Talk Report – July 2018

1. Sky Islands: An illustrated talk
– By David Gwynne-Evans (
19 May 2018)

When first hearing of the title of David’s talk one might imagine planets or constellations, but no, this talk was about Mountain Peaks that emerge through the clouds forming islands in the sky. A beautiful example is Tretchikoff’s  painting, “Valley of a Thousand Hills”, depicting mountain peaks peeking through the cloud mass.

Tretchikoff’s painting, “Valley of a Thousand Hills”

David, who admitted to a fear of heights, has climbed into the island archipelagos  of Kenya, Tanzania, the Drakensberg, the Canary and Cape Verde islands. He has plans to visit Peru next. Within these peaks plants have their comfort zones. A very specialised recording technique enables David and his team to photograph part of or the whole plant and to upload the detail (location, characteristics, variety)  into a computer programme.  In January he uploaded some 30 000 pictures of 12 000 species detailing Cape Flora found in Kenya, for example, a  Senecio.

On Duck Island in the Canaries, off the West Coast of Africa, David hiked from the beach up to the old volcanic crater, passing through arid windy areas with solar power instrumentation very evident. On the way he passed through giant Erica forests, recognising Nicotiana  (wild dagga), prickly pear, castor oil plants and giant euphorbia. The crater used to be much higher – by some kilometres!  Some areas resembled the Klein Karoo.

Euphorbia canariensis

On the Cape Verde Islands plastic pollution is a huge problem. Plastic is found more than 60kms from the nearest land mass.

Some interesting finds were a tiny bougainvillea with no coloured bracts, a duweltjie with huge vicious thorns, and a limonium endemic to the mountain. Unfortunately there were many invasive plants, and although this area was a Nature Reserve there were goats right up to the Crater.

In Kenya, as one looks up towards the glaciers, one wonders whether this may be the last decade in which to see them. The Afro-alpine weather is the same through the seasons, with cold nights and hot days. Here one finds giant bamboo forests, Impatiens, Hypericum, Senecio, Helichrysum, and three species of Lobelia including the Giant.  Delphinium are green on the lower mountain slopes but become blue higher up.

In Ethiopia David did a Sky Island Tour. The Simian Mountain is a world heritage site like Table Mountain. Here live the only grass eating primate, Caladas, with a  gut similar to sheep. There were spectacular views from the top. Unfortunately there is also agriculture carried out in the National Park, roads are often flooded and impassable, and there is a large domestic animal population.  Horses are a status symbol. As the population grows more conservation areas are needed. The only African Rose, an endemic Ibex, and three species of Arabadopsis Thaliana were specials on David’s list.

Ethiopian Ibex

We wish you days of safe and happy climbing in South America, David. Thank you for taking us to the` Sky Islands`.

Andrea Benn

2. Babylonstoring
– By Ernst van Jaarsveld (16 June 2018)

Dating back to 1692, Babylonstoring is an historic Cape Dutch farm with one of the best preserved farmyards in the Cape, inspired by the Company’s Garden in Cape Town. It was granted to burgher Pieter van der Byl by Governor Simon van der Stel in the year 1692. In those days, the Cape was a halfway station between Europe and Asia and the Cape farms supplied fresh fruit and vegetables to the passing sailing ships. The Drakenstein Valley had been inhabited by nomadic Khoisan communities for hundreds of years. Pieter van der Byl planted the first vineyards.

The garden is set in 3.5 hectares of cultivated fruit and vegetables and is the heart of the farm.

There is a link back to the mythological hanging gardens of Babylon, created by Nebuchadnezzar around 600 BC for his wife who longed for the mountains and valleys of her youth, but the small hill overlooking the farm is what has given it its name.

The small hill overlooking the farm has historical significance. When a ship was sighted entering Table Bay, a cannon was fired on Signal Hill. This sign was picked up by the cannon on Kanonkop overlooking the farm. The farming community in the Stellenbosch valleys then packed their ox wagons with fresh produce to take to the ships.

Ernst’s presentation was about how the early heritage of the area is being recorded. The early inhabitants were the Koi and San people. They didn’t grow crops but moved about with their cattle and sheep. The garden of the San with naturally placed rocks from the Karoo will honour the early people, and a museum of artefacts will show visitors the life and practices of these early inhabitants.

The commercial area of the farm produces crops for local and export markets. Some very old cultivars are resourced and planted, including over 40 varieties of figs, as well as champagne olives and guavas. Ernst will be sourcing spice seeds from the Seychelles, but these are to be housed in a special greenhouse as the climate at Babylonstoring is too cold and nutmeg is actually an invasive alien in the area.

Other specialised gardens are the healing garden which includes a willow from which aspirin is made, a pond garden with indigenous reeds, a veldkos garden to supply the restaurant, and a new cliff face garden which has a rare, unnamed agathosma species.

The Highveld, Namibia, Bushveld and Tropical regions are also represented. There are owl and gecko shelters, numerous tortoises and a very unusual vlakvark that became extinct in the Karoo in 1820.

The Hotel is being extended and though rather expensive for locals, day visitors are welcome with the modest R10 entrance fee being set aside for the benefit of staff and their families. Visitors may pick any fruit, in moderation of course, while there are no signs to keep off the grass! Babylonstoring is well worth a day’s visit.

Thank you, Ernst, for making this local gem so available and fascinating.