Tag Archives: invasive plants

Go with the Flow

Dargle Conservancy supports environmental education at a number of schools in the area including the Lions River Primary school, situated beside the Lions River flood plain.  As there is very little point trying to outdo the professionals at their game, Dargle engages the Midlands Meander Education Project (MMAEP) to conduct lessons and activities on their behalf.  Although things don’t always go according to plan, there is no doubt that lots of learning happens when the MMAEP Bugs are about.

Gugu, Eidin and Nkanyiso arrived early one morning in May to do lessons around wetlands and water.  After checking in with all the kids and teachers they handed out frog masks and set off down to the field below the school to warm up, play leap frog games and get excited! Lydia Comins from SAPPI is also very involved in the school and has been planting indigenous trees, re-painting and removing rubbish. Lydia was keen to come along for the day too. To start, Gugu told the famous Talking Yam story which had the children roaring with laughter.


Nkanyiso did a question and answer activity that helps to assess learner’s prior knowledge and understanding about water and wetlands. It also helps the learners to be able to  identify and analyse environmental problems, improving problem solving and decision making skills. Eidin: “The kids absolutely LOVED Nkanyiso and he kept them on their toes.”  Next they played The Windows on our World Wetland poster shows connections, interdependences, and cause and effect relationships. Many new words were learnt from this activity, including erosion, wetland, delineation, alien plants, invasive plants and pollution.

100_3549Then the highlight of the day – heading outdoors and off to the local wetland to reinforce the classroom learning. At the edge of the plantation, the kids split into two groups and had a race to find as many different leaves and grasses and flowers as possible. At the sound of the hooter everybody returned with their plants- laid them out on some boards and discussed them.

100_3581After a snack, everyone trudged off across the wetland to find the river. It was quite a mission through invasive brambles. The wetland is very overgrazed and therefore more vulnerable to getting invaded.


When the Lions River was eventually found, it was a depressing and dismal sight. Green and sludgy, the banks choked with brambles. There was no way that the planned  search for river creaturesand miniSASS test could be done.  Instead a lively discussion on living and lifeless rivers and how a river SHOULD look and why this one looked so bad, followed. We found examples of alien plants – morning glory and indigenous ones too- Juncus krassii and Phragmites. A couple of learners were able to spot frogs and crabs.

10247501_625864247498258_2684438249713512893_nSaddened, the group headed back across the wetlands and got lost.  Nkanyiso comments “The reeds were taller then us and the wetland was mushy. It took us quite a long time to find a way through but we did eventually manage and we were free.”


They came to a deep squishy black mud stream crossing.  Eidin recalls; “It was only possible to jump if you were a tall athletic limber 13 year old (yes, there was one, but only one!) everybody else began to mill about panicking and eventually rolled up their pants and waded through getting helpfully lugged by a volunteer who stood bravely in the middle of the stream up to his thighs. I managed to get through fairly covered in mud!  A small determined crew found another crossing that involved less shrieking. Either way it was a good adventure and cheered everyone up immensely. Good adventures ALWAYS involve mud! We made a big circle and did a ‘thumbthing’ which involves locking thumbs and saying what we learnt that day.”


Back at school, everyone cleaned up, did a little gardening and plant identification before bidding the MMAEP Bugs a fond farewell. ‘When you are in a wetland, you have to go with the flow!’ concluded Lydia Comins who had a great day with the kids, reeds and mud.

