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Spring Flower Watch: Hantam National Botanical Garden

Oct 20, 2020 | Written and photographed by Rupert Koopman.

Hantam National Botanical Garden



In the first few months of 2020, the BotSoc National Office team visited several National Botanical Gardens in order to meet with garden associated branches and SANBI Curators. These face-to-face meetings are valuable to introduce new staff to members and partners and to get a sense of possibilities for future fruitful collaboration. Enter national lockdown 2020.

Fortunately, National Botanical Gardens reopened and travel restrictions lifted over the past two months. An obvious destination for our post-lockdown foray was the Northern Cape jewel, Hantam National Botanical Garden at Nieuwoudtville.

BotSoc General Manager Antonia Debarros, Council Member and West Coast Branch Chair Hedwig Slabig and I (Rupert) left Paternoster early one September morning and headed to Nieuwoudtville with a mutual mission: meet with Eugene Marinus (curator of the Hantam National Botanical Garden) and  see the Bulb Capital of the World at its best.

The disadvantage of having only one day for this mission is seeing a glorious flower-strewn landscape and numerous vegetation types whizz past as you drive to reach your destination at the appointed time.

Click here for the route covered Langebaan Dune Strandveld, Saldanha Limestone Strandveld, Saldanha Granite Strandveld, Saldanha Flats Strandveld, Hopefield Sand Fynbos and across a still worryingly low-level Verlorenvlei.


Above: Antonia Debarros, Hedwig Slabig and Eugene Marinus in conversation.


Then Lamberts Bay Strandveld, Leipoldtville Sand Fynbos, Graafwater Sandstone Fynbos until you straddle the Biome boundary between Fynbos and Succulent Karoo. Namaqualand Strandveld, Namaqualand Sand Fynbos, Namaqualand Quartz Vygieveld, Vanrhynsdorp Gannabosveld, Namaqualand Riviere, Namaqualand Spinescent Grassland, Central Knersvlakte Vygieveld and Knersvlakte Shale Vygieveld.

As you drive up the Vanrhyns Pass, Kobee Succulent Shrubland, Vanrhynsdorp Shale Renosterveld crest at Bokkeveld Sandstone Fynbos with the associated rooibos fields and enter Nieuwoudtville town, which historically consisted primarily of Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld. At the Hantam National Botanical Garden, Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld and Nieuwoudtville-Roggeveld Dolerite Renosterveld are the dominant vegetation types.


Above: Sparaxis elegans


Spring in Nieuwoudtville area has several floral peaks with the typical Namaqualand-type daisies especially visible in August and bulbs, with different groups of geophytes flowering in stages from July to October (rains permitting). Ideally, one would want to visit multiple times in order to appreciate the ever-changing kaleidoscope but we had the next best option: Eugene.

Eugene Marinus is a South African Botanical treasure, with nearly two decades of field experience in the Niuewoudtville area. He has been the curator of the Hantam NBG since it opened in 2008 and is a well-entrenched name in ecological research in the Hantam area with many acknowledgements of his expert assistance. One of the more recent manifestations of “Eugene appreciation” was the naming of a newly described species of long proboscid fly Prosoeca marinusi in his honour. On the day we met Eugene, we found out he could tell the difference between these pollinators by ear!

We arrived at Hantam National Botanical Garden at noon and hopped onto the SANBI flower viewing vehicle (in addition to the multiple responsibilities of a curator, Eugene also takes garden visitors out for spring safari drives in season) to have our meeting in field. A wise decision. The air hummed with pollinators as we periodically alighted from the vehicle to experience what Eugene called one of the best spring seasons in 19 years.


We spent most of our time in the Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld where spectacular blooms of the Vulnerable Blue Pride of Nieuwoudtville Geissorhiza splendidissima and apricot Near Threatened Pale Harlequin Sparaxis elegans were particularly eye-catching.

The discussions were illuminating too. As we spoke, it became clear that Eugene is familiar with complexity and that working in Nieuwoudtville’s social and biodiversity ecosystems requires that one first identify different components and figure out how they work together. Then, one needs time to establish to trust which allows for collaboration around, use and protection of a common resource, the natural environment of the Hantam National Botanical Garden.

Listening to his description of the partnerships between the municipality, neighbouring landowners and local stakeholders which help achieve management objectives was a real education in how a motivated individual can be a transformative force. Eugene’s daily duties balance conservation, financial management, eco-tourism, education and general maintenance. The relationships necessary in order to fulfil on this mandate include include those with the municipality, neighbouring farmers, tourists and local stakeholders.


Above: Hesperantha vaginata waiting for 3 pm.


It was a fitting reminder that conservation work is one of complexity, which needs skill to balance the (sometimes) competing needs of people and the environment as well as intimate local knowledge.

As we had to leave in order to make the next appointment, Eugene pointed out the still-closed flowers of Near Threatened Hesperantha vaginata. “You’ll have to come back! It only opens after 3pm!”  We’ll be back. The BotSoc Conservation Programme have much more to learn and look forward to being active partners in celebrating and conserving the flora of the Hantam National Botanical Garden and surrounds.


– A word from the Curator Eugene Marinus –


‘As Toni and Rupert are acquainted with the plants of the area, I wasn’t sure what their reaction would be. But to see them on hands and knees enjoying this once in a lifetime spring was wonderful. It meant a lot to have BotSoc there in full force: the GM, Conservation Manager and a member of Council/Branch Chair. This had never happened  before. It is a sign of BotSoc intent and a great first step for future collaboration.’

Above: Geissorhiza splendidissima and Sparaxis elegans in Nieuwoudtville Shale Renosterveld.


Further Reading

Readers interested in accessing information including the vegetation types along a route as mentioned above are encouraged to use Cape Farm Mapper, an interactive map application from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.

Manning, J. Goldblatt, P. (2007) Nieuwoudtville: Bokkeveld Plateau and Hantam, South African Wild Flower Guide 9, Botanical Society of South Africa, Claremont, South Africa.


1 Comment

  1. I just listened to RSG and listened to a wonderful programme aboutHamtam National park and Eugiene Marinus! Thank you for the amazing work you do!

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