Tag Archives: forest ecology

Forest, Fireflies and Camping

Written by Janine Smith, Chairlady of the Midlands Conservancies Forum and Regional Secretary for the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Honorary Officers.


Sixteen kids aged between 3.5 years and 11 years old spent two wonderfully exciting days at Bushwillow Caravan Park in the Karkloof, accompanied by parents and grandparent.


This is thanks to the founders John and Linnet Crow, and Twané Clarke whose dream to give kids in the area the opportunity to learn to love and enjoy the outdoors has become a reality as a result of their hard work and dedication to KRANES club. KRANES is a joint project between the Karkloof Conservancy and the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Lions River Honorary Officers, and this partnership has proven to be invaluable over the 2 years that this club has been running.


This weekend was the first camp out for the club. On Saturday morning, 3 December 2017, excitement filled the air at the caravan park as kids began their weekend of camping and fellowship with other similarly minded children. There were rules that were set. The first was that kids were to assist in setting up the tents.


It was amazing to see all of them knocking pegs into the ground with mallets and running hither and thither taking camping gear out of vehicles, whilst all the time keeping their eyes on the dam, which promised so much fun, but they had a job to do and got on with it.


Finally the beckoning dam was “in bounds” for these hard workers. Next rule, children had to wear life jackets and be accompanied by an adult if they were on the edge or in the dam. A rush to find the life jackets and fishing rods to catch that big one followed, with John teaching them a few basics. Bread was the preferred bait and it certainly was the right choice. Fish of all sizes were caught in abundance. The rods, with the fish on the hook, were hurriedly brought up the bank for all the parents to admire, then dash back to the dam to release the fish (only to be caught again later). The kids had great fun and the fish were well fed. Then they all jumped into the water and had an absolute ball until 14h00 when they were called to the clubhouse for orientation and forest rules were explained and discussed.

Twané sat all the kids in a circle and asked each one to choose an animal beginning with the same letter of the alphabet that their names began with and to share what they loved most about nature and the outdoors. Listening to their explanations of why they loved being in nature was an eye opener, replies ranged from enjoying seeing the flowers in the veld, to sightings and identification of birds, insects and mammals. Ethan Gillings, who is 3.5 years old, said he loved Reedbuck because when they pooed in his yard he collected the droppings to put in the garden, but he didn’t like it when Zebra came and used their garden as a toilet because that was not such nice poo.


Then it was time for the family scavenger hunt, which was lead by Linnet. Each family was given a map of the park and had to find and retrieve various articles from the forest, grasslands and dams. This clever idea was for everyone to become aware of the surrounding area. The kids also learnt to read a map and keep their eyes open whilst walking. When everyone returned to the camp site, the dam called again and a great afternoon of swimming, canoeing and fishing followed.

That evening the kids each helped to make a braai fire safely. This was a highlight as they were even allowed to light the fire themselves.


They were given dough which they put onto a stick (stokbrood) and cooked over the fire. Patience waiting for the dough to cook was put to the test. Then the best of all, syrup was poured into the hole made by the stick.


After everyone had eaten, the campsite looked like a Christmas tree with all the torches dashing around as kids went searching for fireflies and frogs followed by some quiet time and stargazing.


Tired kids and parents had an early night.


Dawn on Sunday beckoned everyone to the dam and once again this body of water became a hive of activity, after kids were chameleons and trees during the sunrise forest yoga.


After a relaxed breakfast, the kids were lead on a forest walk by Linnet and Twané. Twané had explained to the children the difference between a forest and a plantation, so off they went into the indigenous mistbelt forest to look and learn. At about midday the trekkers returned looking fulfilled and tired. Another quick swim in the dam before it was time to pack up camp. Each family left armed with a booklet “My Forest Experience” that the team had put together which included different types of forests, a forest code (leave nothing but footprints), why our forests need to be protected, critters that can be found in forests, signs of the forest (spoor to look out for) and so much more.


Well done to the KRANES team. It was amazing to see kids playing and learning together in nature. No one missed TV or cell phones and the children were taught responsibility and self-discipline. Keep up the good work and thanks for the many hours that you put into these children’s lives. You are helping to foster a generation of conservationists.


The kids found a Yellow-striped Reed Frog amongst the reeds in the dam.

For more information about KRANES and to sign your children up to the mailing list, please visit the Karkloof Conservancy website or email us: karkloofconservation.org.za / info@karkloofconservation.org.za

Exploring Forest Habitats

Thanks to the Dargle Conservancy, the Midlands Conservancies Forum and N3TC, grade 5 and 6 learners from Corrie Lynn Primary School were afforded the opportunity to go on a wonderful school outing on the 24 June 2015. The children were excited to embark on an adventure in the nearby Kilgobbin forest.

