CREW – Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers is a programme that involves volunteers in monitoring and conservation of our threatened plants. SA has a significant number of the world’s plant species and is the only country that has its own plant kingdom and 3 of the world’s Biodiversity Hotspots. Of the 20 456 plant species in SA, 2577 (13%) are threatened with extinction and a further 2232 (11%) are near threatened. In KwaZulu Natal, 470 species are threatened.CREW volunteers focus on plants endemic to their areas and the info they collect helps prioritize which species are in need of conservation attention. The data gathered is used during the EIA process to influence development decisions.Every year, all the volunteers and many experts gather for a Workshop. Last weekend, I attended the 2012 one in Port Edward – in the Pondoland Centre of Endemism – which I am a huge fan of!We stayed at Teen Ranch amongst blue gums and macadamia trees and it poured with rain (torrential) for the first two days. Traipsing across the mud to the bathroom and being cooped up in a gloomy meeting room would make most nature lovers completely miserable. However, SANBI had organised such inspiring workshops and speakers and we had a ball.
The first day, Prof Braam van Wyk did a tree identification course. He has a whole bunch of plants named after him and is a real guru in the Botanical field – so this was a very special treat. That he turned out to be very entertaining too, was wonderful! I enjoyed hearing about the controversy that rages amongst academics regarding plant classification. Fascinating facts were plentiful too – for instance, the leaf surface of a large forest tree if laid out flat could cover a 30ha area.
The CREW groups reported back on their activities for the year and the gorgeous plants they had found. We had presentations on various research projects – from forest to grasslands, learnt about the Early Detection Rapid Response unit of SANBI with deals with emerging weeds and how Herbaria are going virtual.
One of my favourites was Tony Dold (Ethno-botanist from Rhodes university) talking about his new book ‘Voices from the Forest’ Ihlathi lesiXhosa all about Xhosa cultural use of plants. It is a fascinating book which celebrates the link between people and nature, and reveals how plants, animals and landscapes are profoundly reflected in Xhosa language, stories, poetry, religious rituals, healing practices and everyday customs that define Xhosa culture. It also provides a fresh approach to biodiversity conservation in SA by showing that people’s values for natural resources can be considered positively as a way forward to continued sustainable use.
We learnt about new names and new discoveries. I was delighted when Tony Abbot showed a picture of a new Cussonia he discovered and it was the exact same plant I photographed while walking the wildcoast! Having morning tea with people who have all had plants named after them is really amazing for an amateur like me.
We were beside the uMtamvuna Nature Reserve so when the weather cleared up, we enjoyed field trips there. Many of the special plants we came across have been loaded onto http://www.ispot.org.za/ by the experts – search for uMtamvuna. Sinegugu Zukulu, who lead our walk along the Wildcoast in June, launched his book ‘Medicinal and Charm plants of Pondoland’. He had brought an entrouage of aMamPondo in traditional dress who celebrated the occasion joyfully.The four herbalists who contributed their knowledge the book also were present. After the formalities we explored the grassland and learned about the various plants from them.We walked in the Reserve which was just gorgeous. Looking out for interesting plants hidden in the grass or snuggled beside rocks.The next day we headed for the Red Desert section of the Reserve, which was fascinating.Here we found lots of special plants too. Having experts who knew the names of just about everything with us, was great. We found one very rare plant, but I have forgotten what it was. Just as I have forgotten the names of most of what we saw. The plants don’t know their names, so I think it doesn’t really matter.
It was really windy, so it was difficult to photograph the plants – most of my pictures are blurry.I saw lots of things I had never seen before, including this Bulbine with orange stripes on the flowers.
What a lot of fun we had! Learn more about CREW at: http://www.sanbi.org.za/programmes/threats/crew