Birds of Prey in action.

We have been working closely with Mpop Kids Club and the Enviro Champs as part of the Owl Box Project. The DUCT Enviro Champs held an activity day where existing knowledge about owls was investigated. The children had to fill in worksheets with various questions relating to owl knowledge. Aphelele Mkhize wrote that she was afraid of owls and she would scream if she saw one, while Amahle swore he had seen one on a rocky outcrop in broad daylight one day. Later everyone enjoyed a presentation where they got to watch videos of owls catching rats and mice, learn fascinating facts about owls like how soft their feathers are and get to ask the itching questions they had in the end many fears faded.

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After hosting a fabulous, successful water festival in the past month, the DUCT Enviro Champs had some prize money which they were glad to spend on the Owl Box Project by having an inspiring trip to the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to many raptor species that are indigenous to Southern Africa, they try and give injured or sick birds from different historical circumstances all the help they need to get in a condition where they can be released back to the wild and all the birds that are homed in the centre are unable to survive on their own in the wild if released.

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A fish Eagle in Captivity

We had a self-guided walk around the many enclosures housing different species some big and some small. We all loved the residents of Hoot Hollow, where owls resided, the most. Mzwa Mokoena was fascinated by their silent flight, the way they can turn their heads 270˚, “They have more bones in their spines than humans and did you know that the male hoots twice and the female replies with three hoots?” he asked.

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A Grass Owl
We were treated to a flight display by Orion the long crested eagle, who has white distinctive windows on his wings that are seen during flight followed by YBK a Yellow Billed Kite that was not able to join the migration to Kenya, East-Central Africa. We closed our eyes to hear an owl fly and all we heard was a small swoosh before he landed on a perch, their silent flight and camouflage abilities make them to appear spirit like because they are not easily seen.

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Most of the raptors we saw caught food with their feet first, except for the little goshawk which has shorter wings and a longer tail and catches food with its beak. The cutest was the little wood owl, the female is called uMabhengwane and the male is called uNobathekeli in isiZulu.

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Belinda with the cute little Wood Owl

Vulture feeding was interesting, we learned that the Cape Vultures were not fighting over food but helping each other tear it apart. Next to the vulture enclosure was a pair of juvenile Beaded Eagles, they are Red Data species and there are only about 320 left in the country.

 

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A juvenile Bearded Vulture

After the excitement we went to the lower Mpushini River where Pandora Long told us the story of how she watched the river die slowly since she was a young woman until its fatality when a farmer dammed it upstream about a decade or so ago.

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We also took a walk along the dry river bed and had a picnic lunch around the fire. We finished off by going to Rick and Emma Hackland’s Aloe Farm in Bishopstowe.  It was originally a rose garden which they found requires a lot of water, they then tried a patch of aloes and found them quite suitable, numbers of different species of aloes have since taken over with very few fragrant roses remain.  Everyone had a great time posing for photographs amongst the aloe flowers. ”I wish I can have this rose in my bedroom, I have never smelled a rose as sweet”, said Amanda.

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Learning more about the owls has changed the perspective of many people, there is much enthusiasm for the Barn owls that will soon be residents in Mpophomeni.  People are asking the big question, “Ziza nini iziKhova safa amagundane?”

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Eco Logic fun in the Mother City.

Ntombenhle and Penz at the Eco Logic Awards

The long bus ride to the Cape was pleasant during the day, when evening struck, it became really chilly. “They should have warned us that there was no air conditioning and that we should have brought our own blankets because by midnight we were almost freezing it became hard to visit dreamland in the so called “Dreamliner”.

We arrived in the great City in the mid-morning and took a taxi cab to our place of accommodation where our room was not yet prepared, so we proceeded to go freshen up and change. We asked when would be a good day to go on the City sightseeing tour bus and they said we should go on immediately since there was cold front approaching and the few following days would be nippy and wet. We packed our day-packs and went off to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and went to the bus station next to the aquarium to board the red bus.

It takes you out of the Waterfront passing various attractions such as the Clock Tower which is a historic landmark, the colourful District Six and Bo Kaap, the Castle of Good Hope, City Hall, St Georges Cathedral – which is the oldest in the country, opened as early as 1821 and was built with the Sandstone from Table Mountain, of course. The majestic Table Mountain, which is one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, was under a huge blanket of fog by the time we got to it.

