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