World View is Worth Conserving

Paul de Jager, a keen botanist who spends many hours wandering in the grasslands and natural areas of the World’s View Conservancy, has set down some impressions on the ecological status and conservation significance of a portion of the Worlds View Conservancy, based on ten brief visits he has made to the area since 13 October 2013. His observations are based on the area eastward from the telecommunications tower, centred on the Crags, and extending down to the Old Howick Road. He reports as follows: My overall impression as an ecologist is that the area studied is of great conservation value, comprising a remarkably intact eco-system of a habitat type (primarily mist-belt grassland), which is now very rare, with an impressive diversity of both plant and animal life. The latter includes a wide range of insects, as well as vertebrates, ranging from small lizards to birds and larger mammals including antelope. WVC - extensive grassland This diversity is all the more remarkable for being supported by a remarkably small area of land not planted to forestry, crops, or destroyed by road or building construction. Please understand that many plants can only be accurately identified while in flower, and not all plants can be expected to flower every year – many will only flower after a fire, for instance – so only after visiting an area throughout a year and over several years, could one get a very thorough idea of what occurs there. So I have made a very limited sample so far. Nevertheless, I have been struck by the biodiversity of this area – on most visits I have seen something in flower, which I did not see before. It is very significant I believe, that while these notes are based on a very small sample of this biodiversity (and further limited to plants) I have already noted the plant species treated by the late Rob Scott-Shaw in his book: Rare and Threatened Plants of UKZN (1999). This is already a good result, in terms of motivation for conserving the fauna and flora of this area, and I am confident that greater familiarity with it will yield a far longer such list, possibly including some items classified as having a more highly threatened status than the ones detailed below, as well as an ever-lengthening comprehensive plant list. As it happens the Hilton Daisy, may also occur in the area I have looked at – I have seen plants of what may be this species, but can only confirm their identity after seeing them in flower (there is a large colony further down-slope in Queen Elizabeth Park, so this seems likely), only 0.3% of the grassland of Moist Midlands Mist belt is formally protected and only approximately 1% remains in a near-pristine state. The threats to this vegetation type are agriculture and forestry, and these threats are increasing. So, the habitat type surrounding the Crags is severely threatened. Species recorded by myself and their status according to Scott-Shaw is: Begonia geranioides – lower risk, near threatened OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Kniphofia buchananii – lower risk, least concern kniphofia-buchananii1 Sandersonia aurantiaca – low risk; conservation dependent sandersonia-aurantiaca1 Dierama pallidum – vulnerable dierama-pallidum1 Scott-Shaw further commented that the threats pertaining to Sandersonia are that moist grasslands of Eastern KwaZulu Natal have largely been lost to agriculture and forestry, and that very few protected areas occur in this habitat. Likewise, regarding Dierama pallidum: grassland has been transformed by forestry, agriculture and urban expansion, which have severely reduced the extent and quality of suitable habitat. So, there is a recurring theme here and plants are threatened to varying degrees, with extinction as the extreme possibility, because they were perhaps rare to start with, having high habitat specificity, and their habitat has been destroyed in many areas, leading to local extirpation (i.e. being wiped out). Moving on from an attempt to assess what we have here to consider the likely threats and possible management priorities. Besides the possibility of further hitherto undisturbed habitat being built on, there are the more immediate threats to the habitat. Evident to me are the invasion of wild areas by alien plant species including both unmanaged species and seedlings of the eucalyptus and Australian acacias, used in forestry plantations. WVC - Ketelfontein Station wall from early 1900's (1) Also poaching; be it the hunting of animals by subsistence -orientated or sport hunters or the collection of plant and plant roots by people wishing to supply to muthi trade. Exotic plants, unrelated to the forestry industry do seem to me to prove a significant current threat in this area. Wild Ginger is particularly prevalent in this section of forest adjacent to the former rail bed and lantana is also a problem here. If funding can be accessed, some effort to physically remove or chemically control such weeds would be a good thing. In order to make optimal long term use of such an investment in effort it is important to ensure that weeds are killed outright and not merely cut down only to re-sprout and require a further investment in effort in the future. This is not always easy in the case of wild ginger the complete removal of the plants rhizome and its subsequent destruction by physical means (burning/cooling/ crushing/mincing etc.), may be the only way and with many woody species, cut stumps need to be timeously treated with a paint on herbicide or eco-plugs of herbicide inserted immediately after cutting. Whilst Lilium Formosanum is a highly visible invasive weed, which I know some people are making an effort to control, I would not prioritise its control, but rather advocate the dedication of scarce resources towards efforts to deal with species such as those already mentioned, as it does not seem to me to pose the same threat of modifying the structure of the habitat in the same way, being of insufficiently large stature to do so. The existence of densely planted and fecund stands of exotic trees (in the shape of forestry plantations) immediately adjacent to the wild area must always pose an ongoing threat in the form of a massive and endlessly renewed seed source, which spontaneously generates large seedlings easily able to colonise wild areas, changing vegetation structure and ground water dynamics. Would that our forestry industry could become one based on sterile (i.e. non seed bearing trees) These legal aliens will have to be dealt with continuously. I believe that such efforts are being made – the felling of the tall seedling gums, which, until recently, featured so prominently on the skyline above the Crags, is evidence of this. However, I believe it is important to note that many of these gums were in fact, multi-stemmed coppice growths emerging from stumps which had evidently been cut down some years before and not killed outright. I saw no evidence of efforts to kill the stumps this time either, and I saw stumps some days after they had been cut. As far as I know the herbicide needs to be applied immediately after cutting, so it seems likely that this work will be to be duplicated again when the stumps have sprouted, which is a waste of resources which could always be better deployed to deal with