GROENFONTEIN EXPEDITION – TWO BOTANICAL RAMBLES
SPRING in the Klein Karoo, Kevin Koen, professional nature guide of Calitzdorp and Kogelberg branch members – a magic mix. Without Kevin, how would we know that right on the outskirts of the town is Jacobskop, a treasure house of succulents? There we saw how aptly Haworthia arachnoida had been named – see the picture of leaves that could be spider web. Nearby was H truncata known as perdetande from the rows of leaves on the ground (no stems), leaves which have translucent tips for photosynthis. This is a local special found only from Calitzdorp to Dysselsdorp.
We walked to the top of the koppie, we circumnavigated it with views of the Swartberg, the Rooiberg and distant Gamkaberg as well as the town. Asparagus striatus had small grey spheres, not fruit but galls from flies; small, dark green leaves on the ground were the only sign of Eriospermum capense; Pelargonium carnosum is aptly called vetplantmalva; aloes on our koppie, were A variegata (picture) and A microstigma.
Some of the plants Kevin showed us are adapted to survive the summer where temperatures reach 40ͦ, one is gansmis or moerbossie, properly Avonia papyracea (picture) which has white scales covering tiny leaves and flowers so that the stem does indeed look like goose droppings. Amazingly, the tuberous roots act as yeast from which beer and bread can be made.
What else did we see on Jacobskop? Several Bulbine sp, Cotyledons including C orbiculata still used to get rid of warts, many plants of the succulent Adromischus filicaulis; Albuca spiralis where it is the leaves which are twisted and Euphorbia mauritanica seen in many parts of SA. And an elegant striped lizard, briefly on a rock. No other wildlife.
The second morning our walk was just 5km from our base, The Retreat. Kevin has cleared an old water furrow running just above the river which meant a level path with rocky hillside above us. He had promised bulbs as well as succulents, first, leaves of Veltheimia capensis, then yellow flowers of a bulbine, and amongst the rocks, the odd-looking Massonia depressa (picture – note, not ‘a strange aloe’ as in last newsletter!). The flowers have a yeasty smell and are pollinated by shrews after their nectar.
Alas, Spanish reed fills the riverbed all along the long valley. Jan Joubert had already drawn our attention to it, Kevin says this plant is rated the seventh most invasive worldwide.
Out in the open we passed taller shrubs: the trademark of Klein Karoo roadside – Chinese lantern bushes or Nymania capensis; the widespread Buddleja saligna and Cussonia sp, cabbage trees or kiepersol – “Lord, keep us all”, apparently uttered by British soldiers in the Boer War. Kevin had many an anecdote or remedy to add to our experience. There was also a tall aloe A speciosa all along the way.
I’d never made the connection between the word Gasteria and stomach but there is one – from the shape of flowers. We found G brachyphylla and saw that beestong is a good description of the leaves – there were no flowers. Xhosas have used it to ward off evil – a plant on the roof of the hut against lightning. If we’d been able to climb the Swartberg we might have seen Gasteria koenia discovered by our guide; in fact some did see the plant growing in his Calitzdorp indigenous nursery.
More medicinal plants we saw included Felicia filifolia known as steenbok bossie as a mixture of the plant and the dung was used for chest complaints. An infusion of leaves of Ballota africana could calm children – it is a widespread species along streams where land has been disturbed if you are anxious to try this remedy. Pteronia glauca or boegoekaroo with sticky little yellow flowers without ray-florets in some form or other was used for stomach troubles. Primitive cortisone is found in the white spongy pith of stems of Dioscorea hemicrypta or olifantsvoet and was used against blood poisoning.
For the housekeeper, there is oondbos, Conyza scabrida – tips of the plant were used to sweep out ovens and a superstition has it that its presence ensured bread would rise in said oven.
We saw Hermannia sp – poprosie, Crassula orbicularis and C expansa, an Albuca sp eaten by the local bush pig, Pelargonium zonale – the original and all along the last part, bushes with yellow flowers of a Zygophyllum.
Kevin’s walking stick was from a Kiggelaria africana from the valley. He was an excellent guide who treats overseas visitors to longer walks with lunches of local produce. This walk ended for us at a tiny winery while Kevin was off to George to deliver an order of trees from his nursery.