The Cactus Patch
Volume 6       December 2003      Number 12

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

On 8th May Polly & Anita Paul (from quilting group) went South to the town of Good Hope (just West of Pitsane where the Jameson Raid began). They stayed at the home which Dineo Mogape (a social worker in Gaborone) is building and worked on quilting with a church group there. This proved popular (especially when Polly adjusted hand crank sewing machines to return them to working order) and a further trip was planned.

On the 17th of May the Bird Club visited Kgoro Pan just North of Good Hope to see the Shortclawed Lark which just comes across the border from South Africa. I was more impressed with the pineapple lilies (Eucomis autumnalis) with tufts of leaves above the flowers which give them their English name. Even better, I found a plant of Euphorbia pseudotuberosa, a species known from one collection in Botswana. (This had been found at Ranaka, a village quite a bit North of Kgoro Pan by Dr. Lilian Turton (retired chemistry instructor turned botanist) and her friend Chris Sydes.)

Euphorbia pseudotuberosa

I planned to join Polly when they went back for sewing, but all plans were put on hold after the car crash on 19th May. (Incidentally, the Kgoro Pan trip was the last major use of our Citi Golf.)

Totally unrelated to the above, in April Botswana entered into an agreement with Kew Gardens in England to collect seed of rare and endangered species for a "Millenium Seed Bank". Due to drought, collection was put off until November. Paul Smith arrived from Kew on the 3rd, gave a lecture explaining the project at the Museum on the 4th and on the 5th drove down to Good Hope to begin seed collecting. Tents sprouted all over Dineo’s lawn (Polly and I stayed inside) and then we proceeded SW to a population of Boscia foetida subsp. minima (a short type of smelly shepherds’ tree which grows flat on the ground!) We managed to collect a number of ripe fruits with seed.

Next day we drove back to Pitsane and searched the thorny acacias for Orbea tapscotii and eventually found a couple of clumps of this stapeliad with a few fruits (too few to harvest). We also located Nananthus aloides (relative of Lithops), but only one old capsule was seen. Another succulent located was Drimia ciliaris, a lily with succulent white bulb scales which come off and can be rooted. No flowers or fruits were found.

We left the group to continue its ten-day trip around Botswana and returned to Gaborone. The next week on the 13th Polly, Lilian Turton and Dineo went back to Good Hope and helped the group there sew a banner. I revisited Kgoro Pan at the same time and managed to find the Euphorbia in flower and seed. I also found Brachystelma foetidum in full stinking bloom. This is the first time for me, although it is recorded for here. Dineo and her friends supplied names and uses for these and many other plants found there.

Brachystelma foetidum

On the 14th I drove to Metlojane, a village west of Good Hope, and located another Nananthus population. I also found Orthanthera jasminiflora in bloom (elsewhere I collected this milkweed in fruit.) Dineo says the nectar is very sweet and she used to suck the flowers as a child. The banner was nearly complete, so we drove back to Gaborone.

The drought seems to be over. We’ve had a couple of good storms and everything is looking green. It came a little late for a lot of animals, however. Hundreds of sheep and goats and some cattle died when there was a sudden cold spell. Even a lot of impala at the Gaborone Dam and some of the naturalized camels died. We had a dead cow in the Botanic Garden! (The construction has left holes in the fence.)

On the trip to Francistown last month we stopped for refueling at Palapye and I zipped into the pocket bookstore there. I found a coffee-table book titled Robert Jacob Gordon 1743-1795. My first reaction was "who the heck was he", but then the penny dropped! The hoodia which is being commercialized is Hoodia gordonii, and it grows as far north as Gordonia District which is just South of Botswana. I have finally finished reading it and found it fascinating. (For those looking for it, the author is Patrick Cullinan and it was published by Struik Winchester, Capetown in 1992. There are 2500 unnumbered copies and 176 numbered copies.) I was lucky to buy it for only P154 ($30).

Gordon was a Dutchman of Scottish extraction who explored the Cape Province of South Africa and became head of the troops at Capetown. He committed suicide when the British took over. Despite his shortened life he accomplished a tremendous amount. He named and explored the Orange River (previously the Gariep), was the first European to record a group north of the Orange now known as the Batswana (Gordon wrote it as Bejuana). He also described and collected skins of hippos, rhinos and giraffes (new to Europe) as well as numerous plants (including Hoodia gordonii).

The book has numerous color plates which include Aloe dichotoma, Pachypodium namaquanum, Carpobrotus sauerae, Sarcocaulon l’heritieri, Hoodia gordonii and Euphorbia virosa. The latter is preceded by a description of using euphorbias to poison water and kill "kwaggas" (now spelled "quagas") a now extinct type of Zebra which was striped only on the front half. (Last year we visited the Karoo National Park near Beaufort West where they are trying to breed zebra to recreate the "quaga") An interesting plant which is not illustrated is Hydnora africana which Gordon described as a kind of fungus (it is actually a flowering plant) but does record correctly that it grows on Euphorbia roots.

Incidentally, Gordon mentions scale insects on Orange trees and recommends using bitter substances such as aloe, gall, and nicotine to kill them. I doubt that this would work on Aloe scale, a common problem here

As if we don't have enough books, Polly has joined a library group that meets monthly. On 29th Oct. they met at our house and dined on Chinese food. We had three milk crates of books for the month! I'll never catch up on my reading.

Appliqued Banner -- NOT quilted!

Happy turkey day!

Yes, we will have a real turkey -- biggest I could find (8.5 pounds)
AND Pillsbury cranberry muffins from a mix!

In 2001 Thanksgiving was so early, we almost missed it,
but VOA had a program about it so we had cranberry sauce on bisquits as dessert!

No time for a party as it is the dress rehearsal for Haydn's Creation on Friday.
Saturday night we sing "Opera Bravo!": opera choruses and local talented soloists.


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