Conservation Biology

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I have been a volunteer for a program called CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) for more than three years. This program involves civil society to help monitor and conserve rare and threatened plants. On Saturday the 16th of September, the Friends of the Tygerberg Hills CREW group went out to Duthie Reserve in Stellenbosch to search for a really threatened plant species in the Amaryllidaceae family, namely Haemanthus pumilio. These plants had last been counted in 1986, when more than a thousand plants were recorded. The reserve had been burnt in 2004 but no post fire survey had been done as far as we know. So, we set out last Saturday on a somewhat rainy day to go and see what we could find…

Duthie Reserve, belongs to the University of Stellenbosch. It is a National Heritage Site, with unique vegetation as it is a transitional zone between Boland Granite Fynbos and Swartland Shale Renosterveld. The area is seasonally waterlogged (and it was just as well most of us were wearing our gum boots!).

A few years ago several new University residences were built on part of the reserve and from what I could gather from a hand drawn map dating back to 1986, the plots where most of the threatened plants were found then was very close to where the fence now is, separating the remainder of the reserve from the residences.

What did we find? Firstly, the reserve is completely grass dominated and from the road that is all one can see. I am however useless in identifying grasses and I thus do not know if the majority of the grass cover is in fact indigenous, but I assume it is as I could only identify one alien grass species, namely Briza maxima. Once inside the reserve, we saw many bulbs, but since it was such an overcast day, just about nothing had open flowers. Some of the species we did identify were Baeometra uniflora (beetle lily), Chlorophytum undulatum (grass lily), Trachyandra filiformis, Lachenalia unifolia, Spiloxene capensis (peacock flower), Spiloxene aquatica and Drosera cistiflora (sundew).
There were also two different species of Babiana, at least one species of Sparaxis, Geissorhiza, Hesperantha and Romulae and Monsonia speciosa (sambreeltjie) was in full flower.

We did also find our “special” and counted some 300 + plants. The area close to the fence, where the majority were counted before however seemed quite disturbed and we found very few of our special plants there. But at least they are still there and we will definitely go back in summer to see them in full bloom and do another count… 300 is a long shot from over a 1000 and we hope that with the long grass, we just missed many a plant!

An article in the Veld and Flora (1992) on this species then already noted that the Duthie population was probably the only viable population still left, but that it had a sure future in the reserve. How certain that future however is will hopefully not be determined by the further need for residences or other buildings! Any further reduction in habitat might just push this species over the brink...

Karen Marais
BCB Hons NISL student
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17



  • hi rich
    may you please invite us {EI student} to conservation biology

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 19, 2007 12:04 PM  

  • Hi Karen

    First of all I like the fact that you are a volunteer at CREW program and you did indicate its purpose. This program (CREW) is important as far as monitoring and conservation is concerned. It seems as the Duthie reserve management was not doing enough, based on the fact that it took almost 20 years without counting these plants species. I am not sure why it took so long before counting can be done, did you find an explanation for that? You said in the year 2004 the reserve had been burnt, so I would like to know if such fire was an intentionally or unintentionally. Was it a management strategy or not?

    You did indicate that you are not sure if the majority of grasses in the reserve are indigenous. I think it is important to know whether they are indigenous or alien, it is also important to know where they originated from. It is important when suggesting management strategies. You did identify grass species, Briza maxima I really want to know where this species originated from and if this species pose a serious threat to the rest of the indigenous species?

    Lastly I would like to know if there are some recommendations you made to the reserve management.


    By Blogger Lufuno, at February 21, 2007 9:47 AM  

  • Hi Karen, I like the fact that, you have given the short descriptions of reserve and the dominant grasses species in the reserve. You indicated that the reserve is dominated by grass, what type of grass? As we did invasive biology it is important for us to know all the types of alien species found in the Duthie Reserve. This will avoid the problem of conserving alien species and it will help us to come up with suitable strategies to control the alien species in the area.

    You said that you are volunteer for CREW program for approximately three years. That is good because you are gaining more experience. My question is, are you focusing only on Amaryllidaceous family? If Yes why? As you said that, you are a volunteer to that group for approximately three years, I advice you to ask the people who you are working with to count the plants every year not after more than 2 years.

    Karen I also like the fact that, you count the number of the plants during your studies that is good, but I also advice you to count every year. Because next year when you go there again, it will be easy for you and your colleques to observe weather there is a change in the vegetation type or not.

    You have indicated that, the reserve was burnt in 2004 and that time you were also involved in the group. After burning, did you identify the species which are well adapted to fire?


    By Blogger linette, at February 23, 2007 10:25 AM  

  • Hi Karen

    I suggest that you may advice the management of Duthie Reserve to delegate the relevant people to do post fire survey in future after any fire. The survey will assists on identifying different impacts of fire, for examples the species killed by fire, species that tolerate fire and species that resprout after fire. The managers may use data collected during post fire survey to assess and predict fire. As a result, they will be able to suggest post fire management strategies.

    By Blogger Kedibone, at February 23, 2007 3:11 PM  

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