The Cactus Patch
Volume 6       April 2003      Number 4

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

In February, our garden head Nonofo Mosesane & I gave talks at the University. Short and to the point! But lately the number of meetings has gotten out of hand. We've spent over a week organising museum projects for the next year. Participatory democracy is great in principal, but one person could have done the job in a few hours. Then there was a two-day workshop on wetlands (not really my cup of tea). People came from all over southern Africa but I was notified at 8 for a 9 am start! And now we are involved in an "end-users" workshop on plants. It's really a way to use up funds as SABONET (Southern African Botanic Diversity Network) draws to a close. I hope the workshop next week is worth all the planning.

Despite the week of rain in February, the drought and heat continues. I don't know how the construction workers do it, but foundations are now dug for all the Botanic Garden construction. Despite all the noise and bustle, monkeys and birds are still active, although the hyrax population has diminished as they have sought quieter quarters! The brown-veined whites (resembling cabbage butterflies, but feeding on the caper family) are migrating through (west to east) in their millions again!

I came across a couple of fiction books with orchid titles, but neither one measures up to that terrific one by Nathan Walpow, Death of an Orchid Lover. The first Dream of Orchids (Phyllis A. Whitney, 1985, Doubleday & Co., N.Y.) has more to do with diving for treasure off the Florida Keys than with plants. Even then it makes the rather strange remark that the Keys continue to the Marquesas. I've never been to either, but I thought the Marquesas were in the Pacific and the Keys ended in the Dry Tortugas. As for orchids, the book refers to hybrids and cultivars as species.

The second book, The Trouble with Orchids, (Tim Hulse, 1990, Sidgwick & Jackson, London) contains its own warning on the cover: a cartoon of a naked woman nuzzling a phallic orchid. The book is actually about seduction by the entertainment media, but it uses the pollinating lures of orchids as an analogy.

Speaking of trouble, "The Trouble with Science" (Robert Dunbar, 1995, Faber & Faber, London) is a non-fiction work on the scientific method and how it is misused. Among its wide wanderings it

mentions that Chimps use Vernonia against intestinal parasites and Aspilia versus intestinal upsets. They also note that Geladas (Ethiopian baboons) use rosehips with their high vitamin C for constipation. Humans aren't the only users of herbs.

Speaking of herbs, I just finished "English Life in Chaucer's Day (Roger Hart, 1973,Wayland Pub., London). They didn't have very sophisticated medicine then and relied a lot on herbs (Vernonia is mentioned!) It was also the time of the Black Death (bubonic plague) which, "seized especially the young and strong, commonly sparing the elderly and feeble." Sounds like AIDS which we are equally unable to deal with despite modern strides in medicine.

Next month I'll report on the "Festival that Almost Wasn't.

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