Our Blog: Plants and other Stories
Above: It took time and considerable organising to bring the participants together in the Limpopo Province at our CREW workshop. Photo by Bronwyn Egan.
Venda! Land of magic, mists and mystery. A perfect venue for meeting the plants and people of the Limpopo Province. I was in! With funding from an enthusiastic BotSoc, and leadership by the dynamic CREW team, we were soon knee deep in organising participants, venues and transport.
And this is where it all got interesting. Limpopo Province is vast. Not only in terms of physical distance between towns, but also because of the challenging terrain and the predominance of the very natural bush that we were interested in conserving. Cell phone communications are not guaranteed and WhatsApp and emails are often a luxury.
Above: We visited a number of sites during our CREW trip, picking up tips to grow indigenous plants along the way. Vho Mabatha, nursery manager. Photo by Bronwyn Egan.
What’s more, Limpopo Province either does things ala wilderness, or ala luxury, with not much in between. We needed access to wild, free nature, but also a venue where we could use the internet to view online GIS maps. And our trip needed a base where we didn’t have to hike through the bush to bed down in a tent, nor spend all our precious pennies on accommodation, instead of on nature experiences.
By the end of 2021, however, we had all our logistics lined up, and best of all, we had an enthusiastic group of eager plant enthusiasts, ranging from students from the Universities of Venda and Limpopo, to seasoned biologists from SANBI, CREW, BotSoc and people just starting out on their plant exploration paths. After travelling the length of the Limpopo Province, from Capricorn with its dry savannah through the land of rain and queens and past Giyani, we made it onto the roads where fruit stalls morph into roadside braais and hawkers sell smoked and delicious kanga fish.
Above: During the trip, we experienced the tireless work of the grounds team to remove alien invasive plants, guided by the estate manager, Walter Mabatha. Photo by Bronwyn Egan.
Getting to know the mysterious Thohoyandou
The mysterious Thohoyandou Botanical Garden offered the beauty of the ancient forest around which it is built. It was the ideal destination to refresh our travel-weary eyes and woke us up to the wonder of strangler figs and strange lianas. Walter was an exemplary tour guide and taught us about the edible nature of the parinari fruit, for which we will be back! He also explained the tireless manner in which the grounds team must work to ensure that alien invasive plants do not take over this rich gem of indigenous vegetation, which serves such an important educational role. The paved walkway is the perfect route to learn about a wide variety of Venda trees, all within a 300m stretch of forest.
After this fascinating introduction, the workshop continued in the hall where participants learned about the purpose of CREW and the need to expand this extraordinary citizen science project into all the districts of the Limpopo Province. Our province is under-collected and understudied and is, despite large swathes of untouched indigenous vegetation, rapidly being transformed by development, including mining and commercial agriculture.
Above: Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden. Photos supplied by SANBI / Christopher Willis.
The importance of using the iNaturalist platform was emphasised and participants all registered and began to familiarise themselves with this user friendly but powerful identification tool. Plant distribution mapping has been transformed by the development of this app, which combines the need for online identification of fauna and flora with the need to map species distributions and link them to threats. This is so much more immediate than old style specimen collection, which, although still very important and relevant, is often just too slow to be of assistance where speed is required, such as in responding to mining applications and racing against the devastation of other development needs.
Above: This CREW trip was characterised by the incredible partnerships and friendships formed. Photo by Bronwyn Egan.
It’s all about friendships forged
Moleseng Moshobane and Ntsakisi Masia from SANBI kept us enthralled with their beautiful slides depicting work on alien invasive plant species and the Millennium Seed Bank project. Both these programmes foster the protection of biodiversity in different ways and rely on professional and amateur botanical experts getting into the field and becoming familiar with all the floral elements present, both indigenous and exotic.
The few days spent up in hot, humid but overcast Venda were indeed magical. Yes, the beauty of the gardens and of the Venda landscape contributed to the enchantment, but more important were the friendships forged, the learning that took place and the commitments that were made to work together as custodians of our irreplaceable indigenous flora.
Thank you to the funders and organisers:
CREW and Botsoc, as well as the University of Limpopo.
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