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With the dark clouds approaching, we had our swim suits underneath our regular clothes hoping we could hit the beaches. Camps Bay is popular as one of the city’s most vibrant beach with huge boulders, rough seas and very cold water in the winter that even the locals did not feel eager to swim in, there were only a handful of brave surfers in the water. We soon discovered the unpredictability of the Western Cape weather as the strong winds and drizzle came as we were passing the luxury apartments of Clifton and Sea Point. We went back to explore the various souvenir stalls at the Waterfront then went back to the hostel to relax and take in our day.

 

mpop eco logic sunflower stop

On the day of the Eco Logic Award ceremony, we arrived at the Waterfront and asked for directions to Table Bay Hotel, and went and scaled the place down. We limited our activities to strolling along Sunset beach. Unluckily, the rain came as we arrived at the swimming pools, we stood under a little shelter waiting for the rain to pass but then decided to abandon our beach plans and walk to the bus stop taking us back to Waterfront. Sadly just as we arrived back at the Waterfront, the skies cleared and it was all sunny again. We went back to the hostel after having lunch to get ready for the Ceremony.

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This year’s Eco Logic Awards tagline “Recognising and honoring environmental excellence was well suited as they had received a record number of entries from organisations that all embody what it is to be deemed Eco-Logical. There was a networking session where we got to meet some of the judges, the sponsors, many interesting, influential and inspirational people from environmental and sustainable sectors. We all had an opportunity to pose in our creative outfits as we were contenders for the best dressed title in our alter ego outfits keeping with the nights’ theme of ‘Glamorously Green’.  Ntombenhle was the Permaculture Princess in crown and tutu bedecked with veggies and a seed packet handbag, while Penz was a Bad Ass Bunny Hugger dressed in SPCA finds and jewelry created from discarded plastic.

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David Parry-Davies opened the ceremony, saying that it was clear that Eco-Logical thinking is going mainstream and that it would be responsible for solving our current environmental challenges.  The winners were chosen by a top-level panel of judges made up of celebrities, government officials and professionals from various sectors. They admitted that they had a tough time making the decisions because all the contenders were doing wonderful work in their sectors. Fourteen main awards were issued for the outstanding winners, and certificates for the silver, bronze and the rest of the finalists were issued after the ceremony. It was a lively ceremony with great networking opportunity and good food.

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The Eco–Community Catergory in which Mpophomeni Conservation Group was a finalist was won by Greyton Transition Town. They have created an integrated, sustainable society, they address food security, recycling and waste management and environmental degradation while encouraging renewable energy use, sustainable housing, environmental awareness and humane education – which is really what we do in Mpop and more.

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One of our most exciting times followed the next day which we we dedicated to visiting the Greenpoint Urban Park, next to the Greenpoint Stadium that was one of the establishments built for the 2010 soccer World Cup. The park showcases an inner city garden with over 300 plants indigenous to the region, the magical history of the Khoisan people, outdoor exercise spaces, beautiful water features, a labyrinth of paved walkways and a play area for kids and adults alike.

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While we thought the Urban Park was awesome, the best was yet to come. On the Weekend our good friend Brandon Powell (who had just moved to Cape Town from the Midlands) took us on an outing to Oranjezitch City Farm. Here local residents and volunteers have come together and created a co-op to bring awareness to locally grown food. Ntombenhle was very fond of their Compost boxes and would like to copy the idea in MCG gardens. “They have so much waste to use and the compost is like magic,” she said.

mpop eco logic lavender hedge

After walking around the farm we headed to Kirstenborch Botanical Gardens, one of the first and greatest in the world dedicated to preserving the diversity of South African plants from all regions and ‘best’ is exactly what it felt like, set against the slopes of Table Mountain. All the plants you can imagine are found here including those that have been extinct for the past hundred years and some that are over a hundred years old. The most fascinating for me were the Cycads, you just feel like you are walking with the dinosaurs all over again and that is really out of this world. The Greenhouse that contains plants that cannot survive in the open but only in controlled conditions was beautiful. We literally wanted to spend days on end walking around and learning. Ntombenhle was happy to learn that she and late president Mandela share the same taste in their favourite flower Natal Banana – Strelitizia Nicolai.

mpop eco logic P and N kirstenbosch

We had an overall wonderful time in the Mother City.  We enjoyed the laid back, friendly, relaxed attitude of the residents, you could just strike up a conversation with anyone you met, the feeling of ultimate safety, the streets are safe to walk in late at night, there was no litter anywhere we walked, something that they have done well and that we would one day like to mirror in our own community.

