Why are Public Open Spaces so Important?

Public Open Spaces (POSs) are important assets that should be treasured, respected and protected.  This article by Pam Haynes first appeared on Verdant Life, the KZN Sustainability Forum blog.

An example of Symmonds Stream's symbiotic relationships
An example of a symbiotic relationship between flower and beetle at Symmonds Stream (Nic Ruddiman)

Howick in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa is fortunate to have a hill with a view, historic falls on a river and streams running through the town and suburbs. Over the past seven years our family have been involved with the various volunteer groups Friends of the Falls, Friends of Beacon Hill,  Friends of Symmonds Stream and Friends of Howick uMngeni Museum. Working in groups is sometimes hard and frustrating, but these times are outweighed by the immense benefit we have experienced from a physical, social and spritual point of view .

Symmonds Stream IAP Walk
Symmonds Stream monthly Weed Walk June 2013 after a delicous sponsored tea at Country Lane Guest House (Roger Poole)

Apart from meeting amazing people who have become our friends and colleagues we have learnt a lot about the amazing world of flora and fauna on our doorstep!

Summer 2013 was a case in point. The monthly Symmonds Stream Weed Walk was inaugrated in April. In September, flower fundis Peter Warren and Nic Ruddiman took stunning photos of the indigenous and the invasive alien plant flowers which were identified by members of SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and UKZN  Herbarium. Thanks to Andrew James, Reshnee Lalla, Michael Cheek, Clive Bromilow and Alison Young.

It was amazing to see the variety of indigenous plants flowering in the “transformed” mistbelt grassland above the Symmonds stream in the middle of Howick, i.e. Adhatoda androleda, Anthericum cooperi, Becium obovatum (Cat’s whiskers), Cyrtanthus tuckii (Green-tipped Fire Lily), Eriosema distinctum (Scarlet Eriosema), Eriosema salignum, Eriosema kraussianium or E. simulans, Helichrysum ruderale (Yellow Everlasting), Indigofera alpina, Ipomoea crassipus (Leafy-Flowered Morning Glory), Pelargonium luridium, Sisyranthus trichosomus (Hairy grass flower) and Zantedeschia aethiopica (White Arum lily).

Look at these stunning photos taken by Nic Ruddiman in the grassland above Symmonds stream (Nov 2103).

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Eriosema salignum (Willow-leaved Eriosema, Brown Bonnets) (Nic Ruddiman)
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Eriosema salignum (Willow-leaved Eriosema, Brown Bonnets) (Nic Ruddiman)
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Eriosema simulans (Nic Ruddiman)
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Eriosema simulans (Nic Ruddiman)
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Indigofera alpina (Nic Ruddiman)
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Indigofera alpina (Nic Ruddiman)
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Pelargonium luridum (Starburst Pelargonium) (Nic Ruddiman)
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Pelargonium luridum (Starburst Pelargonium) (Nic Ruddiman)

Other indigenous plants identified were: Acalypha punctata,  Argyrolobium baptisiodes (Common liquorice Bean), Brunsvigia radulosa (Common Candelabra Lily), Chaetacanthus burchelli,  Empodium monophyllum (Autumn Star), Gerbera ambigua, Ledebouria sp. (Spotted Squill), Melvinis nerviglumis, Pentansia prunelloides (Broad Leaved Pentansia), Themeda triandra, Vigna unguiculata (Wild Cowpea) and Zornia linearis.

We were unable to identify some of the flower pics  – can you help?  As an “amateur botonist” I have a lot to learn …  I have been told one can’t just identify a flower from a photo – one needs lots more information i.e. leaves, stem, context etc.!

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Unidentified (Nic Ruddiman)
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Unidentified (Nic Ruddiman)

Finding out about these  plants was so exciting. They are part of a tiny remnant of mistbelt grassland which against all odds has managed to survive in a transformed urban area where regular burning does not occur and the grass is moribund!

Having this information made the monthly Weed Walks (last Tuesday of the month) and walking along the stream so much more meaningful. It motivated me to keep going as a volunteer being involved with the eradication of the invasive alien plants (IAPs), which are having such a detrimental impact on the indigenous flora and fauna along the stream.

Janis Holmes gave me a beautiful photo, taken in 2003, of the Arum lilies in the wetland above Gush avenue. This gave me an idea of how the unchecked growth of the alien vegetation has completely cut off the sunlight from the arum dell.

My curiosity kicked in and I wondered: Where had all these “invaders” come from? How come in the last 11 years there has been such a change ? Apparently many of the alien invasive plants and “emerging weeds” (www.sanbi.com)  are “garden escapees” – this as  result of careless Howick citizens dumping their garden waste over their fences and leaving bags next to the Symmonds stream!

