trip back to UCT.
Here is a gallery of photos from the day; click to read full captions. Photos by Roxanne Daniels.
This Botanical Garden was founded in 1921 and the initial name was Logan Memorial Garden. It was the second Botanical Garden to be established in South Africa. The first location of the gardens (White Hill) became unsuitable and land was donated by the Worcester Municipality to re-establish the gardens in 1945. There are some Quiver trees that are still living today after having been replanted at the new location 70 years ago.
Christiaan Willembrink follows the leader towards the Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens. Christiaan is a student in the University of Cape Town’s Conservation Biology masters class. This class is made up of 14 students only and is an intense 13 month programme, with half being made of course work and the other half being dedicated to project work. The coursework section is comprised of several modules lectured by experts in their field, often accompanied by fieldtrips, such as this one, to affirm what is taught in class.
Essential to any journey over an hour (this one being an hour and 15 minutes!) is ‘padkos’, being true to this, the class stopped at a petrol station along the way to choose their treats. At the stop, Timm Hoffman, the lecturer for their current course, asked for directions to the study site they would be going to after visiting the Botanical Gardens. Like real scientists, it was not a case of left or right down this street, instead GPS coordinates were given and the hunt began in due course.
Students of the class start snapping shots of the expanse of the gardens before them. Each class member became excited about particular parts of the day. They each have their own areas of interest and Wataru Tokura and Hermen Matimele (centre and left) were particularly in the element. Both are invested in botany research and this was the first field-trip dedicated only to the exploration of plants.
The class was then led into the index nursery dedicated to growing and taking care of just under 3900 taxa of succulents and bulbs. 177 of those species in the nursery are part of the red list of threatened species and viewing of the succulents and bulbs in the nursery has to be arranged by requesting a guided tour. Instead of being in individual pots, the bulbous plants are cultivated in a raised bed as they produce more flowers this way. Most of the plants were and are collected from arid winter rainfall areas.
Student, Kyle Lloyd, was particularly fascinated by this succulent, carion flower. When it produces its flower, it is designed to look like carion/dead meat. It also gives of a rotting smell and both of these characteristics are in place to attract flies to the plant, flies are thus, the pollinator of this curios little plant that many people probably would not want on their kitchen window sill. This succulent flowers from February to May and needs little/partial sun.
After the guided tour of the nursery, the class was led to a different section where native plants of Southern Africa are on sale. Angela Ferguson, pictures, carefully chose her two plants, along with several other class members who spent about 20 minutes umming and ahing over the choices before them. Attached to each little potted plant, is a leaf of information about their purchase; the specie name, when it flowers and how much water is needed for the succulent.
All the plants require a license for transportation purposes, therefore, each purchase was accompanied by a handwritten license so that none of the class members would be arrested if found with the plants. Many South Africans are unaware of the legalities surrounding these plants, but course lecturer, Timm Hoffman described to the class a few stories of foreigners being caught leaving the country with seedlings of the plants.
Exhausted from the heat of the day, but happy with their purchases, the class, led by Hoffman, made their way back to their vehicles. A few stops were made along the way to learn about the plants around them. One such stop was to observe a small Tree aloe which is indigenous to South Africa. The tree takes many years to mature and supposedly still had decades to go before reaching its potential height.
Christiaan Willembrink ensures here that he will get his particular plant back by the end of the journey home. The decision of where to place the plants for the trip back was carefully discussed and the back of this spot was chosen as the safest for their newly found living organisms.