Thank you very much to N3TC for sponsoring our trip and to Enviropedia for having us at the Awards and Charlene Russell who initially nominated us. They say that it is better to aim for the moon because even if you miss you will at least land amongst the stars.  We didn’t win this time but we will keep aiming higher and we sure felt like stars.

 

Umtshitshi wasemathafeni.

Leucosidea sericea
Amagama ajwayelekile: Ouhout, Zulu: Umtshitshi, Sotho: Cheche

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Ngaphambi kobuba kuzinze Laba abaphuma eYorophu emathafeni ase midlands, yayimibalwa kakhulu imithi ngaphandle kwaleyo ehlangene ndawonye ezindaweni ezimanzi kanye nalezo ezisemadwaleni. Omunye wemithi eyavela eMidlands kwaba iLecosidea Sericia umtshitshi. Ingomunye wemithi ekwazi ukumila kuqala ivule indlela yokuthi neminye imithi ilandele futhi itholakala ezindaweni ezihlukahlukene.

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Lemithi iyatholakala emathafeni akhona la Mpophomeni, lapho Uyithola ikhula neminye imithi njengo Mlahlankosi. Uyithola iyihlahlana esifushanyana esiyisixhanti futhi ayijwayele ukukhula idlule amamitha ayisithupha. Inamaqabunga aluhlaza okusampunga anuka kamnandi, izimbali zayo ezikhangayo, ezincanyana eziphuzi okusaluhlazana zikhula kwimikhawulo yamagatsha. Amagxolo aso awekho bushelelezi ngathi amaflakes.

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Lomuthi awulithandi ihlobo elishisayo kodwa uyakwazi ukumelana nongqoqwane, nesithwathwa ingakho ungawuthala ukusungula insimui entsha ebandayo ngoba siyashesha ukukhula. Izinyoni zijwayele ukwakha izidleke emagatsheni kanti amaqabunga awo adliwa imbabala bushbuck.

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Lomuthi muhle kakhulu ukubasa umlilo ngoba awushi ngokushesha, abanye bawusebenzisela ukubaza kanye nokwakha izinqola ezithutha utshani noma ezokuvuna. Ezindaweni eziyizintaba ukuba khona kwalomuthi kade phambilini kukhombisa ukuthi imifula yangakhona ingafakwa izinhlanzi ezibizwa nge trout.

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Utshwala bezinyoni.

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Lesi isihlahlaba esisakhambi, esikwaziyo ukumelana nesomiso.  Ngakho ungasitshala engadini yakho noma ungakukhonzile ukuchelela. Sithanda ukukhula kahke laoho sitshalwe khona elangeni.  Sinezimbali ezinhle ezikhanga izinyosi, nezinyoni (kakhulukazi izincwincwi) ngomubala osawolinshti.

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Yize singahlobene nensangu, kade sivamise ukubhenywa abantu basemakhaya. Siphinde sisethenziswa ukwelapha izifo eziningi,  okubalwa kuzo; ikhanda elihambisana nemfiva kanye nokulunywa inyoka.

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Ngokwemvelo,  siyaye sishiswe umlilo noma unqgoqwane ukuze siqhakaze kangcono ngokulandelayo.  Ungasitshala engadini yakho ukuze kuvakashe lezilwanyana esizishilo ekuqaleni.

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Ngengoba kuyi Nkwindla usithola siqhakazile ngokusawolinsthi ezindaweni esizokhalweni kanye naseduze kwe mimfudlana, siyatholakala khona la eMpophomeni.

