10 February 2012

Mary Maytham Kidd and a bit of botanical literary history

Flora of the Cape Peninsula edited by R.S. Adamson and T.M. Salter, published by Jutas in 1950, is the bible of botanical books on the flora of the Cape Peninsula - the first book to provide identifications of all the species of plants that were known to occur on the Cape Peninsula. I was browsing around in a second hand bookshop in Lower Main Road, Observatory and found a copy of it, for R200, which I immediately bought. What made this book special for me was the dedication inside - a visiting card ("Mrs H. J. Kidd, Diocesan College, Rondebosch, At Home, 1st and 3rd Thursday) had been stuck in and signed "With best wishes from Nettie Maytham and Mary Kidd". Mary Kidd is Mary Maytham who had married Hubert Kidd, the headmaster of Bishops (Diocesan College, Rondebosch), who, it is rumoured, was told that they would really prefer headmasters to be married, and luckily, the vivacious and intelligent Mary was more than happy to oblige. My sons were at Bishops, in Kidd House (pronounced by the boys as "Kiddowse"), so I feel I have a link with this lady, however tenuous.
There is another link too - through my old school, Roedean in Johannesburg. Mary Maytham was a Roedean old girl who came to Simonstown to visit her old headmistresses and vice-principal, the formidable trio: Miss Lawrence, Miss Earl and Miss Scott, who had retired there and were all passionate about botany. It was these three ladies who suggested that Mary, a talented artist, should illustrate a book on the flowers of the Cape Peninsula which is just what she did. By 1943 she had the plates all ready and painted, and identified by the staff of the Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town. But who would write the text?
The Second World War and Mary and Hubert Kidd's marriage put things on hold for the next few years, and it so happened that during this time, Adamson and Salter were finalizing their book Flora of the Cape Peninsula (a taxonomic, scientific tome with not an illustration in sight!). Captain Salter kindly sent Mary a typescript of their book on which she based her descriptions of the flowers she had painted. And Mary's book remains a classic to this day, even though the text has been updated by Terry Trinder Smith and the plates re-organized into families, not as in the original, on the time of year of flowering.
I still use her old book, with the new one, Wild flowers of the Table Mountain National Park, as the basis of all my identifications of the flora of the Cape Peninsula, with Adamson and Salter as a back-up for problem plants. (And now the added luxuries of FloraDoc and iSpot.)

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