When Henry Pearson was the Professor of Botany at the South African College from 1903-1916, he saw the beauty, interest and value of the native flora of South Africa and the lack of work being done on it. He launched a project to create the National Garden of South Africa. While looking for an appropriate site, a young gardener and botanist, Neville Pillans, suggested he consider a neglected farm called Kirstenbosch. When Pearson reached this spot, he exclaimed "This is the place!" The natural beauty of Kirstenbosch was aided by good soil, a constant water supply and diverse habitats and it was owned by the government. Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden came into being on July 1st, 1913.
She pointed out the bacon tree, which elephants like to eat, regenerates.
The center of the Conservatory was dominated by a large baobab tree, also known as the Upside Down Tree! The baobab tree, the largest succulent in the world, is easy to recognize by its enormous swollen trunk and strange shape. It is hardly surprising that there are many stories and legends about it. In African folklore, the baobab is widely known as the tree that God planted upside down. According to the San (Bushmen), the Great Spirit gave each animal a tree. The hyena received the last tree, a baobab, and was so upset that he planted it upside down. Throughout Africa, the baobab is valued as a source of food, drink and material. Living baobab trees often have hollow trunks which are widely used for storing water. Hollowed-out trees have even served as stables, pubs, store rooms and as a bus shelter for 30 to 40 people! Baobabs can grow up to 500 feet high.
An epic journey for the baobab: On June 26th, 1996, an 80 ton crane was used to lift the baobab tree onto a truck from its location at the De Beers' Venetia Diamond Mine in Messina, just south of Zimbabwe. Two days and over 1,200 miles later, the baobab arrived at Kirstenbosch. About 20 men tugged and pushed the 7 ton tree along special railroad tracks into the greenhouse!
Cheryl told the group that carbon dating indicated that most Welwitschias live to 500-600 years but some wild specimens are estimated to be 1,500 to 2,000 years old!
The Agapanthus plants, Cheryl said, were also available in white but I loved the lavender shade.
The structure was prefabricated in 20 foot lengths that were hoisted by a crane and bolted together on site. This caused minimal disruption to the trees during assembly and reduced construction time in the Garden. By carefully hoisting the prefabricated steel beams over the canopy, the builders were able to give people an amazing new way to appreciate the forest while causing minimal disturbance to the natural environment.
The crescent-shaped walkway was 425 feet long, narrow and slender, with a few wider view-point areas as it gently snaked its way through the canopy. It took advantage of the sloping ground and only touched the forest floor in two places while raising visitors to about 40 feet above ground.
It had several observation points so we could enjoy the surrounding view, but it also descended among the tree canopy in a few places so we were able to appreciate the foliage as well.
It was fascinating the walkway moved slightly as we walked over it. Even though the curved steel bridge was designed to flex and move back and forth, it didn't affect its stability or its capacity to support loads far heavier than a dense crowd of people on the walkway at the same time - phew!!
All too soon, the walkway came to an end - what a shame as seeing the trees from so high a vantage point was a real treat.
I am sure kids visiting the Garden must love their huge and very realistic-looking dinosaur sculptures.
This Wood's Cycad or wild banana tree was no named, Cheryl said, because it had leaves like a regular banana tree even though it wasn't related to our bananas. It was the Garden's only caged tree and was part of the largest cycad collections in the world.
Only one clump of Wood's Cyad has ever been found. Named for John Medley Wood, this clump of four trunks was discovered on the fringes of a forest in KwaZuku-Natal in eastern South Africa in 1895. In a 1907 expedition, Wood collected two of the larger trunks, both of which are still alive and well, growing in the Durban Botanic Gardens.
Despite numerous expeditions, no other Wood's Cyad specimens have been found. The cyad probably died out in nature because the bark was too heavily harvested for medicinal use. If Wood and Wylie had not collected and cultivated specimens of this cyad, it would be extinct.
The tree above, a sucker from one of the plants in Durban, has been at Kirstenbosch since 1916. It was caged to protect it from cyad thieves. In 1980, its basal suckers were hacked off and stolen. As a result, all the Kirstenbosch cyads are protected by motion sensors, micro-dots and micro-chips! Who ever knew cyads were so valuable?
Although extinct in the wild, Wood's Cyad survive cultivation. It's one of the most sought after cyads in the world and well represented in botanical gardens all over the world. However, all of them come from basal suckers from the original plants discovered by John Medley. Therefore all of them are male and all have the same genetic makeup. Since this cyad tree was the only remaining species in the world, there was not too much chance of his reproducing even though attempts have been made to reproduce it genetically. Cheryl joked he was a lonely chap!
As we were there on Tuesday, it meant that it was Pensioners' Day or free day at the Garden, Cheryl said. There was plenty of lawn space to relax with a picnic.
It was sad to see all the people enjoying the Garden in this area were black and yet in another spot, a two minute walk away, only whites were congregating.
After spotting some more stunning white aganthus flowers, Cheryl said the tour was over and we thanked her for taking the time to show us some of her favorite spots at Kirstenbosch.
I have often used the term World Heritage Site when describing in this blog places we've visited all over the world. In case you, too, weren't sure what the term meant, they are "places considered to be of outstanding natural or cultural significance to humanity." Of South Africa's six sites, we visited only one other this trip, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and so many other anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned.
Zimbabwe, derived from the Shona word 'dzimbadzamabwe' or ‘house of stone,' is the only country on the African continent that has large deposits of stone suitable for sculpting.
This piece by Amos Supini was titled 'Young Girl' and was sculpted from springstone. The sculptor wrote that "Aware that she is coming into womanhood soon, this young girl modestly pats her skirts down to prevent the summer wind from lifting them."
This cartoon cutely explained that there were no garbage cans in Kirstenbosch because they attract scavengers like rats. No trash cans meant that the Garden was cleaner, healthier and safer for the wildlife and for people. Visitors were advised to take trash with them when they left and dispose of it responsibly.
Not surprisingly, there was a large display about the Cape Floral Kingdom, also called the Cape Floristic Region. As I wrote in previous posts, it is the smallest of all the floral kingdoms and is the only one to fall completely inside the borders of a single country. Though it occupies about 90,000 square kilometers, only about 0.34% of the surface area of earth, it contains nearly 9,000 species of flowering plants, about 3% of Earth's species.
The Cape Floristic Region has 94 species per 1,000 square kms, compared to 14 species for Australia, 12 species for California and only 8 species for the rest of South Africa.
Fynbos is the vegetation found growing naturally on the mountains and coastal plains of the southwestern tip of South Africa. The name comes from the Dutch words 'fijn' and 'bosch' meaning 'fine bush,' referring to the small leaves and flowers of many of the species. Fynbos makes up 80% of the Cape Floral Kingdom.
Fynbos is so special because it is amazingly diverse and, even though it occupies a relatively tiny area of land, there are over 7,000 species that occur in 41,000 square kms and 80% of them occur nowhere else on Earth. The Cape Peninsula alone has 2,600 species - that's more than the total number of species in the British Isles - and crammed into an area smaller than London!
Posted on February 11th, 2017 from Littleton, Colorado.