17 September 2015

Reflecting on Ixia

Mary von Blommenstein’s interesting talk yesterday at Kirstenbosch on “Flowers South Africa gave the world” afforded us a glimpse into South Africa’s horticultural history and how botanical artists have depicted some of our more famous garden flowers over the last three hundred years. One of the flowers she talked about was the Ixia, a member of the Iris family.

On the way back to my car I noticed, in the flowerbeds outside the Lecture Hall, some beautiful little pink ixias.

 "Ixia reflexa" was written in black marker pen on a plant label nearby. It turns out that this is actually Ixia scillaris L. subsp. latifolia Goldblatt & Manning, but was previously known, amongst other names, as Ixia reflexa Andrews.

A quick google, and I discovered a painting of “Ixia reflexa” by Henry C. Andrews from the journal Botanical Repository 1: 14 in 1798. A quick (This periodical was an early competitor to William Curtis's Botanical Magazine.). Accompanying the painting was information that bulbs of this little ixia were “gathered at the Cape by J. Pringle, Esq. from whom they were sent to Messrs. Lee and Kennedy in 1795, at whose nursery they flowered the ensuing spring, when this figure was taken.”

A dig into the SANBI publication Botanical Exploration of Southern Africa yielded the information on John Pringle and the Vineyard Nursery in London, shown above.

Ixia scillaris subsp. latifolia is a South African endemic, occurring from Namaqualand to the Bokkeveld Escarpment, Cederberg Mountains and Olifants River Valley in the Northern and Western Cape provinces. It grows in fynbos and Succulent Karoo vegetation and prefers sandy soils on rocky outcrops and slopes.

iSpot has one entry on the species growing in the wild - and I have taken the liberty of lifting them from iSpot to show them here in their natural glory. The two photos by John Wilson were taken on the Pakhuis Pass in the Cederberg.

The name Ixia is thought to imply a plant of variable colour, and scillaris means '"resembling a plant of the genus Hyacinthoides".

Information fromhttp://redlist.sanbi.org/
Botanical exploration of Southern Africa : an illustrated history of early botanical literature on the Cape flora : biographical accounts of the leading plant collectors and their activities in Southern Africa from the days of the East India Company until modern times, compiled by HF Glen and G Germishuizen, Strelitzia 26. SANBI, Pretoria. 2010.
Andrew, G. 2012. Geoffrey's Fernkloof Plant Names Explained.

04 August 2015

Back issues of Veld & Flora online

Back issues of Veld & Flora from 2007 are available, free, online.

Click on Sabinet.

Go to 'table of contents'

Click on the dropdown arrow next to “Archives”.

Select and click in the issue you are interested in.

Select and click on the article you are interested in.

On the right hand side of the screen, under “Full text”, click on “View article”.

The article can be downloaded.

More recent issues are not available online for free but it is possible to buy a subscription through Sabinet. Details are available online.

A river interrupted

Diep River starts out as a mountain stream
This is the title of a post on the website of the Princess Vlei Forum. It traces the flow of the Diep River from its source on Table Mountain above Cecilia Forest, to where it enters the Little Princess Vlei and Zandvlei. To read it, click here

A view of the vlies and Strandfontein from Table Mountain.

11 November 2014

A new look at indigenous garden design

From the publishers that brought you the Tim Noakes eating plan, we now have an equally innovative gardening plan from Cape Town’s talented landscape designer, Marijke Honig. Marijke was largely responsible for the imaginative biodiversity garden in the Green Point Urban Park in Cape Town, and she and her landscape business partner have created several unique gardens using indigenous South African plants. This fabulous book encapsulates her thoughts and strategy on South African indigenous garden design.
Marijke has always been moved by the textures, scents and exceptional diversity of the South African flora. Working as a landscaper, she uses her knowledge as a botanist and ecologist to think and design with what she calls plant palettes – groups of plants which serve a specific purpose (e.g. screening) or for a particular habitat. This gave her the idea for this book which contains many of her ‘working’ palettes. So not only does she present her original and clever ideas, but all the plants mentioned have been chosen because she knows that they will work and grow well in various situations. With Indigenous Plant Palettes you start with the advantage of knowing that years of trial and error weeding out plants that don’t work and testing ideas has already been done. Only plants that are generally available have been included.
Plant palettes include plants for texture, for cottage style gardens, for security, for retaining walls, feature trees, for shade, for vertical and for rooftop gardens, to attract wildlife, for ponds – and there are many more. Each palette is beautifully presented and easy to put into practice. Recommended plants have a thumbnail photograph with a short description of its size and growth habits and needs.
The book has the most gorgeous photos – and even if you have no plans to revolutionize your garden, it is a beautiful book to own. I defy anyone not to be seduced into growing edible plants after reading the ‘Edible’ plant palette.
Even the name ‘palette’ conjures up an image of an artist, so you can be the artist and use Marijke’s palettes to paint a beautiful garden. The book doesn't come dirt cheap, but considering all the expertise in it and the sheer enjoyment of reading it, it is worth every cent.
Top of my Christmas wish list and highly recommended.