CREW Excursions

Ayanda Lipheyana and Lindiwe Mkhize represented Mpophomeni Conservation Group at the Annual CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildplants) Workshop in Eshowe from 30 August to 2 September along with other Midlands CREW members, Peter Warren, Alex March and Nikki Brighton.

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Ayanda reports: The workshop was attended by CREW groups from different provinces and university students from UKZN, UniZulu and Limpopo.  It was very exciting and wonderful to meet all these new people who care about plants. The speakers were experienced and the presentations interesting.  The first presentation was on taxonomy based on Kniphofia identification and the use of keys to find the species of the family.  Professor Braam van Wyk presented on the evolution of the Maputaland plants, talked about BioGeography and suggested reasons like temperature and underlying rock for the richness of species here – there are 230 endemic plants in the area.  In another presentation Braam talked about Grassland Ecology which was so interesting.

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Livhu Nkhuna from the Millenium Seedbank Project talked about seed collection and how we have to keep the seed safely so when plants are extinct in the wild they will be propagated.  Many CREW groups reported back on their activities for the year, the Midlands CREW (very new group) has focussed on inspiring and educating people to make the group stronger. We learnt about ferns from Neil Crouch, geology from Mike Watkeys, the importance of Herbarium specimens with Mkipheni Mgwenya, Alien species with Reshnee Lalla and the Pondoland paraecologist project from Sinegugu Zukulu.

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We had a field trip to the Dlinza forest where we saw blue duiker and learnt so much about the trees and plants. The Philenoptera (Milettia) sutherlandia trees were very impressive and the Strangler Figs.  The Boardwalk was great, with an amazing view from above the canopy.  Albizia was flowering below us. We saw hornbills, sunbirds, white eared barbet, grey Cuckooshrike and many more birds in the trees.

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We also visited grasslands and forest at Entumeni Reserve.  It was a great experience.

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Lindiwe commented: “I am so very happy to have this opportunity. The CREW information was breathtaking for me, now I understand what CREW is all about. The speakers from all walks of life gave us so much information and the fieldtrips to the forest were much fun.  I made unique friends from other places. Everything was super amazing!” 

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Previously, they had participated in CREW fieldtrips in the Midlands.

The Midlands CREW headed out to Impendle Nature Reserve on 23 March to find some flowers and wander in the grasslands.  Most of us had never visited before, so we were lucky that CREW stalwarts, Christeen Grant, Barbara and David Clulow came along to show us the way and share their knowledge.

R. Mpop CG on Impendle fieldtrip

The reserve centre lies 11 km due south of  Impendle town, and about 50 km west of Pietermaritzburg. It took about an hour to get there from Howick.  The terrain is undulating, steep and rocky at the highest points, and dissected with small river drainage lines that fall over a minor escarpment as they join the Umkomaas River, which forms much of the site’s southern boundary. Altitude range is 935–1 586 m.  The site is predominantly grassland (about 2 000 ha). Most of this is Highland Sourveld,  with some Southern Tall Grassveld remaining. In its pristine state, this grassland should be dominated by Red Grass Themeda triandra, but the scarcity of this grass indicates that the site has been man-modified in the past – we saw plenty of Aristida and Paspalum.

Lindz and Ayanda impendle crew fieldtrip res.sml.

We headed up the hill from the carpark. There are no paths, so we simply waded through the grass, finding treasures as we went.

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The first discovery was Satyrium macrophyllum – shown off beautifully against the dry gold grass

IMG_8812 Satyrium macrophyllum CGrant

then Alectra sessiliflora, which is flowering profusely in the Midlands this year.

IMG_8821 Alectra sessiliflora CGrant

We stopped to photograph everything! Christeen took all the fabulous flower photos in this post.

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We saw Disa fragrans, Helichtrysum adenocarpum, Monocymbium ceresiliforme, Habernaria lithophila, Helichrysum glomeratum, Becium obovatum subsp. obovatum var. obovatum.

