AGULHAS IN THE SPRING
– Rea Borcherds
The Betty’s Bay Branch of the Botanical Society organised a three-day visit to the limestone and lowland fynbos and renosterveld of the Agulhas Plain. A group of 17 local botanical society members set out on 21 August, visiting the Cape Floral Kingdom Expo at Bredasdorp en route.
Arriving at the Agulhas National Park in drenching rain, we gathered around a roaring fire in our Lagoon House accommodation for supper and a comprehensive presentation by Dr Allan Heydorn on why the Agulhas Plain is so interesting: geographically, ecologically, historically, and archaeologically. This is one of the most ecologically sensitive regions in the country, and a very important part of the Cape Floral Kingdom with 2,000 species of indigenous plants, 100 of which are endemic to the area.
Apart from a line of low hills called the Rûens, the land mass at this southernmost part of the African continent is a vast plain that tapers into the sea in the form of the shallow Agulhas Bank. Dr Heydorn explained that this coast where two oceans meet (Indian and Atlantic) is a high-energy oceanographic environment, notorious for the loss of more than a hundred ships and many lives. The oceans determine the climate, and the climate and soils of this area give it the high diversity of plants, fauna and marine life. It has an extremely high water table, and caves, ‘solution hollows’ and sometimes sink holes, occur in the soluble dolomite, limestone and gypsum rocks.
The Plain is a unique wetland system, consisting of freshwater springs, rivers, estuaries, floodplains, lakes, vleis and saltpans, and is home to a large variety of wetland plants and birds, including large flocks of flamingoes. Since the Agulhas National Park was proclaimed in 1999 it has acquired and restored large tracts of renosterveld and limestone and lowland fynbos, saving it from development.
fThe next morning, after an introductory overview by Ms Emmarentia de Kock of the extent and achievements of the Park, we set out into the interior with her as our guide. In spite of rumbling thunder, the clouds magically gave way to sunshine, revealing fields of glorious colour and variety: tall stands of brilliant yellow/orange Leucospermum patersonii and the unusual yellow Mimetes saxatilis; dainty mauve or yellow Babiana patula, gladiolus inflexus, and Moraea tripetala (Kleinuintjie). We saw a profousion of Leucadendron elimense (Elim conebush), and of Gladiolus liliaceus: (groot bruin Afrikaner). This extraordinary flower changes colour from rusty-red during the day to bluish-mauve at night when it becomes strongly fragrant.
We stopped for a picnic lunch at Rietfontein among fields of golden leucadendrons interspersed with bright pink Erica elimensis, with Melbospan in the distance, before clambering up a low rise to get a view of the salt pans and the sea beyond.
The following day was spent exploring the shoreline. Dr Allan Heydorn pointed out the unusual coastal plants, which differ from both the East and West Coast flora, as well as the unique pebble beaches and the shell middens, left by the earliest inhabitants – the San people and strandlopers who roamed these shores.
On our last day we headed to Napier to see the wide variety of geophyte specimens found there. Cameron McMaster expertly guided us on a walk through the Napier Renosterveld Conservancy before taking us to nearby Fairfield farm, thereby bringing this very enjoyable and varied Agulhas trip to a most pleasant conclusion.
(Following the Agulhas part of the trip, five of the original group of 17 Botsoc members went on to spend two nights at Haarwegskloof. The account of the Haarwegskloof trip appeared in the September edition of the newsletter.)