Thursday, 28 October 2010

More to the local than meets the eye

Crassula expansa

Now here is a fairly common, local and widespread plant, that on first glance looks like a roadside weed, something related to a  Portulaca or Purslane, maybe...?
Definitely not. It is one of the members of the Stonecrop family or on a scientific level, would reveal it to belong to the Crassulaceae family. There are worldwide about 200 species of Crassula and of that, about 140 species occur in the warmer, drier, interior parts of Southern Africa. Another major group of plants, which this country is blessed with in abundance. The plants in this family range from small annuals to large bushes - from aquatic vlei plants to succulent desert dwellers, pushed to the extreme and forced to survive the harshest of conditions.
The photographs were taken whilst enjoying bundu bashing, with some friends from De Rust and Oudsthoorn on privately owned land and was amongst the first of the indigenous succulent plants we encountered. It is well known that this region has the highest concentration of succulent plants in the  whole world. About 81 out of 100 succulent plants found here are endemic and found no where else in this country, let alone the whole world .... Astounding!
The crassula family is very intersting in that there are records in England, dating back some 300 years, stating that two other related members of the crassula family have been used in the florist industry for their remarkable flowers. These are still popular today, they are namely crassula coccinea (for its intense red colour) and crassula falcata for its contrast red flowers against the scissor like grey leaves.
So our crassula expansa which is to be found widespread and locally common in the De Rust, Oudtshoorn and Calitszdorp district is more than  just a common weedy looking plant. It also has enormous potential to be used as a wonderful groundcover. It clump forms but is easily grown from pieces and shoots. If it grows on the side of the road in harsh conditions, it would be a wise choice to acquire it for gardens and nurseries. I think it also would do well in hanging baskets or for companion planting in containers, as it fills quickly and also has a tendency to creep and hang off the edge well. It is best suited to the environment where it occurs naturally, therefore this makes it a sensible choice.
The plant is described at being a dwarf, tufted perennial with jointed stem portions and a narrow, pointed cylindrical type of succulent leaf often with a dark stripe cutting the leaf in two. The afrikaans name of ‘Strepies’ comes to mind, due to this dark stripe. Flowers are very small and white, found on the tips and usually have a small stalk attached and are on their own, not really clustered. Flowering takes place mostly throughout the summer months. It also more likely to occur in sandy soils. The best feature of the plant is when the leaves turn an autumn red colour in the winter as opposed to the greenish tint it gets when one gives it water in summer.
However odd it may seem, I hope the truth of this wonderful plant has now shocked you into believing that your local pavement special is actually a gem waiting to be discovered and transported from a sidewalk junkie straight into your very own garden.
Judd Kirkel

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Forest of Ferns - Prince Alfred Pass

On a recent visit to the Knysna forests from Uniondale down the Prince Alfred Pass, which is spectacular and awe-inspiring, we stopped to investigate the Forest of Ferns. 

One inevitably gets overwhelmed by the sheer scale of plant diversity in the forests. A case in point is the fern species found growing near streams, on rotting logs, in trees, along roadsides, in full sun, in dappled sun, part shade, full shade and deep shade. 

 They are difficult to identify, and some nurseries erroneously sell plants they will swear upon to be indigenous forest ferns. There are at least 65 different species of indigenous forest ferns identified by botanists and at least 125 different tree species. 

There are minature forests growing on fallen logs and undergrowth, a myriad ancient trees and many different shrubs and smaller trees. The elders were in bloom, their crowns adorned with clusters of white flowers allowing easy identification among the stinkwoods, keurboom, yellowoods, wild mulberry, Cape chestnut, lightning bush and many others.

These are primordial forests (untouched by man) with 800 year old yellowoods and gives one a sense of the geological time one experiences in die oervlakte.

Although there are only pockets of primordial forests left in this area, they are accessible to the public and are our heritage to experience, learn from and enjoy.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Dr Chris Lee gives feedback from International Geoscience Education Conference

With great excitement this post from Dr. Chris Lee

I went to a Geological Society South Africa meeting the last week, the GeoHeritage and Education meeting, as part of the International Geoscience Education Conference. 
"The importance of relating the story of South Africa's unique geological heritage has been recognised by the Geological Society of SA, the Council for Geoscience and others ... Various programmes are in place to document and showcase the geological superlatives of the country and a number of publications on this subject have been produced or are planned", this quote is from an introductory address to the meeting. 

