First-hand account of this Gauteng CREW field trip
APR 7, 2021 | Written by Arista Botha. Photographs by Arista Botha, Richard Gill, Jean van der Merwe, Theunis Botha and Pieter Bester.
Above: A Resintree (Ozoroa paniculosa) in the dolomitic grassveld around Koppie Alleen. Photo: Richard Gill.
It was 06:00 Saturday morning and I eagerly looked outside my window. After a week of rain, I was relieved to see that, although overcast, it was dry outside. I got ready for my first ever CREW field trip, hoping that the rain would hold off long enough for us to find our target species: Melolobium subspicatum, from the pea family, and Habenaria kraenzliniana, from the orchid family.
Melolobium subspicatum is a Gauteng endemic and is listed as Vulnerable. It has a very restricted range and is only known from three localities in Gauteng. Most of its habitat has already been lost to development. Currently, development is prohibited on any location where it is found, making it even more important to find this plant.
Habenaria kraenzliniana occurs mainly in Gauteng with less than 10 recorded locations. This species is listed as Near Threatened. When in flower, this plant stands 30 cm tall between the grasses with its delicate, white-green flowers. When not in flower, only two, small, round leaves are visible, pressed flat to the ground. Plants do not necessarily flower every year, making them very difficult to find. Driving down the dirt road through the Crocodile River Reserve, we saw the little hill, standing out in the otherwise flat grasslands, living up to its descriptive name: “Koppie Alleen”, meaning “Hill Alone” in Afrikaans.
We all got together for a quick brief of our target species by our two experts, Marianne le Roux (expert on Melolobium and other Fabaceae genera) and Gerrit van Ede (orchid expert).
Above: CREW Gauteng group photo for our first field trip for 2021. Photo: Jean van der Merwe.
It did not take long for us to find Melolobium subspicatum growing between the dolomite rocks. Meloloboium subspicatum is a small, inconspicuous shrub about 60 cm high with green, trifoliate leaves and tiny pea-like flowers. We were delighted to find a healthy population around the hill of at least 200 specimens. Since this area is already protected as part of the Crocodile River Reserve, this gives us hope for the continuation of this species.
Above: Melolobium subspicatum shrub (Photo: Arista Botha), flowers and leaves. Photo: Richard Gill.
We did not find Habenaria kraenzliniana at this site. However, we found many other interesting plants. Only one other orchid species was seen but not in flower (possibly Eulophia clitellifera). There were Aloe davyana, Bushman’s poison bulb, Crinum graminicola and Baboon’s tail everywhere, unfortunately not in flower at the time.
Some of the flowers found at Koppie Alleen, from top left, clockwise: Gladiolus permeabilis (Arista Botha), Dianthus mooiensis (Theunis Botha), Hibiscus subreniformis (Richard Gill) and Tritonia nelsonii (Richard Gill).
In flower, we saw Orbea lutea, Gladiolus permeabilis, Polygala hottentotta, Dianthus mooiensis, Ledebouria luteola, Tritonia nelsonii, Dicoma anomala, a few Striga species (grass root parasites), and more. We were pleased to find Hibiscus subreniformis, which only occurs in Gauteng, Limpopo and southern Zimbabwe.
Left: Ficus abutilifolia. Right: Ficus ingens. Photo: Richard Gill.
There were also three of Gauteng’s four fig tree species on the koppie: Ficus ingens, F. salicifolia and F. abutilifolia, including some of the best specimens in Gauteng. Of course, there are always lots of other little critters living between the grasses and forbs. We found a magnificent African false flower mantis, plenty of butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, and millipedes.
Above: African false flower mantis. Photo: Richard Gill.
Afterwards, we followed Lorraine Mills to a nearby site where she had seen Habenaria kraenzliniana previously, to see if we could still find our second target species that day. When we got there, the grass was thick and standing tall. Finding our small target species between these grasses seemed hopeless. Then, just as we were about to give up, we found a single specimen in a firebreak. Unfortunately, it was already past its prime, but it was still clearly identifiable, and we were delighted that we had managed to find both our target species for the day. Fire can often stimulate plants to bloom. It would be interesting to return to Koppie Alleen after a veld fire, to see if we can find any Habenaria kraenzliniana then.
Left: Habenaria kraenzliniana flowers (Photo: Arista Botha) Right: Habenaria kraenzliniana leaves. Photo: Richard Gill.
The rain had held off, and we had found both our target species. Overall, my first CREW field trip was a great success. I am excited about the contribution that citizen scientists can make to science and conservation through initiatives like CREW and iNaturalist. I am looking forward to our future CREW outings to learn about and explore Gauteng’s green spaces, while working to conserve them and the incredible diversity they support.
Above: Orbea lutea (Pieter Bester)
Gauteng CREW and other volunteers are reminded of the upcoming City Nature Challenge. Gauteng CREW volunteers can join the City Nature Challenge 2021: Tshwane, one of six South African cities participating.
Our Guest blogger
Arista Botha’s love for indigenous plants started when she was studying botany in her third year under Prof Ben-Erik van Wyk. His passion and enthusiasm at that time was contagious. Years later, through her continued interest in indigenous plants, Arista heard about the Wild Orchids of South Africa society. It was at one of their conferences that she heard about CREW, read up on the programme and was inspired by the great work that they were doing. When she heard of Gauteng CREW’s need for a champion (leader/coordinator of a CREW group) she immediately made herself available. She is also a member of the BotSoc Bankenveld branch.
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