other problems. There also seem to be some conflict between forestation activities and optimal practices regarding catchment conservation (i.e. the avoidance of drainage lines and water-courses when planting timber crops) and possibly also encroachment on the hitherto undisturbed wild areas. WVC grassland (2) (fabled Hilton Daisy in there somewhere) A clearer demarcation of wild areas as strictly no-go areas in terms of plantations would be very useful in this regard. Also, for both the control of existing invasive plants (including forestry crops) and advice and legal assistance regarding appropriate practices in terms of catchment protection, a useful person to get in touch with is Jacky Zuma. He is now based at Cedara and is The Project Manager: Invasive Alien Species Programme and he works for the Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development of KZN. His contact details are as follows: cell: 0798953636; landline: 033 355 9345; fax: 033 355 9334; email: phillip.zuma@kzndae.gov.za; website: http://agriculture.kzntl.gov.za. As I understand it, Jacky has it within his power to assist landowners and users with advice, and to some extent with chemicals and manpower in the control of aliens, as well as having access to the legal machinery to compel compliance with current legal standards. He has, I believe, a good deal of hands-on experience, with the background in the practical fieldwork aspect of this work and has catchments rehabilitation and conservation as one of his priorities. Regarding poaching, as far as the flora are concerned, the most significant threat to this area would be the harvesting of plants and plant parts for the muthi trade. The area studied is extremely rich in geophytes (plants with bulbs or similar underground storage organs and growth suds) as well as woody species of likely interest to the muthi trade. I observed several instances of heavy bush harvesting from Rauvolfia caffra (quinine trees) though these did not appear to be of very recent date. Image On the other hand the area supports a very large population of Boophone disticha, which tends to be regarded as an indicator of habitat health in terms of muthi-collecting impact. Furthermore, the presence in the area, though not in large numbers of Eucomis autumnalis subsp. clavata is also a positive sign. Scott-Shaw notes that this species is a sought after medicinal plant, which has been critically over-exploited over most of its range, becoming very rare and extirpated in many areas, particularly in the Midlands and coastal areas. Given that the WVC is located in an increasingly urban area the existence of a large number of potential muthi collectors and consumers nearby, mean that this threat must be taken seriously and policing efforts maintained. WVC - Erythrina Rotundifolia and Cussonia sp Returning to the subject of long-term threats to the maintenance of diversity of the fauna and flora of this area. It is, however sobering this may be, worth remembering that effective conservation of biological diversity only makes sense on a geological timescale; i.e. millions of years, so in terms of the very brief period which anyone of our lives represents, this effectively translates into forever! The converse of the fact that extinction is permanent, is the fact that in order for their constituent species to be able to continue to adjust and evolve, eco-systems need to be maintained as intact as possible for ever and a day. The greater the area of a given habitat type that can be preserved relatively intact – with a diversity of types of life-forms alive and functioning – the greater the chance of that habitat type and its constituent species, being able to contribute to the range of species which will be able to endure in the future, over millions of years. Bearing this in mind, the future of mist-belt grassland and the species which comprise it, is not looking bright, because there is so little left. So the grassland areas within the WVC are really important; though they are small in area they are rich in species including rare and endangered ones. Any natural area located adjacent to or within a city is particularly threatened as cities sprawl and Pietermaritzburg is sprawling fast, with Hilton becoming something of a commuter suburb. Over time, land values are likely to rise and it is not inconceivable that sometime in the future, land that is now land for forestry plantations will come to be seen as potential “real-estate” and it, and adjacent land, might become grist to that industries mill, under the guise, so euphorically referred to as “development”. One should perhaps guard against any temptation to be over-optimistic about the power of human laws to protect organisms and habitat. The current plight of the Rhinos springs to mind and of more pertinent, the fact that only a few years ago, part of Queen Elizabeth Park, not just a nature reserve but also located close to the Head Office of the Provinces conservation organ, was de-proclaimed and converted into real estate, thus ending its possible contribution to maintenance of the biodiversity. However, having uttered these threats it would still seem to me a good thing if parts of the WVC could acquire some sort of official or legal status as a wild life preserve. A glorious pipe dream! “What if the WVC is able to raise funds from inter-alia, the wealthy citizens of Hilton and purchase, or by whatever means, acquire, title to the land which I have been studying, and establish “The Crags” Nature Reserve.” Less ambitiously, it would seem to be that a clarification and demarcation, i.e.; survey with clearly visible markers of the areas within the WVC dedicated to nature conservation and therefore off limits to forestry activities would be very useful. It needs to be drawn to the attention of those that control this land that it has significance in terms of conservation of biodiversity, given that the bottom line is always relevant in debates about land-use, the question arises as to whether it can be made to pay for its upkeep or even yield revenues. Amenity areas can be argued as fulfilling a necessary function within a city, even if they do not yield income, whilst a well-maintained and productive catchment can be argued for in terms of actual Rand value of water production and flood amelioration. Natural areas stand head and shoulders above forestry plantations and developed environments in terms of both water quality and yield and flood amelioration. Durban’s D. Moss network of nature reserves is something worth investigating and perhaps emulating partially. Worlds View viewpoint looking back In conclusion, I would not claim to have answers to all the issues and questions I have raised but I do emphatically believe that the area I have looked at, especially the Crags, is well worth working to conserve. I am impressed with what has evidently been done already to keep it looking as good as it does. I congratulate you and your colleagues for your work in achieving this. Any work you do for the WVC is worth doing! I will continue to pursue my interest in the flora of this area and hopefully look at other areas within the WVC as my limited time and energy budget will allow and hope that my efforts will be of further use to the Conservancy. learn more about World’s View at:


Pom Pom Season

Pom Pom Weed Campuloclinium macrocephalum is one of the emerging weeds that we have to keep a sharp eye on in the KZN Midlands.  This picture was taken in Dargle this week by local eco-activist, Eidin Griffin who reported it to SANBI. If you spot any plants,  take a photo of the location and record the GPS co-ords if possible, and email V.Mkhize@sanbi.org.za.  An eradication team will come and remove them.

pom pom weed

Description: Erect, perennial herb with fluffy pink flowerheads. Stems green to purplish, up to 1.3 m high, dying back annually to a root crown. Leaves are light green, scattered along the length of the stem but clustered at the base to form a rosette, up to 80 mm long and 20 mm wide, margins are serrated. Flowers light purple to pink compact flowerheads that are situated terminally, flowers December-March.

 Distribution: Native to South America (Argentina and Brazil), Central America and Mexico. In South Africa it is emerging in the following provinces: Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Free State and established in Gauteng.

How it spreads: Produces fluffy seeds that are wind dispersed. People contribute to spreading the seeds through carrying them in the mud on their vehicle’s wheels or by picking and discarding the mature flowerheads and thereby spreading the seeds. It can also regenerate from underground rhizomes.

History in SA: Pompom weed was introduced in South Africa as an ornamental plant. The earliest record in the Pretoria National Herbarium is of a specimen collected in Johannesburg in 1962. Currently it is most prominent in Gauteng. The earliest record of its establishment in the wild is from Fountains Valley, Pretoria in the early 1960s and Westville near Durban in 1972. In the 1980’s its distribution expanded in the Pretoria area, and it was also recorded from Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal and Wolkberg in Limpopo Province. In the 1990’s it spread further to Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape, Rooiberg in Limpopo and Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. From 2000 to 2003 it exploded in Gauteng and in the Free Sate the first record was in Kroonstad. During the same period there was much spread in the Nelspruit, White River and Barberton areas. By 2006 it had spread to the Piet Retief area in south-eastern Mpumalanga and Swaziland.

Environmental and Economic Impacts: Threatens the survival of grasslands and wetlands throughout South Africa as it can tolerate a wide range of habitats. It transforms the landscape from green to pink in summer.

How to eradicate: The only herbicide registered for use on pompom weed is Brush-off by DuPont. The two physical methods including uprooting and burning of the plant. Bio control is currently under investigation. For a guide on herbicide application contact us on the details below.

What you can do to help: Report sightings of these plants to the Early Detection and Rapid Response team (EDRR). We will need to know its locality (the exact locality, supply any landmarks or GPS information if possible).  v.mkhize@sanbi.org.za or r.lalla@sanbi.org.za

Working on the Dargle River

The Dargle River rises on Dargle Farm and meanders through the valley for a few kilometres before joining the uMngeni River near the Petrusstroom bridge. Dargle river  source LowRes

The Dargle/Impendle road crosses the river on Benn Meadhon about 8kms from the R103. The Dargle Conservancy recently began to clear some of the invasive vegetation which was smothering the banks in the area near the bridge.

r dargle river monkey mpop 043

The main negative impact of invasive alien plants is that they supplant naturally occurring species and subsequently cause the loss of  bio-diversity, and excessive water consumption.  As we are custodians of the water supply of millions of downstream users, it is important that we do our best to ensure good, clean water leaves the valley. We contracted one of the well trained DUCT River Care teams, lead by Alfred Zuma to work for eight days in the area. r dargle julie hay 007

Over the past five years DUCT has significantly reduced the riverside infestations of bugweed, balloon vine, mulberry trees, Mauritius thorn, water lettuce, water hyacinth, lantana, syringa, wattles and gums along the ‘Duzi and uMgeni rivers using a combination of physical removal, herbicides and biological control.  Their funding has reduced substantially this year, so Mr Zuma and others no longer have regular contracts. r dargle julie hay 025

On our first visit to the site, we could hardly see the river at all because of the American Bramble along the banks.  It was taller than the men! r dargle river monkey mpop 011