Corrie 3 2015

We gathered in the school library and went through the rules of the day. The children laughed initially when I said we were going to be visiting a home, but then I introduced the concept of visiting a habitat and not disturbing the inhabitants just as we would never barge into someone’s home uninvited and behave badly. Some of the children knew exactly what a habitat was and then when I asked them if they knew what biodiversity meant they were quick to respond with ‘lots of different living things’. What bright sparks! I taught them my biodiversity song because it was a fun way to get moving in the chilly morning air.

The group of 19 children split into four groups and each group received a different coloured bandana and came up with a team name. We had The Strawberries, The Superstrikers, The Monsters and The Bananas. Team leaders were appointed with Sibu, Gugu, Gill and Abi taking charge. They received a booklet on the forest and an information sheet on animal tracks to use for reference.

Corrie 2 2015

We gathered in Barend and Helen Booysen’s garden and did some deep breathing exercises in a circle to get relaxed and become more aware of our surroundings. We were ready to enter the magic gate into the whimsical forest! The children were very respectful and soon found seeds, feathers, shells, interesting fungi and lichens. When we reached the stream the groups split up and went habitat hunting to find places where spiders were nesting, interesting burrows in the stream banks and places where civet and mongoose had come to drink. Others found bushpig tracks and porcupine quills, as well as a tiny nest. When this exercise was well and truly done we headed further along the path, gazing up at the huge trees and chatting softly.

Corrie 1 2015

At the next big clearing we settled down and sat with our eyes closed, listening to the unique sounds of the forest. Now that the kids were relaxed we had a storytelling session. Stories included ‘The Memory Tree’, which is about loss and how to heal a sore heart, as well as a funny story called ‘Please Frog, just one sip’. Everyone was starting to feel a little hungry after all the stories, so we headed up to the wonderful campsite for sandwiches, fruit and delicious crisp spring water straight from the hose-pipe. Some children were lucky and spotted a lone samango monkey while we were there.

Corrie 4 2015

We laid out the treasures that had been picked up along the way and on our way back returned them to the forest (apart from a few cape chestnut seeds which the children want to grow and bring back to plant in the forest). We stopped at the bottom of the hill and discussed how protected areas such as this forest are needed for the wild animals to live and hide, breed and roam. The children all agreed that it is very important and that only having domesticated animals in our environment could be very boring.

Corrie 5 2015

We chose to walk back to the gate in complete silence. This was a challenge, but everybody managed it and the group felt very calm and reverent as we bid the forest goodbye. We stopped to admire the huge arum lilies by the stream and then clambered back into our vehicles to head back to school.

Upon our return, the groups gathered once again to write down their experiences: 

  • “It is my first time to go into a forest, it is so peaceful and beautiful and I would like to bring my own children back here some time”. Ms. Chalufa (Grade 1 & 2 teacher who volunteered to accompany us)

  • “Our group saw a mushroom, a monkey and shells of snails. We liked seeing the birds and the big yellowwood trees”. Siyanda Mkhulisi & Nhlonipho Nkomo

  • “We saw lots of things in the forest! Some examples are: a yellow frog, spiders, tree seeds and a loerie bird. Some people think that trees should be cut down or removed- this is not good and we think they should not be allowed”. Samekelisiwe , Wandiswa , Lungelo and Anele

  • “We enjoy(ed) looking for the animal footprints in mud. It was so exciting to be in the forest. We saw birds, a bee and a white butterfly”. Siyabonga, Mxolisi, Samkelo and Bongeka

  • “In the forest we were excited to see a lot of different feathers and kinds of trees, the long, short and big ones. We saw an ant with black spots, a big fungi and bees. We like to walk in the forest”. Thembeka, Fezeka, Kwanele, and Siphesihle

The day ended with big hugs and thanks to Gill & Abi Nelson, who were thrilled to be part of the excitement: “Today was an absolute pleasure! Wish we could do it more often. Thanks for inviting us to join in. Mwah!”

The kids headed home grubby, tired and happy.

