The Cactus Patch
Volume 10       March 2007      Number 03

A Slow Startup
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

As usual, things didn't get going until the middle of January when most people were back from leave. There was a bit of a pileup on museum talks but I managed to get in a talk on the 24th called "What is a cactus - and what are these American plants doing in Africa?" This started with a tour of North & South America followed by an indigenous Rhipsalis in Malawi, The second half covered all those invaders which continue to be brought across the Atlantic.

That evening there was a book sale and one of the sale items was, "The World Encyclopedia of Cacti and Succulents" by Miles Anderson (2000, Hermes House, London). Even at the bargain price of P62 (about $10) it was only just worth it. Lots of color pictures, but some could be better. The Sesamothamnus is a very young plant, the Pedilanthus pitiful, and the Huernia levyi looks nothing like the ones in Botswana. On p.9 there is a Kleinia but on p. 202 the name Senecio is used. I much prefer the latter, but whichever is used, it should be used consistently. Some of the "habitats" are ludicrous. For Zamioculcus they list Africa! (This is a red data species of Zimbabwe.) Africa is also listed for Portulacaria afra of South Africa as well as a couple of different sansevierias.

On the 25th an Orbea bloomed. It turns out to be Orbea carnosa subsp. keithei, a plant which I discovered in 1989 on the first trip with the National Museum. This time I had collected in just north of Bobonong (25 April 2005) and did not recognize it as it was much bigger and had no flowers. (I tentatively listed it as Orbea huillensis, but was surprised to find it so far south. I should have recognized the long narrow tubercles.) The variation in plant size is found in many genera of carrion flowers - probably due to multiple sets of chromosomes. I found a third location for the species in Nov. 2005, but this will be flooded when they build a new dam.

On the 26th the Swedish Ambassador paid a courtesy call to see the botanic garden. She reminded us that Linnaeus is 300 this year, so we have promised to put up an exhibit. A representative from Kew Gardens showed up at the same time, so we had an interesting tour.

On the 1st of February the Millennium Seed Bank bunch went to Mochudi to look for a couple of Arctotis species (African daisies). They are listed in our red data book based on South African records, but we didn't find them. I suspect they were escaped garden hybrids. We did find a couple of wild cucumbers in bloom. One of them, Coccinea sessilifolius, has semisucculent leaves as well as a huge juicy tuber.

On the 4th we went with the Bird Club to the Metsemotlhabe River. Lots of birds, a few succulents (Sansevieria aethiopica was just past blooming), and a field full of dried gourds. That afternoon Polly drove down to Good Hope for yet another session of quilting. She returned on the 6th.

On the 8th I gave a talk on "The Cucumber Family in Botswana" which was sponsored by the Botswana Society. Only a few more books were sold, but this included a copy for the Russian Ambassador. I showed color slides, which is a lot better than the black-and-white sketches in the book. I also had a display of plants including a gourd rattle from the museum in Mochudi and gourds from the field visited on Sunday.

Orbea carnosa subsp. keithei


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