The Cactus Patch
Volume 8       January 2005      Number 1

Millennium Madness
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

On the 20th of Nov., we went shopping in Mafeking and visited the museum there. Among the items in the gift shop was a piece of tamboti wood (Spirostachys africana of the Euphorbiaceae) which had been used as a roof beam in Baden-Powel's HQ (Minchin's Law Office) during the Boer War. Interestingly, we found the same wood in the roof beams of the old building being restored (at long last) in our botanic garden. It has a highly poisonous latex and is therefore immune to insect attack.

On the 22nd, the Hoodia from Bokspits bloomed. It is Hoodia gordonii, the very species that is being developed for weight loss in South Africa. The flower is just at the bottom end of the range for the species. We are still looking for H. officinalis that grows on the South African side of the border.

On the 25th, there was a launching of a new book "Voices of the San" (le Roux & White eds., 2004, Kwela Books, Cape Town) which is a collection of interviews throughout the region. There was quite a show of song, dance and artwork. We were also well fed, which was a good thing, as this constituted our Thanksgiving "feast".

On the 27th our choir joined with three other choirs at the "President's Concert". Mogae was there, but it was not as good nor as well attended as previous years.

On the 30th, we again went to Good Hope and Polly did quilting using newly repaired machines while I led the first part of yet another Millennium Seed Bank trip. That day we stopped at Hildavale and collected seed from Senecio oxyriifolus (with cute round leaves) and Mestoklema tuberosa (with both purple and orange flowers) as well as digging up a disk-like tuber of Ceropegia pachystelma? -- no flowers yet.

Next day we drove south through the village of Hebron and found a Cyphostemma which is new to Botswana. It might be Cyphostemma humile which is known from South Africa and Zimbabwe. It has furry succulent leaves and was blooming. On the 2nd of Dec. we visited Kgoro Pan near Good Hope and found another Cyphostemma, probably Cyphostemma hereroensis which has been previously collected in Botswana. It has hairless succulent leaves and had clusters of green "grapes". Both were described at Good Hope as medicinal, but it is wise to be careful as they may have a high oxalic acid content, as does dumb cane (Dieffenbachia). (Polly is a witness to this -she lost her voice from eating "grapes" I recommended in Northern Botswana in 1969.)

That afternoon we went to Diabo Hill, one of three known localities for Lithops in Botswana. There was a new road, gravel mining and a house on top of the hill! We are working on creating a National Monument to save what is left. There were few Lithops but we did manage to collect fruit. We also found a healthy population of Anacampseros subnuda and some plants of Brachystelma circinatum. One of the Brachystelmas had small yellow flowers and another large purple flowers, a phenomenon which occurs in other species of the tribe Ceropegieae (e.g. Orbea lutea).

The rest of the crew went on to Bokspits where they found the new Hoodia as well as a new locality for Sarcocaulon (or should it be Monsonia? I should support my fellow lumpers). Polly & I returned to Gaborone and a brief rest. On the 5th, we went on a Bird Club walk and had breakfast with the McColaughs who feasted us to celebrate their birthdays.

That evening we registered for music camp and were entertained by a local play " The Facilitator in Rehearsal". It was another of many on AIDS, but was not as outright "preachy" as most. The theme for the camp this year was "Mad About Music". Polly did choral singing again with Charles Lesia and I tried to learn Segaba (a one-stringed violin) with the Captain (Sight Mongweotsile, retired from the BDF). The food was good and we had a great week, but it was nice to be able to go home at night.

On Thursday the 9th, we all went out to Matsieng, a National Monument with "footprints" of a giant in the rock. There were frothy egg masses from the giant grey tree frog hanging above the rock pools. (The tadpoles drop down into the water when they hatch out.) That evening Polly and I sang a duet "Baby it's cold outside" as part of the student entertainment. Next evening we saw a play that had been banned in Zimbabwe. "Super Patriots & Morons" portrays a "mythical" mad dictator, but it takes little imagination to see him as Mugabe. (It reminded us of the 60's when the films in Botswana were advertised as "banned in South Africa".)

Finally, on Saturday we put on a free show outdoors at the central mall in the morning and a paid (first time) show in the evening. Costs have skyrocketed and the enrolment was down to 70 from the usual 100 even though campers were only charged a third of the actual cost.

It rained during music camp, which kept things cool, but we are still asked to conserve water, as the dam is low. We are hoping for a lot more rain in the next two months.

Polly is working at the re-opened thrift shop, but it is in crowded quarters and is not its old booming self. We have been banned from the local cinema (for asking to see all the credits!) so we will have to catch up on current films when they come out in video in the States. At least we still have the film club for "oldies". Right now, we are enjoying a "Finnish Festival", although they drag a bit.

When I wrote about "Water Babies" last month, Polly surmised that the book did not include it in the bibliography because "Almost Like a Whale" was British and it would be assumed common knowledge there. I countered that it had been made into a Disney cartoon so even Americans should know it. (Admittedly, though, it has not been shown in a very long time.) Polly kindly looked up information on the Internet to get the date inserted in last month's letter. At any rate, to my surprise, it appeared again, this time in an American book, "Dinosaurs in a Haystack" by Stephen Jay Gould (1995, Harmony Books, New York). There, Charles Kingsley is described as a great liberal theologian and a good friend of Huxley, which explains why he appears in books on evolution.

We finally splurged and bought a replacement for the red Citi Golf. We bought a one year-old blue Hyundi, the newest car we have ever owned. It is a real sawed-off runt, but David Slater, who sold us the Citi Golf, already has dibs on it when we sell it.

Daniel Mofokate, our herbarium technician with Cyphostemma humile

Polly and I singing "Baby It's Cold Outside"
(on a hot Dec. night)

The Captain and I playing segaba

Two plants of Brachystelma circinatum

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