Tree Enthusiasts are Enthralled

Everybody won on the two day Forest Ecology Course held in Dargle recently. Eugene Moll, who lives in Cape Town now, got to spend time in the forests he remembers so fondly from his student days, to relax on the veranda of Crowned Eagle Cottage listening to tree dassies call at night and to stir up some controversy around the trees we thought we knew. All his favourite things!

r group forest

Participants were enchanted by his enthusiasm and knowledge and couldn’t believe their luck at having such an expert on hand for a few days. The gorgeous Cairn of Old Kilgobbin provided the perfect venue beside the mist belt forest, the days were sunny and there was hand-made lemon cordial on tap. Life doesn’t get much better than this – especially when you are learning about something as special as our forests.

r eugene explains

In 1965 Eugene completed his Master’s thesis on the Vegetation of the Upper uMngeni Catchment. That is above Midmar dam. He admitted that he got some facts pretty wrong and has since changed his mind about a couple of things. One being that the forests had shrunk greatly. They are not. He told us that in the first surveys of ‘forest’ areas, all the grasslands in between were included! “Forests are aggressive things” he said “Controlled by fire. It is our grasslands we need to protect as they are really ancient – certainly older than most forest trees. Grasslands have shrunk alarmingly.”

r eugene

His views on fire were interesting too. He believed that we have got the burning all wrong nowadays and the very best time to burn grassland is when there is less than 40% humidity, temperatures higher than 40 degrees and the wind speed is about 40 kilometres an hour. We could all imagine the LRFPA having a heart attack!

One thing we all learned was to QUESTION things. To think about what makes a peach a peach, for instance. If we understand the basic characteristics of familiar plants we find in our gardens, we will have a much easier time trying to identify new trees.

r Penz Reshnee Sarah

Everyone was keen to try our they plant id skills using the Keys in various Guide books. Just to confuse everyone Eugene included two samples of Kiggelaria Africana (Wild Peach) – one branch from a mature tree and a twig from a little sapling. They were COMPLETELY different and had everyone puzzled for ages.

r puzzling

Eugene was rather disparaging about many of often difficult to use and ‘unfriendly’ keys. The botanical jargon is hard to understand, descriptions of many characters are too general and photos are non-specific. “What is the point of a photo of the entire tree, when all you can see in the forest is the bark?” he asks.

So we learn that the Guide books are exactly that, guides. Nothing beats in the field observation. Walking, looking, feeling, tasting and comparing.   “The same trees can be completely different from one area to another” commented Eugene, in awe of the huge specimens of Dais cotonifolia we came across. “In the Cape these are tiny scrubby things,” he told us.

r Brian Barend David

Eugene has produced a book called What’s that Tree? A starter’s guide to the trees of southern Africa, which he believes does a good job of highlighting the diagnostic features of each species – for example if ‘three veins from the base of the leaves’ is an important feature, he includes a picture of exactly that. Richard Booth, from Karkloof commented “I really enjoyed Eugene’s wisdom.”

r group eugen old kilgobbin

Most of the course we spent outdoors under the forest canopy. Each tree has a little space around it if viewed from the air, we learnt. The tree tops brush against one another and keep each tree separate.

r canopy

We came across an old logging pit where a Yellowwood had been felled many years ago for use in local houses. This illustrated perfectly how we have now lost the ability to live locally, on local resources. We have become ‘Biosphere people’ using resources from all over the globe in our daily lives.

rr IMG_2837

Eugene prefers to call Podocarpus (Yellowwoods), Afrocarpus, which he feels is a more accurate description. We hugged some really big ones and had heated discussions about ‘the twisted petiole’ of P. henkelii! He also feels pretty certain that none of the trees in the forest are over 500 years old.

r hugging tree

Sarah Ellis made a note of 45 trees during our walk in Kilgobbin forest and when she got home looked them all up to learn more about them. “I am certain I won’t recognise more than half of them on my own but writing them down and reading up about each one is a start!”

r lets look that up

We learnt how specimens of Clausena anisata (perdepis) probably got mixed up with specimens of Hippobromus by the early collectors. The scientific name Hippobromus means ‘smell of horse’, but when the dried specimens were finally described, the smell had gone from the leaves, so there was no way of telling which was which!r hand leaf

We felt the stickiness of Protamophila prehensilis and the velvety leaves of Quisqualis parviflora admired Briophytes and Epiphytes, tasted Asparagus stalks and smelt Lemonwood leaves. Naturally, we got down on our knees to find interesting things in the stream, including nematodes and damselfly larvae.

r barend and penz

Kathy Milford won’t forget the course in a hurry. “The most memorable thing for me was the crazy expert peering through his treasured old magnifying glass with a chipped frame, at a little leaf and his saying ‘this must be a Diosypyros whyteana, look at those orange hairs on the edge of the leaf’. That was a special moment, and when I looked through the magnifying glass there were the most beautiful little orange hairs that became larger than life. I felt like Alice in Wonderland! He showed us the most amazing little details on the leaves and trees which would normally have escaped my attention! Wonderful”

r moss

Penelope Malinga agreed “I will pay a lot more attention to the small details in future.” Penelope also loved seeing Samango monkeys for the first time. A troop was feasting on the fresh green Celtis leaves right above our heads as we explored the forest edge.