Paths had to be hacked through to reach it and they had to wade in the water to get to the canes that were on the river side. rr dargle river monkey mpop 023

The dead bramble is the most obvious difference now.  We plan a follow up later  in the summer to check if there is any which escaped the treatment. Look, we can see the river! r IMG_1596

Canes/stems of American bramble only live for 18 months.  New stem growth (primocanes) push through soil surface from Oct. In the first season, this stem does not produce fruit, only leaves.  In the next growing season, the primocane becomes a floricane which produces flowers from September and then fruit.   Once the fruit has ripened the floricane dies.  Primocanes generally arise close to floricanes and are seen as replacement stems. Seeds are spread by birds however do not germinate easily and most spread is vegetative from an extensive root system with fine lateral roots. r dargle julie hay 015

Treatment should be focused on methods that will kill the root and the dormant buds below ground as spread is predominately from roots and the above ground stem dies naturally after 18 months. This means spaying the primocanes when they are >0.75m high as there is then sufficient leaf area to take up the herbicide.

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There were plenty of wattle trees too. Some of the bigger ones had been treated before and were already dead.  The rest were frilled or cut and treated with herbicide. r dargle julie hay 016

Wattle is easily controlled with herbicide, however its vigorous growth from seed and the length of time the seed remains viable means that wattle control requires a long term commitment as follow up operations could continue for many years depending on the soil seedbank. res IMG_0461

There was plenty of everyone’s favourite – Bugweed!  Once again, there had been attempts to clear previously, which was not done properly. r dargle river monkey mpop 020

Despite its ability to grow vigorously, bugweed is easily controlled with herbicide and regular followups are necessary.  It is particularly important to control young or coppicing bugweed before it sets seed. Bugweed in particular needs a low, smooth, level cut, as provided by a pruning saw.  With a calemba cut, the multiple blows ‘pop’ the bark away from the stem which affects the herbicide efficacy.  Herbicide needs to be applied within five minutes otherwise it is not effective. Once clearing started we found lots of lovely indigenous trees and shrubs – Clausena anisata and Maytenus heterophylla in particular.    There are some tree ferns on the banks.

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Poppies and Ranunculus multifidus in the sunshine, Scadoxus and Thunbergia natalensis in the shade of the trees.

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It will be really interesting to observe what else pops up when the treated vegetation had completely died.

res IMG_0464

Mr Zuma’s team thoroughly enjoyed working on the Dargle River as they are passionate about river health. They are keen to return and see the difference that their efforts have made.  The water in the stream is really murky, which is disappointing. Run off from intensive farming operations along the banks?  We will conduct miniSASS tests there soon to see what sort of condition the water is in and hopefully, over time will see some real improvement. r IMG_0468

Unfortunately the Dargle Conservancy do not have many thousands of rand required to continue clearing the length of the river.  We will do as much as we can with funds available  (particularly follow ups), but hope that landowners along the banks will also work to improve the riverine areas of which they are custodians. r IMG_1602

Iain Sinclair, who owns the land adjacent to the river, is keen to see it become a “Dargle Picnic Site” – what a wonderful idea!  We can already imagine adding a Dargle River Ramble to the schedule of regular, inspiring Midlands Walks. Taking care of the fields, forest and rivers is the rent we pay for living in this wonderful valley.  Thank you Iain for paying for the herbicide to clear the river banks and Lion’s River Club for their contribution to the herbicide used to clear their verges.

rr IMG_0454

The details on IAP control described in this post are from the excellent Mondi Guides: Best Operating Practice – IAP Treatment Specifications. View them all here: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/invasiveplants.php

The Lion’s River Report

There are 96 landowners on the 90km Lions River – the same number as all the way from the source to the sea along the uMngeni River. “Lots of landowners mean lots of fences”, laughs Penny Rees, who, with fellow walker Preven Chetty, climbed under, over and through 70 fences on their mission to document the health of the river recently.


Last year, when Penny and her team of DUCT volunteers walked 311 kms along the uMngeni River, it became clear that the tributaries play a major role in its health.  As the Lions River is a major tributary of the economically important uMngeni River, the walk was undertaken in order to assess the state of the rivers health. The findings of the walk will be used to assist in the drafting of catchment management plans and assisting willing landowners to rectify problems and begin taking responsibility for the health of their section of the river.  The walk began on Sunday 22nd September at the source in the hills south-west of Fort Nottingham.Lions route 1

The River starts life as the Elands River and then becomes the Lions, which had everyone confused during the planning stages.  It twists and turns about the Midlands, through many, many wetlands.

Lions route 2

Passing through Fort Nottingham, Lidgetton, Caversham, Lion’s River and the upper and lower edges of Dargle.

