The rarest spring show on earth
Imagine for a moment that nine months of each year of your existence is spent lying low, quietly waiting, inconspicuous and unremarkable within your surroundings.
Then, for a few short weeks in spring, when the time is right, you emerge most spectacularly with radiating glory, donning the brightest colours.
This is pretty much the annual life cycle of Renosterveld, the Cinderella of the Cape Floral Kingdom family of plants which only shows its true beauty in spring when the dormant bulbs put out their flowers.
Renosterveld occurs in the most active agricultural areas of the Western Cape and is consequently highly threatened.
Much of it is found on privately owned land making it tricky to conserve – which is why WWF South Africa, the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust and some incredible farmers have come together to find a way of protecting this beautiful natural heritage (see sidebar).
1. Speckled beauty
This striking Iris with its ink-like speckles at the centre is so rare, there is only one known population remaining. Owing to habitat loss, many Moraea species here are on the brink of extinction. It is critically endangered.
2. Under pressure
Aristea biflora, also commonly known as a Windowed Aristea
More than 80% of this delicate flower’s habitat has been lost to wheat cultivation. It is now found in very fragmented subpopulations and is declining due to alien plant invasion, bad fire regimes and urban expansion around the towns of Caledon and Middleton. This endangered species is red data listed.
3. Occasional visitor
Ferraria crispa, also known as a Krulletjie, Spinnekopblom
Widespread in the Western and Eastern Cape, preferring rocky or cool slopes. Occasionally found in Overberg renosterveld. The flowers occur sporadically from August to October, last for one day, smell of mould (to attract fly pollinators) and have brown and yellow mottled colours.
4. Bold blue beauty
Nemesia barbata, commonly called a Bloubaardbekkie
It can grow up to 30cm and bares blue and white snapdragon-type flowers. They are found on loamy or clay soils in fynbos and Renosterveld flats and slopes. Generally found between Kamiesberg and Riversdale.
5. Going under
Morea elegans, sometimes more commonly called a Poutulp
Found between Stellenbosch to Bredasdorp, this beautiful yellow-and-orange Iris is threatened in the wild due to severe habitat fragmentation and loss owing to ploughing for agricultural expansion. It is endangered and found on only a handful of sites.
6. A rose by any other name
Not only bulbs reveal their beauty in spring. There are many shrubs, such as this beautiful Aspalathus, which also flower in August/September. This rare species is a member of the pea (Fabaceae) family. Status: Endangered.
*The Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust, in partnership with WWF-SA and several caring farmers have set out to test a new conservation structure – called a Conservation Easement - giving landowners an accessible model to conserve their land and protect precious fragments of Renosterveld.
A conservation easement is a conservation servitude put over the land and signed in favour of a recognised entity. It is attached to a title deed restriction in perpetuity and is governed by a management plan, which is developed through the partnership.
The first easement in Renosterveld was signed in February and the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust has at least another four easements in progress.