The Cactus Patch
Volume 4       March 2001      Number 3

Beginning Again - A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

It is presently dumping rain here after a long drought. Its beginning to feel like I never left. After only three weeks I have a house, have been to a show (Black Adder) at the playhouse Polly & I acted at, been out to the Monopod Game Reserve I was in on the planning of and tonight I'm being roped into the community choir (short on tenors as usual). The Natural History Centre is still plodding along. Two more hectares have been added to the original seven (along with concrete slabs and decrepit buildings from the vet dept). The display house I helped build has been gutted and all my euphorbias put outside my office (and most showing frost damage but surviving). The area between the main building and the garden has been filled with grass and a fountain! And now they're going to move us into temporary buildings while they renovate the old historic ones. (After restoration these will be used for educational exhibits- guess we'll be in "temporary quarters a while.) And no evidence that we ever spent years planning a Natural History Research building. At least most of the succulents and other plants I left are surviving and growing. I'm amazed at the growth on one of the baobabs (planted by the minister of agriculture - I'll have to get him to come again.) No great new discoveries yet, but I did find an Indian Moringa growing behind the government clinic where they drew my blood to see if I was medically fit (they think so.)

Etcetera by Sandy Grant, 1998, Leitlho Pub., Odi, Botswana

I just found this volume at the Botswana Book Centre and couldn't resist seeing what my friend Sandy has to say. It is a compilation of his newspaper columns from 1991-1997. Most of the book concerns politics and news of little interest outside the country. I was surprised, however to fined the last chapter on "People" included a column on Bruce Hargreaves! (I'd seen it and forgotten it.) It goes as follows:

Bruce Hargreaves- Natural Scientist
29th July 1992

A lovely little story from Dr. Bruce Hargreaves, Curator of the Natural History Department of the National Museum, a formidable knowledgeable individual. As witness, for instance, the invaluable catalogue of spurges in the latest issue of Botswana Notes and Records. Dr. Hargreaves says that in his continuing search for plants he is constantly on the look out for lithops, a diminutive plant which, chameleon like, adopts the colours of its immediate surroundings. Which must make it very difficult to locate. Dr. Hargreaves, however obtained help from the linguist, Professor Desmond Cole when he made a recent visit to this country from Johannesburg. Some thirty years ago, Professor Cole had lived in the Barolong Farms area and he was still able to lead Dr. Hargreaves to the exact spot where lithops used to be found. And sure enough, they were still there.

Subsequently, Dr Hargreaves has explained that Professor Cole is not just an expert linguist. He also happens to be an expert on lithops. This may help to explain his extraordinary memory but otherwise we are simply left to wonder that a few individuals should be so wonderfully informed about our rich and diverse environment whilst so many of us simply plod on in dismal ignorance.

I find this a bit embarrassing. Why not some better Naturalist (but Sandy does cover David Livingstone, the first to record Botswana's natural history as well as the late Peter Smith who left the best personal herbarium in the country.) Why not more on Cole (but there is an article on linguists from Robert Moffat, the first to record Setswana, to Z. I. Mathumo, editor of the recent Setswana-English dictionary).

At any rate there is a minor error in the story. We went to find Nananthus (a relative of Lithops) since I knew of no record for Botswana. Cole had recorded three localities for Lithops leslei and we did visit one on the same trip as the Nananthus. (But I had already visited one - I could not find the third.)

Bruce J. Hargreaves
Principal Curator of Natural History,
National Museum, Botswana

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