The Cactus Patch
Volume 9       August 2006      Number 8

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

21st June was a very busy day. First, I gave a talk on “Myths of California & GPS” which was based on a trip to Baja with the Bakersfield Cactus & Succulent Society.

The myths began with the Island of California from an obscure Spanish novel. The name was applied to Baja and then to Alta California, although most people today know only the latter which is the US portion. The GPS myth refers to the fact that we wandered in the desert due to having only a single point. As our son John, formerly in the Coast Guard, commented, this works well only on water where it is possible to follow a straight line! I ended with a local myth of the awesome Boojum. The story says that if you break a branch from one there will be a terrible wind. It must be true because when I knocked a seedling over while carrying it back from Huntington Gardens and broke a small branch, we did, indeed, have a windstorm in the Valley.

While I was talking, Polly picked up my sister, Anne Lee, at the airport. Despite Anne’s jetlag we all went to hear a concert of young musicians set up by Alexander McCall Smith, author of the “Lady Detective “ series on Botswana. He was there in person and spoke as well as signed books. He wore striking orange and green plaid trousers. It was a great evening and the money raised will be used to help young musicians.

Next evening we left Anne to rest and went to hear a panel discussion on city planning in Gaborone sponsored by the Botswana Society. Its nice to see the society in action again after being moribund for years. We also ran into Jon Binns who migrated with us from Malawi to Botswana back in 1969. He has been here ever since.

On Friday the 23rd we went out to Mokolodi Nature Centre for a star gazing session. It introduced Anne to the different stars in the southern hemisphere. We also had demonstrations of dancing and drumming as well as an al fresco meal. The only problem was the cold. On the 24th we looked at the 7th annual women’s exposition at the fair ground, bought books at a sale and then we went back to Mokolodi for Christmas dinner. Things do get mixed up here. There was game meat and wild Kgalagadi truffles - good but not exactly traditional. Not having enough of the place, we drove out to Mokolodi again on Sunday for a look at the animals. We didn’t see the hoped for rhinos, but we did see giraffe and lots of birds.

The rest of the week Anne joined Polly in the usual shopping and meetings, including Book Club on Wednesday evening. On Sunday the 2nd of July we joined the Bird Club for a trip to Gabane (just West of town) and saw lots of birds as well as fruits of “mosata” (an edible milkweed) hanging from trees by the hundreds. (Mosta is actually a vine, but the fruit appeared to belong to the trees.)

So much for the one (Anne)- what’s this 150? On Monday 3 July the South African Indigenous Plant Use Forum met outside of South Africa for the first time! Since I was the fool who invited them I was kept busy for months with organization. We started just after lunch with a welcome by the Dean of Science at the University. The second day we also met at the University and had a panel discussion on Legislation protecting Biodiversity and Intellectual Knowledge.

Wednesday began with a business meeting and then we all went out to Gabane to tour Veld Products Research and Development, a non governmental organisation which is trying to combine wise plant use with community development. We visited projects raising guinea fowl, bees, indigenous fruit trees, possible crops (including seedling Hoodias) and fruit rolls and candies. After lunch we visited National Monuments including the ruins of the Livingstone Mission, rock art and a giant fig. We ended the afternoon at a grove of Aloe marlothii trees which includes hybrids with two other species.

Returning to Gaborone, we went to the Museum for a Plant Products Fair, an al fresco dinner which included mopane caterpillars, and some very good traditional dancing. (I’ll swear one of the dancers was actually in a trance when they “cured” him.) The closing session next day was almost an anticlimax, but I was presented with a signed copy of Ben-Erik van Wyk’s latest book, Food Plants of the World. (2005, Briza, Pretoria). It is a most ambitious undertaking and is unbelievably well done with lots of excellent photos. I was interested to read that “Globe artichoke is a cultigen that was probably developed from the wild artichoke or cardoon (C. cardunculus)” and “Blanched leaf stalks of cardoon are a popular vegetable in France, Spain and Italy.” For those more succulently inclined, there is a page on Cereus peruvianus another on Hylocereus undatus and, of course, a page on Opuntia ficus-indica.

The next day we began a long trek north with Anne, but I’ll save that for next month.

Frank Taylor, founder of Veld Products explaining fruit processing (with elbow blocking Bruce)

Polly, Bruce & Anne - Christmas at Mokolodi

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