Collecting a Collection

The motley Midlands CREW were warmly welcomed to Lion’s Bush by Gina Brown with tea and polenta cake, coffee and fresh scones.

r CREW plant pressing 003The occasion was a Plant Collecting and Pressing Workshop facilitated by Christina Potgieter of the Bews Herbarium at UKZN. CREW is the acronym of Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers – volunteers who help SANBI collect data on special plants around the country.

A diverse group including 16 year old school boys and 60 year old midlands ladies gathered to learn how to press plant specimens properly.r CREW plant pressing 014

We were fascinated to learn from Christina that there are 150 000 plant specimens in the Bews Hebarium, some over 100 years old. “Even 300 year old specimens from other Herbaria are still used. They preserve the information about the plants forever and help make decisions about our environment.”

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After an introduction on how to correctly collect, press and label, we headed into the sunshine to collect plants.

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Everyone had a different favourite and there was much discussion about different species.
Fisokuhle Mthiyane chose plumbago, known as umuthi wamadoda in Zulu. It is best to collect plants when they are in flower as this makes them much easier to identify.r CREW plant pressing 027

Christina demonstrated how to prepare difficult fat bulbs by cutting them into slices, how to scrape out much of the flesh of aloes, and the importance of using a solvent first when the leaves have a waxy coating. We must have looked unconvinced, as she said “You’ll be amazed at how quickly a thick stem will dry.”

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We got stuck in to filling out our labels with all the necessary details: The name of the plant; the location – GPS and a description; the habitat; the growth habit of the plant, including the colour, height, growth form, bark etc; the date collected, the Collectors name and Collection number.r CREW plant pressing 007

We poured over Pooley’s ‘Wildflowers of KZN’ to identify all the different specimens, learning new names and interesting facts as we shared our knowledge.

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Lungelo Malinga chose an Arum – Zantedeschia sp. Zulu name intebe.

r CREW plant pressing 023The fleshy seed head had to be cut in half and the long stems folded to fit the size of the specimen sheet.

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While they are certainly nice to have, we learnt that it is not necessary to have smart presses and special blotting paper. A braai grid with cut up beer boxes and sheets of newspaper will actually do fine.

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Other useful tips were: Don’t get rid of all the soil on the roots or burnt and chewed leaves – these give clues about pollinators, climatic conditions and events which may be useful in future.
The most important thing is to change the newspaper every few days while the plant dries to get rid of excess moisture and prevent mould forming.

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Members of the SANBI Millennium Seed Project came up from Pietermaritzburg especially. “We enjoyed ourselves, learned a lot and we are inspired to do collections. We look forward to joining more CREW fieldtrips.” said Dineo Dibakwane

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The Grade 10 learners from Shea O’Connor School took the large press with all their specimens back to school. Sbongokhule Sithole was really excited. “We are going to collect and press all the plants in the wetland at our school because the wetland is our project for Eco-Schools this year.” Their Life Sciences teacher, Antonia Mkhabela, reported that they were so excited telling her about the day, all speaking at once. “The enjoyment was written on their faces. They feel like stars because they have learnt something which no one else at school knows about. Tomorrow they will be planting all the indigenous plants they were given and have reminded me to bring extra newspapers so they can do more pressing!”

Gina said afterwards “I learnt so much and feel really inspired to get going with some collecting now.” 

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