22 August 2014

Aloiampelos schmaloiampelos

There has been some shake up in the world of aloe taxonomy recently. According to Ernst van Jaarsveld of Kirstenbosch, tree aloes are to be placed in a genus of their own: Aloidendron. Aloe barberae Aloe dichotoma, Aloe pillansii, Aloe ramosissima and Aloe tongaensis will henceforth be known as Aloidendron.
is the new genus for the climbing aloes – with Aloe ciliaris, Aloe commixta, Aloe gracilis and Aloe tenuior falling in there.
(Read more on iSpot: http://www.ispot.org.za/search/node/Aloiampelos and http://www.ispot.org.za/node/235670?nav=search)

The Fan Aloe (Aloe plicatilis), the subject of an article in Veld & Flora December 2010, has been taken right out of Aloe and placed in the genus Kumara. (It was mistakenly renamed Kumara disticha early in 2013 and corrected in a subsequent publication shortly thereafter.)

I believe there are a few changes in Haworthia too. Haworthia retains the subgenus Haworthia, Haworthiopsis takes the previous subgenus Hexangulares – but with a few species - H. viscosa, H. venosa, H. pungens, H. granulata moving to a new genus, Tulista, which includes the previous subgenus Robustipedunculares too.

The moral of the story? Learn the common names! As Tony Rebelo says “ ... don’t think scientific names are stable. Aloidendron may well be back in Aloe with the next DNA study. A good example is Waboom which has been stable for 350 years, whereas the scientific name has changed from Protea nitida to arborea to grandiflora and then back again. (I can tell generations by what they call it: those who matured pre 1950 use grandiflora, pre 1970s arborea, and the kids nitida! - but all call it Waboom, except the Americans who call it Wha bohm).” http://www.ispot.org.za/node/214840


Cycad thieves strike in Kirstenbosch

Albany Cycad, Encephalartos latifrons, Kirstenbosch c.1915.
The recent theft of 24 cycads from Kirstenbosch (read John Yeld's article here) and the on-going plunder of cycads in the wild (read Sihle Mavuso's article on plant poachers in Isimangaliso here) has made the public a bit more aware of the plight of the cycad. Considered 'living fossils', cycads are the oldest living seed plants (remaining largely the same since the Jurassic Era, or 'Age of the Dinosaurs', 150-200 million years ago) and have survived three mass extinction events in the Earth's history.

Critically Endangered
According to the IUCN Global Cycad Assessment, 63% of all cycads are threatened with extinction. South Africa has 38 cycad species, which is about  12% of the world's cycads and more than half of the African cycads. The two cycad genera that are endemic to Africa are Encephalartos and Stangeria. We are regarded, along with Mexico and Australia, as one of the global centres of cycad diversity. But shockingly, South Africa also has three of the four species classified as Extinct in the Wild, two of which have become extinct in the period between 2003 and 2010. We have seven cycad species that have fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild. And our cycads continue to be decimated, not from habitat loss as is usually the case, but from removal by unscrupulous plant collectors and, to a lesser extent, from unsustainable harvesting for medicinal use. All this in spite of the fact that regulations to protect cycads have been in place since the 1970s and permits have been required to own, sell or transport any cycad.
One of the original Albany Cycads planted in Kirstenbosch in 1913,
and still standing today. Photo: Alice Notten. 

Most of the cycads stolen from Kirstenbosch (22 out of 24) belonged to the critically endangered species Encephalartos latifrons one of Kirstenbosch's flagship species. This cycad, commonly known as the Albany Cycad, has declined to the point where fewer than 60 plants exist in the wild. In addition, two Grahamstown Cycads (Encephalartos caffer) were also taken. Both these species were part of a hugely valuable, living cycad collection - and part of the largest known ex-situ cycad conservation project in the world. Like all cycads, the slow-growing Encephalartos latifrons is extremely rare and the collection has provided many suckers and seedlings which have been sold to gardeners to take the pressure off the remaining wild plants. Some seedlings have also been re-planted in the wild to help the species survive.

Apart from their substantial monetary value, the sentimental value of these stolen plants is significant as they were propagated from seed taken from cycads planted by the garden’s first curator Harold Pearson as early as 1913. They were aged between 11 to 23 years and were planted out in the garden three years ago. (Read about the Kirstenbosch Cycad Amphitheatre here.)

