The Cactus Patch
Volume 5       May 2002      Number 5

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

The new "Flora Zambesiaca" volume on the Euphorbs has inspired me to take another look at some old friends. The schinzii complex has long been one I've looked at both in Malawi and in Botswana. In both cases there is much more variety than is indicated in F.Z. Both E. schinzii and E. limpopoana as well as the newly named E. venterii are listed for Botswana, but there are two populations in the hills just south of Gaborone which don't match these. On the 30th of March we drove down to the pass above Mmankgodi and re-collected a population with taller plants and longer spines than normal E. schinzii. Then we proceeded back towards the main N-S road, stopping along the way at likely places and collecting another plant of the orchid Bonetia as well as some kalanchoes. Across the main road on the outskirts of Ramotswa we recollected from a population which differs from E. schinzii in having tuberous roots and spine-shields that stop just below the long pair. We'll try to get these to flower and then see if they deserve a new status.

Another group I'm working on is Hoodia currorii. In this case there is no taxonomic dispute -- there is only one Hoodia in Botswana. (See my article from Asklepios which should be in the club library.) But I've learned that Hoodia is being used as a new weight loss drug in the U.S. and it is alleged that plants are being exported from Botswana. This is probably true since both South Africa and Namibia, unlike Botswana, have laws protecting theirs. At any rate, a book called "People's Plants" (van Wyk and Gurcke, 2000, Briza, Pretoria) lists a number of hoodias and related stapeliads which are traditionally used to relieve hunger. There are excellent pictures in the book. (This is true of many of the other plants of southern Africa described along with their uses.) It is a fascinating book and I sat down and read the whole thing, although I imagine most people will use it more as a reference volume.

On the 7th of April the Bird Club had a field trip just north of Mmankgodi, but the only Euphorbia was E. griseola, a very common species locally.

The Maitisong Festival officially began on 12th April (although Capital Players snuck in a play on the 11th) with a dance troop from Burkina Faso. Our choir has traditionally ended the festival, but this year we sang "Carmina Burana" on the 13th. Richard Cock (familiar, I'm sure, to all of you who listen to Radio South Africa) brought his larger choir and we all sang under his direction. We also had a local dance group and school choir. It was quite a production and we were the most expensive item on the schedule (P70 =$10).

Polly and I bought season tickets and averaged two shows per day for the nine day festival. This included an evening of jazz with Steve Dyer and a book fair with local authors, including Travers McNeice, the oldest of three kids who wrote about living in the Okavango. Incidently, Travers will soon be studying biology at my old alma mater, UCSB. The highlight of the Festival was a play by Maru a Pula, the high school where most of the festival takes place. It was "the" story behind "El Negro", a museum display body which was recently returned to Botswana and given a proper burial. The low point of the festival was the closing concert which featured the Soweto Symphony Orchestra. They have improved since they accompanied our choir in Lesotho fifteen years ago, but they still need practice.

PREVIOUS LETTER               Bruce's Letters               NEXT LETTER