IMG_8820 Becium obovatum CGrant

Eucomis autumnalis, Veronia natalensis, Searsia (Rhus) discolour, Vigna vexillata, Pachycarpus sp (not in flower), Lobelia erinus, Schistostephium crataegifolium,

IMG_8839 Schistosephium crataegifolium CGrant

Satyrium longicauda (not in flower), Wahlenbergia cuspidata, Haberneria dregeana,

IMG_8843 Habenaria dregeana CGrant

Barleria monticola, Sebaea sedoides (isivumelwane esikhulu), Hermannia gerradii – two plants spreading across the earth below the rocky area which was a first for David and Christeen and cause for much delight. Lobelia erinus

IMG_8838 Lobelia erinus CGrant

Leonotis intermedia,  Striga elegans, Gladiolus sericeovillosus  – this was Lindiwe’s favourite flower of the day.

IMG_8858 Gladiolus sericeovillosus CGrant

Lindiwe also loved the aloes that reminded her of Mpophomeni.

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Some things we really puzzled over, but half the fun is looking up, discussing and finding the answer.

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This Senecio had us stumped. Peter thought it might be Senecio dreageana which is listed in the red Data book as vulnerable. He has posted it on iSpot – for assistance from other amateur Botanists – have a look: iSpot record  If it is,  it is pretty special – “It probably occurs at less than 10 locations, based on herbarium records and habitat maps. At least 67% of its grassland habitat has been transformed, and all remaining subpopulations are on small habitat fragments that are subject to ongoing degradation as a result of frequent fires, overgrazing, subsistence agriculture and the effects of fragmentation. Habitat loss has taken place over a period longer than three generations. Data on population size and trends are urgently needed.”  We are uncertain and await specialist identification – it is so easy for us to be over enthusiastic and misidentify things, so we want to make sure.

IMG_8824 Secencio sp CGrant

Crassula pellucida, Kniphofia laxiflora (not flowering), Diospyrus lycoides (not flowering), Scolopia, Berkheya multijuga, Calpurnia sericia (not flowering), Kalenchoe persiflora, Hibiscus trionum,

IMG_8855 Hibiscus trionum CGrant

Merwilla plumbea (not flowering), Cussonia paniculata (not flowering), Argylobium magenta (not flowering), Rhabdiosella calycina, Canthium mundianum (not flowering – stunted amongst rocks),  Buchnera simplex,

IMG_8881 Buchnera simplex CGrant

Ziziphus (not flowering – stunted amongst rocks), Pelargonium luridum (not flowering), Ortholobium polystictum, Asparagus cooperi, Watsonia socium (a few still in flower), Aloe maculata (not flowering), Pimpinella caffra,

IMG_8861 Pimpinella caffra CGrant

Dicoma anomala

IMG_8886 Dicoma anomala CGrant

Ayanda simply loved the wide opens spaces, the quiet and the views.

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We couldn’t identify: Small yellow tubular flower with 5 fused petals. Fine 10cm long stem from ground.  Tiny bracts. Anyone have any ideas?

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Helichrysum cephaloideum, Zaluzianskia microsiphon, Gladiolus ecklonii,

IMG_8875 Gladioulus eckonii CGrant

We saw a couple of reed buck, lots of butterflies, found a porcupine quill and fell into a few aardvark holes.  This tiny weevil was interesting

IMG_8869 Weevil sp CGrant

Greyia sutherlandii, Grewia occidentalis, Halleria lucida, Scolopia mundii, Schizoglossum bidens (with fruit), Dicomis autumnalis, Eulophia sp (seed pods and caterpillar)

IMG_8889 Eulophia sp with caterpillar

We were very excited to find Bowiea volubilis amongst the Dolerite rocks on the ridge as it is on out Target Species list of Threatened species to look out for.  The Red Data list tell us that it is under severe threat from harvesting for the medicinal plant trade.

IMG_8883 Boweia volubilis CGrant

We also thought we spotted Anenome fanninii (another from our list) in the valley.  Impendle holds one of the largest populations of Blue Swallow remaining in South Africa, however we only visited the Northern slopes, not the area where they nest.

The reserve consists of a series of farms that were first settled by colonists over 100 years ago. Most of the land was devoted to cattle grazing, but small areas have been used for crops.  The farms were purchased in the late 1970s by the government for the purpose of consolidating the old KwaZulu homeland. They have been uninhabited since 1980. The value of this Trust Land to conservation was recognised in 1983 with the proposal to formally convert the area into Impendle Nature Reserve. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has been the management authority for the reserve since 1994.