Lions route 3

The walk ended on Sunday 29th September at the Lions/uMngeni Rivers confluence approximately 1 kilometre upstream from Midmar Dam.

Lions route 4

Penny writes about the journey:

When we walked the uMngeni during May 2013, we realised that walking the entire length of a river gives an extremely accurate picture of the state of the rivers health. The after effects from the uMngeni River Walk have included much liaison with relevant authorities, as well as input in many different arenas regarding the management of the uMngeni River and actions to restore that rivers health. It is thus believed that the ground work has been laid for similar input into the sustainable use and management of the Lions River.

The daily routine comprised a 06h30 departure by the walkers each whilst the support crew broke camp, and drove to the following nights overnight point which entailed either pitching camp on the river banks or overnighting with local landowners.  Whilst walking, all impacts were GPS’d, photographed and recorded on dictaphone and regular water tests were conducted. In the afternoons after arriving at camp, dictaphone transcripts and photos were downloaded, the photos were edited, the daily blog written, and the water quality tests checked and recorded.

Preven Penny crossing Lion's River

The following short report is an initial draft report. The full, detailed report, with maps and photos will be made available once all the data has been collated.


Wild animals

Otter and water Mongoose sign was seen regularly from approximately day 3, and Reedbuck and Duiker were seen daily. Porcupine scats and quills were seen regularly. Crowned Crane were also seen or heard regularly, and scats of caracal, jackal and leopard were also regularly seen.

Vegetation and impacts

For only the first 4 kilometres from the source which comprises a vast wetland, vegetation was indigenous and pristine. The stream originates from the wetland from whence it flows underground for +- 1 kilometre, after which the water emerges in a clear pool. The stream winds across grassland dotted with wild flowers, then begins a decent through a small rocky area, with pools and cascades, gnarled Yellowwoods in small indigenous forests and stunted Protea trees on the grasslands above.  Thereafter there were only sporadic areas of un-impacted, natural vegetation along the river.



Once on the “plains” below the source vast wetlands stretch for many kilometres, and the majority of the land use is intensive dairy farming, which has heavy impacts on the river – dairy effluent either pumped directly into the river or the use of the effluent to irrigate pastures.


There is timber planted into the river buffer – at times to the river’s edge.

A section where the river was diverted many decades ago ends in another mini escarpment, where the riparian area is choked with invasive wattle trees, where after the river meanders past natural veld, and then tumbles down over a series of cascades, the entire area once again choked with wattle trees.

This scenario was repeated the length of the river, however the majority of the river is impacted by the heavy wattle infestation, massive log jams and the river shows signs of nutrification constantly: sludge on the rocks and river bed, murky water, invasive aquatic plants flourishing such as Parrots Feather and Water Cress.


Many of the wetlands have either unused historical drainage ditches that have grown closed, or functioning drainage ditches, some very new and very deep. There are also a number of dykes on the river banks.

Below Lidgetton the river is reduced to a trickle due to the extensive extraction upstream.

The water entering the Lions River from the Mooi River Transfer scheme via the Impofana River was extremely silty, and this silt never completely dissipated before the confluence with the uMngeni River. It was only on the stretch of river upstream from Lions River, and also the section approaching the confluence, that the floodplains were in fairly reasonable condition, with only a few small patches of bramble and some small poplar plantations.


River Buffer Zone width

There are many areas along the river where the buffer of 32 metres is not respected – either by the planting of timber or pastures, commercial timber that has self-seeded, dykes and drainage ditches, manicured gardens and lawns, informal settlements, uncontrolled invasive plants such as bramble, wandering jew and bugweed.

photo (3)

Pump Stations

Numerous water extraction pump stations were observed – predominantly in the agricultural areas.

Drainage Ditches and Dykes

The majority of these are most likely historical and many are now vegetated and today have the appearance of small streams. Some seem, however, to be newly constructed. In prior years, farmers were encouraged by Government to drain the wetlands. It is now illegal to make any new drains.


Dams / Weirs

Aside from Umgeni Water’s gauging weirs and one extensive dam approximately 10 kilometres below the source, there are no big dams or weirs on the river.

General water quality observations

The occurrence of aquatic water invasive plants such as Nasturtium officinale (Water Cress), Myriophyllum aquaticum (Parrots Feather), Lagarosiphon muscoides (fine oxygen weed) are all a visual signal that the river water has excess nutrients, be they from agricultural fertilizers or dairy effluent. Without these excess nutrients, these plants would not flourish the way they do. These plants can smother entire sections of the river, blocking all sunlight which has negative effects on the  river ecosystem. In addition many use up the oxygen in the water, thus robbing aquatic creatures of the ability to breathe. Lastly, they smother natural vegetation and take over completely. Their only advantage is that they are utilising the nutrients to grow, thus assisting in the removal of some of these nutrients. The Water Cress is seen by some river ecologists as the lesser of two evils – it is shallow rooted and utilises the nutrients in the river bed as opposed to for example algae, which robs the water of oxygen.