Symmonds stream has been seriously impacted by this “bad practice” as it has progressively become choked with weeds. For 3 years (2010 -2012) the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) (www.duct.org.za) Howick River Care Team monitored the IAPs along Symmonds stream. However, during the past year since the Lotto funding was not renewed, a small group of volunteers (Friends of Symmonds Stream) have had to raise funds and put in a lot of person power to eradicate trees, shrubs, creepers and ground cover that are extremely detrimental to the flow of the stream.

When one looks at photos of the flowers of the alien plants they are so beautiful it is hard to hate them! Here are some photographed in November 2013.

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Commelena fluminensis (Wandering Jew) covers much of the area between Gush and Andrew streets as it is shady. (Nic Ruddiman)
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Oenothera indecora (Evening primrose) (Nic Ruddiman)
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Sonchus aleraceus (Sow thistle) (Nic Ruddiman)
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Trifolium repens (White clover) fodder crop (Nic Ruddiman)
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Trifolium repens (White clover) fodder crop (Nic Ruddiman)
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Veronica persica (Field Speedwell, Birds Eye Speedwell) (Nic Ruddiman)

 Other IAPs identified near the stream: Acacia mearnsii (black wattle), Acer Negundo (ash-leaved maple),  Amaranthis hybridus (pigweed), Araujia sericifera (moth catcher), Canna indica (indian shot),  Cardiospermum grandiflorum (balloon vine), Cirsium vulgare (scotch thistle), Eriobotrya japinica (luoquot tree), Eucalyptus grandis (saligna gum), Fumaria muralis (common ramping fumitory), Ipomoea purpurea, Lantana camara (common lantana), Lonicera japonica (japanese honeysuckle), Macfadyena unguis-cati (cat’s claw creeper),  Nicandra physalodes (apple-of-peru), Physalis angulata (wild gooseberry), Ricinus communis (castor-oil plant), Rubus cuneifolius (american bramble), Sambucus canadensis (elderberry), Senna pendula var. glabrata  (smooth senna), Solanum mauritanium (bug weed), Solanum pseudocapsicum (Jerusalem artichoke) ‘… a favourite ornamental that is becoming a pest in parts of South Africa, especially in cool, moist, shaded habitats. This species has been proposed as a category 1 declared plant, implying that it should be controlled and wherever possible, eradicated. It should not be sold or cultivated. The berries look like edible cherry tomatoes but are toxic.’ (SAPIA News July 2011 No.20) and Titonia diversifolia (Mexican sunflower).

Colourful spiders and insects are everywhere if one looks carefully. Does anyone know the names of these ?

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Orange spider spinning a web (Nic Ruddiman)
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Is this a spider ? (Nic Ruddiman)
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Spotted beetle in Eriosema kraussianium or E. simulans (Nic Ruddiman)
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Can you identify flower and beetle ? (Nic Ruddiman)
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Beetle pollinators (Nic Ruddiman)
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Purple beetle in yellow flower (Nic Ruddiman)
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Can you identify this purple beetle ? (Nic Ruddiman)

While clearing canna indica we noticed a Natal Tree Frog (also known as the Forest Tree Frog: Leptopelis natalensis) on an inkberry (Cestrum laevigatum) leaf. This is an endemic South African species, not being found anywhere else in southern Africa, a charismatic species with a short sharp “nnnyuck” call found in still stagnant water pools and marshes favouring wooded or forested habitat usually along streams. Females are very “caring” and lay their eggs in shallow burrows near the water’s edge and disguise the location with leaves and twigs. After a couple of weeks the tadpoles hatch from the egg capsules and flick and wriggle themselves to the water where their development continues normally!

Forest tree frog next to Symmonds stream November 2013 (Gilbert Whiteley)
Forest tree frog next to Symmonds stream November 2013 (Gilbert Whiteley)

Symmonds Stream is valuable to all of society, not only to people  appreciating nature or walking their dogs but also as a “commons” from which sustainable resources such as firewood and bull rushes for making “amacanci” (sleeping mats) can be sourced.


Women carrying firewood from Symmonds Stream to Shiyabazali informal settlement next to Howick Falls (Ayanda Molefe)

Bullrush leaves collected from Symmonds Stream wetland for sleeping mats (Ayanda Molefe)

What a privilege to have a healthy stream running through our urban Howick neighbourhood.  It has been great to connect with a group of local volunteers who have got together as “Friends of Symmonds Stream” to transform this ecologically threatened Public Open Space into a  piece of paradise.

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A section of Symmonds Stream below Gush Avenue (November 2014)

To find out more about Symmonds Stream or to get involved, please contact us: ducthowick@gmail.com

1 thought on “Why are Public Open Spaces so Important?

  1. Meriel mitchell

    A fabulous story … The Symmonds Stream paradise in the making! What better way to ‘connect’ the community.



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