Study Abroad to South Africa

Crazy Cacti and Succulents

As mentioned in previous posts we have successfully arrived in Montague which is located in the Karoo.  The weather has continued to be hot and dry.  On October 10th  we visited Karoo Desert Botanical Garden.  Karoo Botanical Garden is one of the nine National Botanical Gardens in South Africa and is part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).  Karoo means “Place of Thirst”.  It is located in an arid region and focuses on conservation of the succulent flora.

Shortly after reaching our destination, before we were even out of the vans, we were greated by some of the local wildlife.  A Puff Adder (snake) was slithering across the road in front of us.  We paused to let it pass and take some photos.  Not long afterward a tortoise also was making its way across the road.  We were later told that Puff Adders are the second fastest striking snake!  I must say I’m glad that I stayed in the car!!!

The Karoo Destert Botanical Garden is focused on conservation of succulent flora that is native to the continent.  Their collection is grouped by family and they have roughly 90% of the species for each group of genera in their collection.  To aid in proper care of the plants each pot has a colored tag.  The different colors are codes for time of rainfall in the species natural environment.  This allows for easy watering and insures that plants do not get watered at the wrong time of the year.

Karoo hosts between 1500-1700 plants in its collections alone.  In addition to this are the nursery and outdoor garden areas.  Each year 8000-9000 plants are planted out in the garden displays.   About three times this amount are propagated yearly.

After leaving the garden we stopped for lunch at a cafe that was located in a garden center.  We were able to enjoy lunch while also getting to see some of the plants that are sold here at a nursery.

We ended the day’s adventures with a quick stop along highway to climb a large rock outcropping.  At the top was an old English Fort that looked out over the the road and surrounding mountain range.   It was amazing to see the plants growing in a natural habitat,  including a fairly large Crassula growing among the rocks.

On the morning of the 11th we started our day’s adventures by visiting  Sheilam Cacti and Succulent Garden.  There we were greeted and given a tour by a wonderful hostess Minette.  While this is a small garden the main focus is a nursery.  They grow many different cacti, succulents and Cycads as well as some other plants from seed and cuttings.  The nursery, originally a Apricot and Ostrich Farm, was started a little over fifty years ago and has grown to over three hectares.

One of the biggest challenge the nursery faces is educating the public about preserving biodiversity.   Plant poaching is a huge problem and most people do not want to pay for plants that they can collect from their native habitat.  However, this action is very detrimental to the natural ecosystem.  Sheilam is trying to educate people about preserving the wonderful plant life they have and encouraging them to by plants that have been propagated through seed rather that collected from the wild.

Water is also another challenge for the garden.  Water pumped from the river and used as irrigation can have a high salt content and be damaging to the nursery plants.  Due to this they have lined the entire dam with black plastic to prevent salt from leaching.  The main sources for their water come from the mountains as well as tanks that collect rainwater throughout the rainy season .  The greenhouses used in this facility are basic and function well with what nature provides to grow healthy plants.  There is no electricity and the sun provides natural light as well as heat.

After our Tour of Sheilam we stopped for a quick bite to eat and then proceeded to a tour of Olyfberg an Olive Farm.  On the farm we participated in a olive and olive oil tasting, visited the production factory as well as their nursery and orchard.

The farm is 17 years old and was previously a lucerne and vegetable farm. Lucerne is a plant that is used for cattle feed, it is known in the United States as Alfalfa.  There are nine cultivars of olives and seventy one planted hectares.  The farm only produces extra virgin olive oil, this means that the oil is only pressed once.

The harvesting season is  February through August.  The olives are sorted, any bruised olives are used for oil and only perfect olives are used for production of table olives.  After being picked and transported to the factory they are graded once again to check for imperfections and also sorted by size.  Processing removes any leaves and twigs, and they are washed with water four to fourteen times before being used for food products.  If they are made into oil they are pressed and the pits removed.  The water and oil are seperated and only pure oil is used.

The Nursery was started mainly for the sale and distribution of olive trees to the local area. Olives are becoming quite popular here and are not readily available.

There are more adventures to come, but that is it for today.  Thank you for following!

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Nicole B.

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4 responses

  1. Janet Snyder

    Sounds like you are all having a wonderful time. Watch out for those snakes, especially around the rocks as they like them for hiding and heat. The cactus are marvelous. I don’t know if Tim remembers but I grew some from seed when they were little kids. They were neat to watch grow! Continue to have a wonderful and safe adventure!! Looking forward to more ‘tales’ and lots of pictures! Janet ….aka Tim’s Mom : – )

    October 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm

  2. Colleen Williams

    Fantastic posts, guys and gals! I look forward to reading about your adventures each day and enjoying the great photos. What an amazing trip!!

    -Colleen, Library Intern

    October 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm

  3. belynn

    Great write-up. Thank you for sharing.

    October 13, 2011 at 8:56 am

  4. Gorgeous Pictures!!!!

    October 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

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