The Cactus Patch
Volume 5       August 2002      Number 8

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

Sat. 22 June we celebrated the winter solstice (well, it was here!) with a Christmas party run by the Kalahari Hash House Harriers at the Gaborone Stables. We didn't win the prize for the best decorated table despite our giant artificial Christmas cactus and Grinch toys. Luckily we didn't join those who camped over night -- it froze!

We celebrated the 4th of July on the 6th at the embassy picnic (limited to Americans - passports required for security reasons). Next morning we went to Modipane, a village north of Gaborone, where we observed (among other things) white fronted sunbirds feeding on Aloe cryptopoda flowers.

The main event for July was a workshop on plant use at George in South Africa. We set off on the 8th and drove all the way to Beaufort West (1064 km or 661 mi south of Gaborone.). The only thing of interest on the way was a pond full of flamingoes just north of Kimberley. On the 9th we woke to strong wind and a bit of rain (although we were still in the summer rainfall Great (Groot) Karoo. This made for tough going east across the Karoo, but we were protected from it as we turned south at Meiringspoort, a canyon which cuts through the Swartberg (Black Mountain) Range. The twisted layers of sandstone were great, but added to this were aloes, euphorbias, pelargoniums, senecios, Portulacaria afra, Sarcostemma viminale, crassulas, mesembs, etc. Aloe ferox and Euphorbia mauritania were in bloom as we had just entered the winter rainfall Klein (Little) Karoo. The road through the canyon is paved, relatively flat and accompanied by a number of well-furnished rest stops. From there the road went back west to the Ostrich capital of Outshoorn (we didn't stop as we had been there before) and then south through a valley of hops and across the Outeniqua Pass where we met the Fynbos (heather and proteas in bloom) and then dropped almost straight down to George which is the largest town in the Garden Route, a great stretch of South African coast the total for the day was only 239 km or 146 mi.

We checked into the Bougainvillea Bed & Breakfast (meeting the dogs Bruce and Annie!) and I still made it across town to the conference at the Pine Lodge for the registration at 2. Ben-Eric van Wick, co-author of People's Plants and organizer of the workshop, opened events and we had a number of presentations on the thorny problem of rewarding people for traditional knowledge. The 10th was a long day of presentations, mostly on medicinal plants (including veterinary medicine). Ben-Eric talked about plant use by the Khoi of the Northern Cape, including the use of Hoodia gordonii as an appetite suppressant and I got a few comments in on my poster on similar use of Hoodia currorii in Botswana. We also had presentations by traditional healers.

On Thursday the stormy weather broke in time for some field trips. We started at the George Botanic Garden with its Moriarty Environmental Centre named for Audry Moriarty who published The Wild Flowers of Malawi with illustrations so bad the book bombed and the Society of Malawi had to reneg on my Spurge book due to lack of funds. Audry has improved tremendously and her recent book on Outeniqua wild flowers is excellent. One feature of the garden is a planting of AIDS treatments (mesembs, cotyledons, bulbines and cancer bush). Some one asked about the African "potato" (Hypoxis spp., a popular imunity booster) and we were told we were standing on it - sure enough, the "lawn" was a field of Hypoxis!

From there we went to the New Plant Nursery, a wholesale grower specializing in indigenous plants, including a number of mesembs. I wish we had a nursery like that in Botswana to supply our Botanic Garden. From the nursery we drove east past Knysna and north into the hills to the big tree (a yellowwood which is a mere 39 m or 93 ft and 650+yrs) for a picnic lunch. The setting there at Diepwalle (as well as our trip through Oudtshoorn and Knysna) brought to mind the story "Fiela's Child" which we almost produced last year. We visited a forestry campground, visitors facility, and tree nursery and had fern harvesting demonstrated. (They sell the ferns to the cut flower industry in Europe.) The day ended with a demonstration of tree cutting as a part of the sustainable forest harvest.

On Friday the workshop ended with papers on biochemistry centering on the anti -oxidant properties of Rooibos (Redbush) tea. That evening Polly and I had a seafood dinner at the King Fisher.

Saturday we drove back to Outdshoorn, this time stopping for a little shopping. We then drove north by the Cango Caves (not stopping - I had struggled through the Devil's Chimney with James before) and went up the dirt road over the Swartberg Pass (steep and spectacular) and tried the side road on the north side which leads to Die Hel (also Gamkaskloof) which is fictionalised in Andre Brinks' "Devil's Valley" (2000, Vintage, London). The book is a bit weird, but the truth is just about as strange. The valley was settled back when there was only a footpath to carry furniture etc. in. The road (built in 1962) proved too much for our City Golf and we didn't get to Hel, but we can affirm that the road is not broad and straight as advertised. However, the road did look like heck, with lots of dead proteas (probably from fire.)

We then dropped down to the town of Prince Albert on the other side of the Swartberg and with the help of Richard Dean, an ornithologist there, found the rare mesemb Bijlia dilatata as well as other mesembs, Euphorbia lignose, etc. Lots of the plants were in bloom. The Karoo National Park was full up, so we spent the night back in Beaufort West, visiting the park in the morning. Here the plants were mostly dormant, but I did find Euphorbia stellaspina in bloom (in the garden by the gate). Saturday we stayed in Kimberley and Sunday arrived home, not taking the side trip to Paradys indicated to the right just north of Kimberly.

That's enough for now. The promised musical has been postponed (not cancelled!), so more on that later.
Bruce J. Hargreaves

Cathy Dippnall (our hostess at the Bougainvillea) is an ardent quilter and directed me to all the fabric and furniture shops. She has also helped organize quilts-for children projects, so we had lots to talk about! I wanted to check out the prices of yellowwood and stinkwood furniture. It's beautiful stuff and cheap in US$ but expensive in local currency. I have one dining chair from someone leaving Botswana.

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