r samango celtis

We learnt so many fascinating facts like: Insects are the biggest herbivores and that woody plants (C3) utilise higher levels of carbon dioxide. Eugene demonstrated how to make rope from the bark of Dais cotonifolia (Grewia occidentalis also used for the is purpose), and we learned the vines of Dalbergia obovata  are used to make fishing baskets.  Sarah Ellis “I found Eugene fascinating, with such a huge passion and depth of knowledge. How fortunate we are to have spent time with a man of this calibre. I also enjoyed meeting and chatting to some of the other like-minded people on the course.”

r looking up

Oriah and Kei Ellis, who are home schooled in Dargle, used the opportunity for some outdoor learning.  “The tree ecology course was a great experience – learning about the different shapes of leaves, learning through the interactions with others, and how to simply identify trees.  I also enjoyed taking a walk through Barend’s forest, eating cookies and making new friends!  ” said Oriah afterwards.

r kei oriah sam

Alison Lettinger came all the way from Creighton and was so pleased she had. “Two days in a delightful setting with kindred spirits. I am so glad I made the effort to attend. Kilgobbin is one of the most beautiful, accessible and diverse forests that I have been in. My favourite was hearing snippets of info and opinions from Eugene. Such as not tree rings in South Africa not being annual rings, but growth rings.  Intriguing that the red fruit of Acokanthera is toxic but ripens to palatable as it turns black.”

r leaf litter

Reshnee Lalla of SANBI felt she really learnt a lot and collected some samples of the invasive blue periwinkle growing on the forest edge.

Julie and Richard Braby, who live in Underberg, enjoyed their time with other people as passionate about plants as they are. “We felt we were in another world for those two days and were sad to get home. The venue was fantastic. The talk and very good food at Tanglewood in the evening in the company of Dargle Conservancy members, was wonderful.”

rr carol and barend

Barend Booysen, who is custodian of the section of forest we spent time in, had a marvellous time. “I really thought I knew this forest backwards. I have been humbled by all the things I have never noticed before and my head is spinning with all the new information. I learnt so much. What a delightful man.” David Crowe added “The two day workshop was informative and worthwhile.”

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Eugene Moll is a retired professor from the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the University of the Western Cape. He holds a PhD in plant ecology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He edited the first edition of the Keith Coates Palgrave’s Trees of Southern Africa, and has authored and co-authored many guides and papers on trees and the ecology of woody plants.

rr picnic in forest

Sarah Ellis compiled this: KILGOBBIN FOREST TREE LIST

  • Rapanea melanophloeos – Cape Beech
  • Tricalysia africana – Pondo Jackal-coffee
  • Ficus craterostoma – strangler fig
  • Scutia myrtina – cat thorn
  • Veronia mespilifolia – veronia
  • Buddleja dysophylla – White climbing sagewood
  • Ptaeroxylon obliquum – Sneezewood
  • Euclea natalensis – hairy guarri
  • Diospyros whyteana – bladder nut
  • Harpephyllum caffrum – wild plum
  • Dias cotinifolia – pompon tree
  • Grewia occidentalis – cross berry raisin
  • Vepris lanceolata – white ironwood
  • Dombeya rotundifolia – wild pear
  • Trimeria grandifolia – wild mulberry
  • Xymalos monospora – lemonwood
  • Gymnosporia harveyana – round fruit forest spike thorn (was Maytenus mossambicensis) Kiggelaria africana – wild peach
  • Combretum edwardsii – forest climbing bush willow
  • Cassinopsis ilicifolia – lemon thorn
  • Prunus africana – red stink wood
  • Combretum krausii – forest bush willow
  • Dalbergia obovata – climbing flat bean
  • Cussonia spicata – cabbage tree
  • Diospyros whyteana – bladder nut – ginger hairs on edge of leaves
  • Podocarpus falcatus – yellow wood
  • Podocarpus henkelii – drooping leaf yellow wood
  • Podocarpus latifolius – broad leaf yellow wood
  • Strophanthus speciosus forest poison rope
  • Cnestis polyphylla – itch pod
  • Ilex mitis – Cape holly
  • Celtis africana – white stink wood
  • Carissa bispinosa – num num
  • Rhamnus prunoides – glossy leaf (blink blaar)
  • Dovyalis rhamnoides – Sourberry Kei-apple
  • Clutia pulchella – lightning bush
  • Apodytes dimidiata – white pear
  • Ocotea bullata – black stink wood
  • Eugenia zuluensis – paperbark myrtle
  • Clausina anisata – perdepis
  • Cryptocarya myrtifolia – myrtle wild quince
  • Calpurnia aurea – wild laburnum
  • Vepris lanceolata – white ironwood
  • Canthium inerme – turkey berry