Should you wish to visit, you need to make arrangements before you go or you may find the gate locked.  Call Michael Ngubo, 072 542 3049 or Nicholas Mndaweni, 082 518 8219.  The Officer in Charge is Mbuyiselo Gxashi – his email address is gxashim@kznwildlife.com

The second Midlands CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) fieldtrip for the 2013 season took place on Saturday 9 November at Lake Lyndhurst in Fort Nottingham.  There were lots of flowers on the road verges. r Lake Lyndhurst 005 After meeting at Els Amics in the village,  we headed through New Forest where the uMngeni river spills down from uMngeni Vlei, up to Lake Lyndhurst. r Lake Lyndhurst 149 Evert joined us having ridden his bike through Ivanhoe from the Dargle side. res Lake Lyndhurst 006 Ayanda and Nkanyiso admired the wetland and the views. r Lake Lyndhurst 008 The plateau was covered with Festuca costata – a grass usually found at higher altitudes. It appears to be moving down and increasing in places not previously abundant.  The vegetation was typical of Mooi river Highland Grassland – part of the Highland Sourveld. r Lake Lyndhurst 018 Didn’t take long before the photographers were down on their knees getting up close to little floral treasures. r Lake Lyndhurst 017 Experts and amateur botanists decided to  head towards a rocky outcrop to see what they could find.  Hypoxis filiformis, Graderia scabra, Eriosema distinctum, Helichrysum aureonitis which is also used as imphepho although Helichrysum cynosum is the more classic imphepho species. r Lake Lyndhurst 068 We were amazed at all the Delopspermum (probably sutherlandii).  Eve commented that she didn’t really expect to find them here – they seemed to belong in the Karoo. r Lake Lyndhurst 021 There was lots and lots of yellow Morea flowering.  Is it alticola?  graminicola?  Most likely spathulata.  Interesting we found it was far more abundant in the areas where there were cattle and not apparent in the area cattle were excluded from. r Lake Lyndhurst 089 Senecio erubescens – very sticky, Gerbera kraussia (sometimes called ambigua) r Lake Lyndhurst 023 Eriosema kraussianum, Schizoglossum flavum, r Lake Lyndhurst 035 Buchnera simplex – gorgeous deep blue, Gladiolus parvula had most of us fooled as we thought it was a Dierama r Lake Lyndhurst 039 Nkanyiso spotted a rinkhals on a rock which quickly slithered into a hole nearby when all the cameras were focussed on him.  Amongst the rocks we found Maytenus acuminata, Myrsine Africana, Veronia hirsute, Tulbaghia leucantha, Cineraria with soft grey leaves One of the nicest things about CREW fieldtrips is that everyone helps everyone else to learn something new. r Lake Lyndhurst 043 We disturbed a common quail, saw lots of Rhodohypoxis baurii – mostly white but a patch of pink near a stream, Chlorophytum cooperii, Hebenstretia dura res Lake Lyndhurst 049 Helichrysum pilosellum, Polygala gracilenta – dark pinky purple,  Aster perfoliatus with leaves that clasp the stem res Lake Lyndhurst 060 Psammotropha myriantha, Dierama florifirum (an educated guess), Osteospermum juncundi – gorgeous bright pink, Alepidea natalensis (not flowering yet), Protea simplex – new leaves sprouting from what is essentially an underground tree. res Lake Lyndhurst 067 We found Thesium natalense, Xysmalobium parviflorum, r Lake Lyndhurst 073 Sue spotted Eulophia aculiatum – tucked next to a rock, a very unusual find and pretty exciting res Lake Lyndhurst 082 Hypoxis sp maybe argentia, Ledebouria cooperi, Ledebouria sandersonia, and  Ledebouria monophylla (which is not known in this location, so pretty exciting), Gerbera piloselloides – a wonderful yellow. We sploshed across a wetland (sensible Nkanyiso wore gumboots), r Lake Lyndhurst 145 where we found Eriocaulom dregei, Aponogetom junceus,  Anthericum sp and Ranunculus multifidus (Zulu name appropriately uxaphozi, which means wetland), r Lake Lyndhurst 112 Acalypha penduncularis, Pelagonium luridum with gorgeous spidery leaves edged in red, Eucomis  (not flowering yet), Coccinea hirtella, r Lake Lyndhurst 102 Diclis reptans, Nemesia caerulea, Watsonia – was it lepidea?  Some discussion about our altitude which would help with identifying the species – we were at 1900m above sea level. r Lake Lyndhurst 131 Aloe, Peucodanum caffrum, Senecio speciosa, Hirpircium armeroides with Peter announced had “fearsome bracts”,

