In March 2013, the Mpophomeni Conservation Group spent a morning exploring the Bews Herbarium and Botanical Garden at the University of KZN – Pietermaritzburg Campus.
Christina Potgieter, Senior Herbarium Technician, introduced the Bews Herbarium – the biggest in KZN with over 150 000 specimens. She explained how important the collection was for scientific research and that the information gathered here was very useful to publications. In particular, she mentioned that Elsa Pooley’s book on KZN Wildflowers had used their references on flowering times.
Christina explained carefully how to collect and press plants and how important it was to write down all your observations in the field – in particular location, colour, date, time of day, pollinators present and fragrance. Photos are a useful addition, but cannot replace a carefully pressed specimen for proper identification.
Ayanda Lipheyana, an Environmental Management student focussing on Invasive Species, was interested to discover that the Herbarium also collected specimens of weeds.
Curator, Dr Benny Bytebier, showed everyone how to access Brahms – the Botanical Research and Herbarium Management System. Currently Bews is digitizing all the data in their collection and uploading onto this site to enable anyone anywhere to access the information housed here.
Alison Young, curator of the UKZN Botanical Gardens gave us a guided tour pointing out interesting plants and explaining the history of the gardens established in 1983. An enormous Jacaranda had been left standing when other invasive species were cleared as it provided a habitat for the endangered Ocotea bulata to thrive. Certainly, the trees growing under the canopy were much bigger and better looking than those growing in the sunshine. Of particular interest was an area of grassland which was slowly going back to its natural state after years of being mown – with a number of original bulbs emerging.
Everything cut back in the garden is recycled into compost and excess distilled water from the laboratories feeds the stream, wetland and ponds. It certainly is a green oasis in the city with lots of birds and butterflies and other small wild animals in evidence.
Penz Malinga, whose particular interest is medicinal plants, enjoyed a quiet moment under an impressive cycad.
Lindiwe Mkhize was delighted to find a fully grown specimen of Polygala myrtifolia, as she had recently planted one in her own garden.
Israel Silevu, student and Free Me volunteer commented afterwards “I really enjoyed every single step of the field trip. It was so interesting. I look forward to our next outing.”