Among the several topics was the proposal that national "Iconic Landscapes" be considered. "The landscapes proposed are based on their distinctive or unique geological character and then on important associated natural, cultural and historical features and tourism value". Several critiria are listed that would define an "Iconic Landscape". Some 20 landscapes have been listed, one of which is the "Great Karoo Landscape".

I introduced die oervlakte book to several of the more influential attendees at the meeting, and it was greeted with good interest. Clearly this book will go a long way towards defining the "Little Karoo Landscape", and meets the criteria for an Iconic Landscape. 

I have proposed to the Geological Society that the next GeoHeritage meeting be held in the area. 

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

To all the potential end-users in die oervlakte this space will be where they can get the latest news on the establishment of this new exciting route, post their comments, become followers, send their interesting news to be included in the blog and start networking.

Information to be placed on the blog to be sent to:

Presentations will be held in Uniondale, Willowmore and de Rust to invite the end-users to become part of die oervlakte. The association envisages the dates to be the beginning October, but it will be advertised on the blog once finalised.

A 76 page book on die oervlakte will be published. Co-authored by Leon Nell, author of four travel books published by Struik: The Garden Route and Little Karoo (2003), Knysna - a Visitor's Guide to South Africa's most popular Coastal Town (2005), Oudtshoorn - A Visitor's Guide to the Ostrich Capital of the World (2005) and The Great Karoo (2008). 
Geologist, Dr. Chris Lee who has published work in international geological journals, compiled geological guide books, worked the South African and international mining sector doing geological exploration and research and conducted many geological field excursions, has also co-authored this publication. 
This book has only been printed digitally to start with and can be viewed at different establishments in Uniondale (The Little Theatre Café, The Lodge and Bon Accord), de Rust (The Village Trading Post) and Willowmore (Sophie's Choice and The Baviaans Information Centre. Publication will take place once the end-users, to be included in the back of the book, have come on board and the route is established.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Objectives
The prime purpose of the association is to foster a greater appreciation and  understanding of the area encompassing de Rust, Uniondale, Willowmore and environs.
The objective is to engender the development of the tourist potential of this unique region. By so doing, the association will help facilitate the economic growth and job creation possibilities that are inherent and nascent, thus providing benefit to all its inhabitants through personal growth and financial upliftment.

 Geological Route 
This route will take you past all the major geological phenomena in die oervlakte and give an insight into and understanding of the geological time of the earth’s history.
Cape Supergroup rocks, including the Table Mountain sandstone (also mudstone and sandy  mudstone) were formed over a 100 million year period from 450 to 350 million years ago. Erosion of ancient rocks lying to the north of the present landscape was the source of the sand and mud; these sediments were deposited in a vast but shallow inland sea.
In the period 270 to 230 million years ago, after the sand and mud had hardened to sandstone and shale, the rocks were bent and shattered to give the great range of mountains seen today, the Cape Fold Belt. This mountain range was part of a larger Gondwana fold event. The scale of the folding and faulting can be appreciated from the knowledge that the Falkland Islands were once attached to the eastern end of the Fold Belt, migrating towards South America during the breakup of Gondwana 180 to 90 million years ago.

Environmental Route

This route will enchant plant lovers in discovering the biodiversity of the region. In the eastern part of die oervlakte, the Baviaanskloof (Valley of Baboons) mega-reserve, World Heritage Site and hailed as ‘The World’s Hottest Hotspot’ for plant diversity and endemism, boasts no fewer than seven of South Africa’s eight biomes, including fynbos, subtropical thicket, nama karoo, succulent karoo, grassland, savanna and forest biomes.
In the north and west, the more arid foothills and slopes of the mountains in die oervlakte are represented by succulent karoo (little succulent karoo and spekboomveld – the latter mainly on north-facing slopes) that grades into renosterveld, usually in transitional zones between succulent karoo and fynbos, and where the rainfall is higher. Fynbos vegetation types are found on higher altitudes on the mountains of die oervlakte and floristically belong to the Cape floristic region. Several endemics such as certain haworthia species occur on the gravely soils of the Enon conglomerate formations. 
The southern parts of die oervlakte feature the magnificence of vegetation types represented by all the fynbos communities, including grassy, asteraceous, restioid, ericaceous, proteoid and closed-scrub fynbos.   