Lake Lyndhurst

Drosera, Unidentified Erica – Isabel took a piece home to identify), Pentanisia prunelloides, Scilla nervosa – not flowering, Jamesbritennia breviflora, Tulbaghia natalensis. We had been puzzled by something as we crossed the wetland and hoped to find it on the way back with a few of the experts in tow. Astonishingly, Gina lead us right to it.  res Lake Lyndhurst 118 Peter guessed Veronia and Sue searched through the book until we decided on Veronia thodii. Much to our delight Isabel confirmed it and Barbara explained how it should be pronounced (a German name).

Lake Lyndhurst

As we left Lake Lyndhurst, we spotted two secretary birds on the hillside.  On the way back down we stopped to admire the fresh, clean water tumbling over the rocks, feeling sad about the state of the uMngeni river just a little further down the valley. r Lake Lyndhurst 151 Thanks to Roy and Val Tabernor for their assistance in accessing Lake Lyndhurst.  If you are keen to join CREW and help search for special plants, contact info@midlandsconservancies.org.za

Peter Warren has posted some of the plants we found onto iSpot where interesting discussions have followed.  Do have a look here: http://www.ispot.org.za/search/node/lake%20lyndhurst – make a comment or post some of your own observations. r Lake Lyndhurst 109

If you are interested in joining Midlands CREW, contact Nikki on cowfriend@telkomsa.net or 083 473 3074

Summer Walk

Last week, the weather was just perfect for a little exploring. Often we forget that places close by are really interesting and drive miles and miles for adventures.  A few friends headed to eMashingini and discovered lots of pleasant surprises and small adventures.

The cliffs looked like a particularly interesting spot to explore.

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We were delighted to discover a waterfall hidden in the trees, Arums growing in the crevices and Begonia sutherlandii clinging to the rocks

r Mpop Entle stream forest 325

and Pavetta was just one of the forest shrubs creating a cool glade.

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The areas around the stream were invaded by lantana, but treasures were still to be found, like Sandersonia aurantiaca

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this net winged beetle,

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lots of Hypoxis, Thunbergia atriplicifolia

r mpop walk kids pics 045

Vernonia hirsuta

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interesting caterpillars

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scarlet Freesia laxa,

r 1 Mpop Entle stream forest 298

and Polygala hotentotta.

r 1 Mpop Entle stream forest 379

Further along the valley we wandered along the uMthinzima stream, flowing strongly after all the rain.

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The water was really clean and tasted delicious.

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Thunbergia natalensis was flowering profusely on the forest margins.

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Rhus, and Rhamnus prinoides were full of berries (but we’d had our fill on the invasive ijikijolo beside the path)

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we found Impatiens hochstetteri and Streptocarpus in the deep shade

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We crossed some grassland to get to a Cabbage Tree (umsenge) we could see on the edge of a forest patch.

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There lots of Senecio was in flower, and just over,

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and the delicate little indigenous hypericum – Hypericum lalandii

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Plenty of bulbs with big spotted leaves – assume Ledebouria sp?

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It was a real scramble to get to the base of the tree through all the thick forest edge, it was worth it though as the Cussonia was enormous!

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plenty of Scadoxus puniceus in the understory and dense creepers.

On the walk back, we stopped to admire the views, determined to spend more time exploring places close by.  What wonders have you overlooked in your neighbourhood?

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Penz Malinga hosts regular walks in parts of Mpophomeni on the second Tuesday of each month.  Contact her to book: 084 226 5227.  Donation R20 to Mpophomeni Conservation Group

There are Always Flowers

There are always flowers when you look. Peter Warren joined the regular walk in the hills of Mpophomeni and found lots. He submitted this article and photos.