Members of the public who might have information regarding the theft of the plants are encouraged to get in touch with Kirstenbosch at 021 799 8899 or the police. In an effort to track down these plants, the Western Cape Cycad Society is offering a reward of R10 000 for any information leading to the arrest of anyone linked to theft of the cycads. For more information contact: Phakamani Xaba, Kirstenbosch Senior Horticulturist, 021 799 8757.

Information taken mainly from the SANBI website, http://www.sanbi.org.

04 March 2014

Cedar at Pearson's Grave

Pearson's grave through the Mount Atlas Cedar. Photo: John Hughes, February 2014.

From the same spot, a photo taken in c. 1925 of Pearson’s grave. Alice Notten of Kirstenbosch discovered this photo in the National Archives and says that, although undated, the Dell shed was built in 1923 and enclosed by a spar fence in 1924, so this must have been soon after that. Photo: National Archives AG COLLECTION AG 6424.
An article by Denis Woods (prepared by Denis Woods prior to his death on August 18, 1977 and published posthumously) in the December 1977 issue of Veld & Flora(vol 63).

Professor H. H. W. Pearson , the first director of Kirstenbosch, was buried in the Gardens after his death on 3rd November, 1916.
Among the interesting plants in the vicinity of his grave is a fine specimen of the Mount Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica var glauca) originally from the Atlas mountains of Morocco. I had, in the past, been told some strange tales concerning the acquisition of this tree, but recently got the true story from Dr John Rourke, Curator of the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch.
Pearson, an inspiring enthusiast for botany, was devoted to the study of Gymnosperms (a family including the Cycads, the Yellowwoods, the Cypresses and Welwitschia), and an authority on them. The plant was a gift to him from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, arriving at Kirstenbosch on 21st August, 1916. It had originally been grown at La Mortola, near Ventimiglia on the Italian Riviera, the famous garden of the well-known plant lover, Sir Thomas Hanbury, who was devoted to the cause of botany.

Slowly and sedately, the Kirstenbosch Mount Atlas Cedar has grown into a handsome tree. Standing on the slope above Pearson’s grave, and about 15 metres from it in a south westerly direction, the tree rises about 20 metres high, but is due, in the course of time, to grow much higher and more massive. There are three varieties of the Mount Atlas Cedar, and this one, var glauca, is so called in reference to its beautiful grey-blue foliage with a silvery sheen.
Something should be said about La Mortola itself. When Arnold Bennett, the writer, met Sir Thomas Hanbury in 1904, he described him as “the Lord God of these parts”, adding “Sir Thomas has the finest private garden in the world, 100 acres, 5 000 species (some absolutely unique) and 46 gardeners. He is far from an ordinary man.
For many years Alwin Berger was curator of this garden, building up a considerable collection which included much Cape flora. Visitors described the place as “magnificent”.
On the death of Sir Thomas the garden passed into the hands of his son, Sir Cecil.
During the Second World War the beautiful villa and grounds were occupied by German officers. La Mortola suffered severely, especially the Cape flora, but afterwards the widow of Sir Cecil Hanbury set to work restoring the garden.
So much for the true story.
Much earlier in 1927 when as a comparative green horn I was admiring this tree which was then little more than a Sapling, a knowledgeable looking gentleman told me that this Mount Atlas Cedar was a gift to Kirstenbosch from the Sultan of Morocco at the time the gardens started. Kew ex La Mortola, or the Atlas Mountains - no matter it is a magnificent tree and is a credit both to the gardens and its first Director: Professor Pearson.
Whilst not on the seed list, one member obtained seed from this superb specimen o f C. atlantica and was very disappointed to have nil germination This is perhaps understandable as atlantica in common with other species o f Cedrus comes from cold high places. The Arnold Arboretum in their propagation manual o f Selected Gymnosperms (Arnoldia vol. 37 No. 1 Jan/Feb. 1977) recommend a period of cold stratification even in the north eastern slates o f America  f a reasonable rate o f germination is to be achieved. In our warmer climate it would appear to be essential. The process, which in effect simulates the cold winter to which seeds are exposed in their native climate, high up in the Atlas mountains, consists o f placing the seed in a plastic bag with two or three times its own bulk o f sand and peat moss, in the lower part o f a domestic refrigerator (not a freezer) for about two months where the temperature will be about 5°C (40°F). This breaks the winter dormancy and provides reasonable levels o f germination. The need to break dormancy o f seed can occur with plants with seed that is dormant during a cold winter, a dry summer or even with a double dormancy. With the varied climate in places like the Cedarberg or the Drakensberg, it would be interesting to know what dormancy cycles our own flora has. - Ed (Heinz Engelhardt).