People for plants: Meet these four incredible BotSoc volunteers
Meet a few of our hardworking Botanical Society volunteers as they champion South Africa’s extraordinary biodiversity
DEC 3, 2021 | WRITTEN BY ZOË CHAPMAN POULSEN. PHOTOS SUPPLIED BY VOLUNTEERS AND Eugene Marinus.
Our wonderful volunteers
Above: KZN Inland volunteers wading in the wetland to bag Watsonia fruits. Photo: supplied by volunteer.
Preventing plant extinctions, leading guided tours, collecting seed of endangered plants – our Botanical Society of South Africa volunteers give up so much time and effort for people and especially for plants.
BotSoc works with wonderful volunteers across South Africa. As we celebrate International Volunteer Day, we introduce you to four BotSoc volunteers who show us what it means to volunteer for our indigenous plants.
Above: Anne McGregor. Photo: Eugene Marinus.
BotSoc Kirstenbosch branch member Anne McGregor has a long association with the beautiful Hantam National Botanical Garden in Nieuwoudtville in South Africa’s Northern Cape. In fact, the Hantam NBG used to be a sheep farm owned by Anne’s father-in-law. Today the garden is owned and run by BotSoc partner, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).
Before retiring, Anne had worked many years as a commercial tour guide. As a volunteer, Anne brought her incredible guiding experience to the Hantam NBG, spending the Namaqualand spring flowering season volunteering in a supporting role to garden curator Eugene Marinus. Demand was high and her garden tours were always fully booked.
Above: Specimen display and a demonstration garden in the Hantam NBG. Photo: LoveGreen Communications.
Alongside Eugene, Anne also spearheaded the important initiative to create a specimen display and a demonstration garden planted with bulbs to showcase many of the special plant species that grow in the gardens and on the Bokkeveld Escarpment.
After leading two garden tours each day, Anne would head out on long walks into the veld with the garden staff to gather new material for the specimen table.
Thanks to Anne and the team, those plants that grow in the further reaches of the garden are now considerably closer to the garden offices – making them more accessible to those who are not able to hike the longer trails at Hantam NBG.
Above: Isabel Johnson. Photo: supplied by volunteer.
Isabel Johnson provides specialist botanical inputs to plant conservation in the summer rainfall region (especially in KwaZulu-Natal) through a contract with the Botanical Society of South Africa. That positions her perfectly for much of her volunteer work, including taking on the conservation portfolio for BotSoc’s KZN inland branch committee.
In the branch conservation portfolio, Isabel ensures that members work alongside horticultural staff at the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg in their threatened species ex-situ conservation project.
Here she’s part of the team that leads joint field trips to collect threatened plant species for propagation to build back up accessions of them at the botanical garden. These are then available should these plants be lost in the wild or if they’re needed for ecological restoration work. These plants are also grown in the garden displays to raise awareness around threatened species.
This project makes the most of the collective local knowledge of members of the BotSoc KZN inland branch committee. It also links closely with the Botanical Society’s stewardship work by collecting material from potential stewardship sites. It’s hoped in the longer term to use the material that has been collected and grown to reintroduce them to stewardship sites in cases where a species no longer occurs there.
The project also has close association with the work of the Millennium Seed Bank project (MSB). Where seed is collected that is not in the MSB, it is then passed onto the MSB for seed banking.
Above: Suvarna Parbhoo. Photo: supplied by volunteer.
Suvarna Parbhoo Mohan
Suvarna is the Chair of the BotSoc KwaZulu-Natal coastal branch. She is now in her third term having served in this position for six years. She is also the manager of SANBI’s Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme.
Suvarna has been involved in spearheading a few projects in the Durban area and beyond, including organising the painting of the bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) mural by street artist Giffy Duminy at Durban Botanical Gardens.
Under Suvarna’s leadership and that of committee member Hilton McClarty, the KZN coastal branch has built partnerships for conservation in several local housing estates. For example, BotSoc tree labels have been installed here with QI codes linking interested readers with SANBI’s highly informative PlantzAfrica website. Plans for guided walks within the estates have been postponed due to the pandemic.
Many members of the KZN coastal branch are part of the CREW Durban group and go out regularly to conduct threatened plant species monitoring. With Suvarna’s energy, encouragement and publicity, several branch members enjoyed participating alongside her in the City Nature Challenge and Great Southern BioBlitz international events.
The branch is a key partner of the eThekwini municipality’s implementation of projects using the Presidential Employment Stimulus funding, specifically where invasive alien clearing projects will be conducted at three priority sites.
Left: Helene Preston, photo supplied. Right: Moraea loubseri. Photo: PlantZAfrica.
Helene comes from a family of wildflower lovers: her grandfather was one of the founder members of the Darling wildflower society which organises the Darling wildflower show. She eventually took over from a line of family members and has played a key role in running this important local event.
She was involved in forming the Darling CREW group with four other members of the Botanical Society of South Africa, one of the original groups from when the CREW programme started in 2003. The data on plants in the area was included in the 2009 Red List of South African Plants.
After moving from Darling to Langebaan, Helene was instrumental in bringing CREW to Langebaan, where she regularly records the nature found in urban fragments of vegetation.
She was also involved through the BotSoc West Coast branch in producing a plant species list and environmental management plan for the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve for the Saldanha municipality. She has further participated in several other field trips to improve these species lists.
She is also working alongside the Saldanha municipality to raise awareness about the biodiversity of many of the open spaces around Langebaan on the West Coast.
Helene’s field knowledge of the area allowed her to inform a concerned member of the public, registered as an interested and affected party for the Environmental Impact Assessment of a pipeline, of the presence of one of the last populations of the critically endangered Moraea loubseri, a highly threatened geophyte endemic that is indigenous to the Saldanha Granite Strandveld vegetation. Coordination between the botanical consultant, BotSoc’s Conservation Manager Rupert Koopman and Helene led to the re-routing of the pipeline.
Now it’s your turn:
Get involved in conservation
You can also get involved in conserving South Africa’s plant life. Join this group of citizen scientists who are truly making a difference, by becoming a BotSoc volunteer. Here’s how.
Know, grow, protect and enjoy South Africa’s indigenous plants.
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