Penz Malinga was our guide. She arrived just after having to deal with a pollution crisis – those from the privileged part of society do not understand how this is an everyday problem to the residents. Penz rises above the emotional drain this places upon her and cheerfully leads us through the village explaining the history and the tent town that preceded it. As we crossed the polluted flood plain she told us of the education she does with the youth about nature. Not much in the way of flowers on this plain however.

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But when we got up onto the hills and the bolder fields we saw about twenty species even this early in the spring, and even after so little rain. Why the bolder fields? That is where the bulbs and underground plants have escaped agriculture. KZN grassland flowers re-sprout rather than reseed and many of them are very old. I learned this when at the CREW outing in Eshowe – fun homework seeing the theory in action.

The first lesson was the very pretty Cat’s Whiskers (Ocimum obovatum was Becium obovatum).

Now what is unusual about this observation is the woody root stock can be seen, the bit that is normally underground to escape the fires. These kind of roots are said to be very old which why when dug up (or ploughed) are essentially gone forever.

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Another insignificant Ledeboura? Not at all.  This one has beautiful markings and quite narrow  leaves. However as far as I can ascertain it is the same L. ovatifolia as the unmarked examples I  have photographed at Yarrow Falls and elsewhere. Perhaps the final chapter of the taxonomy of this plant has still to be written.

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The veld violet (Ruellia cordata) is the species I found Penz examining in more detail. Perhaps that is because it is traditionally used as a love charm. Nothing could be more romantic, and perhaps I should plant them instead of petunias.

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Another gem was the lovely Pink Ground-bells  (Graderia scabra), Dargle flower of the year. Also a resprouter where new leaves and flowers come up every year from the root stock that has been hiding underground.

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And there was lots more but then you will have to go there and find them yourself (or try my detailed observations on iSpot –http://www.ispot.org.za/search/node/mpophomeni).  However spring has not sprung until I have seen our very own Natal Primrose (Thunbergia atriplicifolia).

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Happy Midlanding – it is special – especially in Spring.

A guided walk in the Mpophomeni wetland and hills takes place on the second Tuesday of every month. Book with Penz Malinga 073 9483209

Bews Herbarium & Botanic Garden

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 welcomes everyone herbarium RES.

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.

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Ayanda Lipheyana, an Environmental Management student focussing on Invasive Species, was interested to discover that the Herbarium also collected specimens of weeds.

Ayanda with alien specimens herbarium res.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Penz Malinga, whose particular interest is medicinal plants,  enjoyed a quiet moment under an impressive cycad.

Penz malinga cycad RES.

Lindiwe Mkhize was delighted to find a fully grown specimen of Polygala myrtifolia,  as she had recently planted one in her own garden.

Lindiwe Mkhize Polygala.res

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.” 

Aloe maculata

The Mpophomeni Conservation Group logo features Aloe maculate.  This plant is common in the hills surrounding the township. Common name: Soap Aloe, Zulu names: icena, amahlala, Sotho name: lekhala, Afrikaans name: Bontaalwyn

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Winter days are not particularly dreary in the Midlands, however a splash of orange in the faded grasslands is always delight. Aloe maculata, can be relied on to provide that. The flat-topped inflorescence can have many branches, each topped with flowers ranging from red, through orange to yellow. Young buds are erect with older flowers drooping.

Plant Aloe Maculata Soap Aloe yellow form

The broad, recurved leaves are triangular shaped and this aloe usually has no stem, although a short stem does form over a long period of time. The leaves have brown teeth along the margin and are spotted (maculata means ‘splotched’), making them pretty easy to identify even though they occur in a variety of habitats – including rocky out crops, open grassland and thicket.

Plant Aloe maculata Soap Aloe red form

In traditional medicine, crushed leaf infusions are used as enemas following the use of other purgative medicines. Reports include use of stems and leaves, in powdered and infusion form, as cleansing agents after the ingestion of too much food, alcohol or narcotics.  It flowers profusely in late winter.

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Why not join the regular walk on the second Tuesday of each month, to explore Mpophomeni grasslands for yourself? Book with Penelope Malinga 078 236 4480

Thanks to Penelope Malinga, Christeen Grant and Nkululeko Mdladla for the photographs.