Historical Route
die oervlakte is steeped in history that spans almost 100 000 years – beginning with the Khoi and the San who reigned supreme in southern Africa, to more recent events such as the arrival of European settlers and pioneer farmers exploring the hinterland and the beginning of Karoo-tradition farms, the founding of quaint towns, the building of majestic mountain passes by South Africa’s greatest road-builder and the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
Explore the little towns in die oervlakte where Boer and Briton fought each other bitterly the one day, to cease fire and celebrate the Queen’s birthday the next, just to commence battle immediately after celebrations were over. An old fort stares down on Uniondale in silent testimony of those turbulent times. British Royalty explored die oervlakte on a number of occasions. In 1925 the Prince of Wales and then future King of England, Edward VIII, announced that the mountains near de Rust were the most beautiful in the world. The Queen Mother and her entourage visited die oervlakte in 1925 and 1947 and clipped ostrich feathers to take back to Buckingham Palace.
History is not just found in towns, museums and old churches, but often in remote farmsteads of die oervlakte where virtually forgotten anecdotes and stories are carried over by word of mouth from one generation to another.  

Cultural Route
One of the oldest cultures in the world is reflected on the many rock faces across die oervlakte where imagery of the Bushmen or San activities are depicted as paintings of hundreds, sometimes thousands of years ago. Virtually all the paintings are on private land or in nature reserves and visitors are requested to ensure that the sites are indeed open to the public before embarking on an excursion to a given site. All ancient rock galleries form part of our heritage and are protected by law.
Some of South Africa’s best-known authors lived and worked in die oervlakte. C.J. Langenhoven, the composer of the country’s Afrikaans version of the anthem, carved “Herrie” out on a rock in Meiringspoort. Herrie was the elephantine protagonist of his stories who travelled from Oudtshoorn past de Rust into Meiringspoort, drawing a double-decker bus and wreaking havoc along the way. Dalene Matthee, author of numerous books, including four famous forest novels, lived in Uniondale while working on Circles in a Forest. Afrikaans author Etienne le Roux and acclaimed sculptor Moses Kottler grew up near de Rust. The true culture of die oervlakte can still be experienced on many traditional working farms with guest facilities.     

The different routes bring to life the ecology of the area - including birding, the ancient structure of the topography, the culture, the intriguing and sometimes tragic history of the people. The four different routes will be demarcated by the tortoise in different colours representing the different routes as the "pathfinder".

This area has much to offer and we would like to encourage all to participate in exploring and contributing to understanding the immense diversity of die oervlakte.

Please send any information to be posted on this blog to the following email address:

Monday, 2 August 2010

Standing on the Ancient African Surface, one is immediately aware of the surface - covered in pebbles of different sizes, patterns and colours. On closer inspection many appear to have been formed by eons of wind and water abrasions, some seem to be miniature conglomerates and others just pretty stones, but one is overwhelmed by the geological time of the place. Looking down the valley more hills with their thick duricrust tops can be seen, all capped at the same height – giving a glimpse into the millions of years of erosion, accumulation, sediments, dry periods and wet periods of this enchanted, magical place they call the Little Karoo.
If one lingers a while, one meets a special traveller – we never know where he comes from or where he is going, but he seems as old as die oervlakte itself. Beautiful patterns adorn his back and he imparts a feeling of things primordial, things permanent and determined. He is either the beautiful angulate, leopard or tent tortoise.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

die oervlakte offers the traveller vistas of unsurpassed visual landscapes which only the Cape Fold mountains and fertile valleys in all their splendour can offer. Visitors have at their fingertips a range of environmental, geological, cultural and historical information. The different routes bring to life the ecology of the area, the ancient structure of the topography, the culture and the intriguing and sometimes tragic history of the people.
The area from Studtis in the Baviaanskloof in the east to just past de Rust in the west; the Swartberg and Baviaanskloof Mountains in the north; the Outeniqua Mountains, Prince Alfred’s Pass and de Vlugt in the south, answers every visitor’s dream.