Sadly there are insufficient un-impacted lengths along the river for the river to ever heal properly, which is possible given a long enough length without impacts. It should be kept in mind that with too constant a source of contamination, a tipping point is reached whereby there is so much contamination that the river is unable to heal – and this is certainly the case with the Lions River.


Mini Sass

Mini SASS is a very simple and enjoyable way of determining the health of the river, and the results give an overall picture of river health that is often missed by laboratory tests, for the pure and simple reason that a lab test, if taken say a week after a chemical contamination, may not reveal any chemicals whilst the Mini SASS gives an overall picture of the rivers health at any time. With Mini SASS, aquatic insects are caught, identified and classed according to tolerance levels of pollution and a simple scoring method results in an accurate picture of river health.


We were unable to conduct many mini sass tests, due to the fact that the majority of the river is naturally deeply eroded with vertical banks of 2 or more metres. Not only did this make accessibility difficult, but meant a lack of rapids and riffles which are essential for mini sass. Of all the tests we did conduct however the highest score indicated that the river was only in Fair condition (moderately modified), and the majority of tests indicated a river varying between very poor to poor condition (largely critically modified).

Read the daily account at: www.umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com

Midlands Conservancies Forum secured funding for Monitoring Tributaries (as part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Infrastructure programme) through N3 Toll Concession.  N3TC is funding Water Workshops for all Midlands Conservancies in the next few months. Penny plans to do presentations to the communities along the Lion’s River (and other Midlands rivers) – to share problems the river is experiencing and the things landowners can do to alleviate negative impacts.

photo (16)

Bews Herbarium and Botanical Garden Excursion

Recently, Midlands CREW and the Mpophomeni Conservation Group spent a morning exploring the Bews Herbarium and Botanical Garden at the University of KZN – Pietermaritzburg Campus.

Christina Potgieter, Senior Herbarium Technician, introduced the Bews Herbarium – the biggest in KZN with over 150 000 specimens. She explained how important the collection was for scientific research and that the information gathered here was very useful to publications. In particular, she mentioned that Elsa Pooley’s book on KZN Wildflowers had used their references on flowering times.christina welcomes everyone herbarium RES.

Christina explained carefully how to collect and press plants and how important it was to write down all your observations in the field – in particular location, colour, date, time of day, pollinators present and fragrance.  Photos are a useful addition, but cannot replace a carefully pressed specimen for proper identification.

alicia david ayanda israel - herbarium.RES. JPG

Ayanda Lipheyana, an Environmental Management student focussing on Invasive Species, was interested to discover that the Herbarium also collected specimens of weeds.

Ayanda with alien specimens herbarium res.

Curator, Dr Benny Bytebier, showed everyone how to access Brahms – the Botanical Research and Herbarium Management System.   Currently Bews is digitizing all the data in their collection and uploading onto this site to enable anyone anywhere to access the information housed here.

benny - herbarium.res. JPG

Alison Young, curator of the UKZN Botanical Gardens gave us a guided tour pointing out interesting plants and explaining the history of the gardens established in 1983.  An enormous Jacaranda had been left standing when other invasive species were cleared as it provided a habitat for the endangered Ocotea bulata to thrive.   Certainly, the trees growing under the canopy were much bigger and better looking than those growing in the sunshine. Of particular interest was an area of grassland which was slowly going back to its natural state after years of being mown – with a number of original bulbs emerging.

alison young explains.RES

Everything cut back in the garden is recycled into compost and excess distilled water from the laboratories feeds the stream, wetland and ponds. It certainly is a green oasis in the city with lots of birds and butterflies and other small wild animals in evidence.

botanical garden ukzn RES.

Penz Malinga, whose particular interest is medicinal plants,  enjoyed a quiet moment under an impressive cycad.

Penz malinga cycad RES.

Lindiwe Mkhize was delighted to find a fully grown specimen of Polygala myrtifolia,  as she had recently planted one in her own garden.

Lindiwe Mkhize Polygala.res

Israel Silevu,  student and Free Me volunteer commented afterwards “I really enjoyed every single step of the field trip. It was so interesting. I  look forward to our next outing.”  Do join others interested in wildflowers for a meeting to learn more about CREW on Friday 22 March at 10am at the Howick Museum.

