The Cactus Patch
Volume 7       February 2004      Number 2

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

Christmas was very quiet. On the 21st of Dec. Huernia levyi from Mpandamatenga finally bloomed. This confirms that we finally have the right species. This is especially nice as this species features on the present T-shirt of the International Asclepiad Society.

On the 22nd it rained and cooled things off. Since then we have been having rain about once a week, alternating with hot, dry days. On the 24th just at closing I was given a letter stating I will be offered a contract for another three years. We hope to be in California for a brief break in April/May.

As usual I got lots of books for Christmas. Our tree this year is a wire baobab hung with little silver balls. Back at work on the 29th a few of us zipped down South to Pitsane and Kgoro Pans. The former was dry and overgrazed and we found a lot of Bulbine narcissifolia uprooted and lying in rows. (Upon enquiry we learned it is medicinal.) The latter was much better and had Plectranthus tettensis in bloom. That evening Isaac Lusunzi & family came for dinner as they were visiting from Pretoria.

As the New Year arrived, we watched fireworks from our front yard. On the 3rd Lilian Turton treated us to lunch at Sanitas, a Plant Nursery cum Garden Restaurant. On the 4th we saw our first film of the year - the new version of Peter Pan. Despite all the innovations, it brought back memories of my freshman year at BHS when I flew on piano wire as baby Michael. (I was the littlest kid in school at 4 ft 7 inch.)

On the 6th eight of us set out on the 2nd Millenium Seed Bank trip. Our first stop was at the village of Artesia not far North. There we found Adenium oleifolium in flower, so there was no seed. We spent the night at Moremi Village on the north side of the Tswapong Hills. Nearby Moremi Gorge is a National Monument with ferns, figs and other plants which contrast with much of Botswana. We spent the next morning with Mr Seabi, a traditional healer who showed us many useful plants (including the largest population of Euphorbia venteri yet discovered). We also saw the large caudiciform Adenia fruticosa. In the afternoon we drove up to Francistown, stopping briefly to look for more E. venteri but finding instead a huge population of large Stapelia gigantea in full bloom.

On the 9th we drove up to Tsamaya (Goaway!) and found both Pterodiscus aurantiacus and Anacampseros (Avonia) rhodesica in full bloom. (We managed to collect seed of the latter.) In the afternoon we continued West to the village of Thamashanga and found Euphorbia espinosa, Orbea caudata, Huernia verekeri, a twisted stem Stapelia gigantea and many more. The Orbea and Huernia were in full bloom.

Next day we drove west from Francistown to Nata the long way - along the east side of Soa Pan. We collected seed of Sesamothamnus lugardii but I missed a shot of a huge monitor lizard lounging on one of them (I had to go back for a camera, & meanwhile he woke up and left.) At the Junior Secondary School where we stayed in Nata there were lots of tubers of Jatropha seineri with leaves, flowers and fruit.

On the 11th we drove to Maun via Gweta Pan, Ntwetwe Pan, Khudiakam Pan and Nxai Pan. At the latter we saw a pair of cheetahs. This is the first time I have seen some in the wild. We collected grass seed, but there was not much in the way of succulents. Next day we drove out to Okavango Ceramics where a purple-flowered Orbea was reported. Unfortunately it had no flowers so I'll have to wait to find out what it is. We found shiny green beetles eating one plant and caterpillars of the African Monarch butterfly eating another. A neighboring plant of Stapelia kwebensis (in flower) was being eaten by a green caterpillar with white spots. It has pupated, so I may be able to identify it when it emerges. We also visited the botanist Dr Naidu Kurugundla at Water Affairs.

On the 13th two of the three vehicles were in for repair, so we checked specimens at the Peter Smith Herbarium and met with wildlife. (It is a definite fault of government bureaucracy when vehicles are sent out which are not fit for the trip.)

On the 14th we drove to Orapa (Botswana's leading diamond mine) by way of Mopipi Pan at the bottom of the Magadikgadi System. We saw Hoodia and collected Orbea rogersii. At Orapa we were given dorm rooms and driven around the game park by Kay Soopu, head conservationist. We saw lots of galumphing Gnus and sad Salvadora australis (a large shrub with somewhat succulent leaves.)

Next day we went east to Mosu which has healthier ones (even a red fruit - but not enough to collect.) Back at the dorms we were treated to a hugh BBQ. (Years ago at Jwaneng, another Diamond mine, we had lobster tails.)

Finally, on the 16th we drove back to Gaborone via Shoshong where the hills have 5 species in the Sesame family (Pedaliaceae). The only perennial was Pterodiscus ngamicus.

I am exhausted, but will set off on a different adventure next week. Look for "The Eyes Have It" next month.

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