Exploring Edgeware

Led by Rory Brighton, the group assembled at the Boston T-Party and drove to a suitable spot on the hill. Walking from there, and choosing a westerly aspect the party soon split into those who covered the whole distance to the beacon at the top, and those who achieved a half-way flower search.

on Edgeware 029.res

Rob Speirs pointed out old wagon trails heading to Bulwer and tracks that had been created by oxen dragging indigenous timber to the station. Philip Grant explained that the huge rocks were dolorite, now exposed by erosion.

DIsa nigrescens Edgeware 037res.

Edgeware can be said to have been far below its plant potential. No doubt a consequence of the considerable ongoing rains since October and the searing heat of recent days. But that is not to say that Edgeware did not produce some really worthwhile flowering plants. But the big surprise is that the thousands of Eriosema, particularly the distinctum and salignum, forgot to flower this year. There are thousands of plants but no sign of a bloom. We did find something new to puzzle over though – Tragia meyeriana – stinging nettle creeper.

2012 12 28 Edgeware Tragia meyeriana 02RES.

The ground orchids which were seen, made up in quality if not quite such numbers. There were lots of Eulophia tenella, often in large groups

2012 12 28 Edgeware Eulophia tenella RES.

numerous Asclepias albens – once four in a group

Asclepias albens by David crop.

David photographed them earnestly

David photographs Asclepias on Edgeware 072.res

and took GPS readings for the considerable number of Asclepias cultriformis

asclepias cultriforim by David

Aren’t they spectacular up close?

2012 12 28 Edgeware Asclepias cultriformis 02RES.

After seeing some blue Moraea inclinata,

morea inclinata by David rotated.

Christeen Grant located a mystery Moraea which has us very excited. It is partly like a Moraea brevistyla, but has quite distinct differences

2012 12 28 Edgeware Moraea sp don't think brevistyla RES.

The Pachycarpus never failed to get attention, both Pachycarpus natalensis

Pachcarpus natelensis by David

and what we think is Pachycarpus dealbatus

Pachcarpus dealbatus by david

And not to forget the numerous Eulophia clavicornis

2012 12 28 Edgeware Eulophia sp think clavicornisres.

Another excitement on a hillside usually known for its Aloes, was that few Aloe boylii were in flower.

2012 12 28 Edgeware Aloe boylei 02res.

On the lower slopes we had to fight through American Bramble which had taken advantage of the distrurbance caused the the pipelint to the resevoir. Higher up however, we were pleased to find the indigenous bramble Rubus lugwigii

Celia admires the indigenous bramble. Edgeware 068res.

According to Rob, the big red termite mounds were a recent addition to the landscape.

anthill on Edgeware 036.res

Those who walked to the beacon at 1555m, were rewarded with this view. Not as sptacular as on a clear day. Pauline commented “I’ve really enjoyed all the Midlands walks I have done, but this one has been my favourite.”

2012 12 28 Edgeware view from the beacon.RES

Rory concluded “It was great to have a good turn out and see everyone so enthusiastic about the flowers. I even learned a few names myself.”

Look under Events for a list of all the regular walks happening in 2013. There will also be a number of ‘once off’ excursions like the CREW outing to Happy Valley/Palmer Four near Impendle. This takes place on 6 January and is certain to be a great outing. Contact Barbara Clulow for more info:072 961 1918 Watch the press for details of these.

This report was compiled by David Clulow, with a little help from his friends.

Please Pick the Lilies!

Formosa Lily (Lilium formosanum) is flowering at the moment and there seem to be masses more than last year. These invasive plants from Taiwan have spread alarmingly over the past few years, seeding prolifically along roads. It also invades grasslands and wetlands transforming these habitats and replacing indigenous plants.  With less than 3% of the original moist mist-belt grasslands formally protected, we can’t afford to lose anymore.

The purplish brown stems reach 1,5 to 2 m high and are topped with up to 10 white trumpet shaped flowers flushed with burgundy on the outside.  The 20 cm long funnel-shaped flowers are fragrant and have been widely cultivated in the past – escaping from gardens to become a serious weed in the wild. The narrow linear leaves are shiny dark green. Formosa lily is listed presently as a Declared Invader Category 3 plant which means it cannot be planted and needs to be controlled.

Please go out and pick armfuls of these flowers before the seed heads carrying 1000’s of seeds form and burst! You do need to  dig out the bulbs as well while you are there, or they will be back with a vengence next season.  The flower heads and bulbs should be incinerated to dispose of them properly – if you just dump them, they will grow again.

SANBI, in conjunction with Working for Water is sending clearing teams to the Karkloof, Dargle and other areas soon. If you see an infestation that you can’t handle, please report  it to  Ntombifuthi Mthimkhulu <N.Mthimkhulu@sanbi.org.za>; and Vusi Mkhize <V.Mkhize@sanbi.org.za>