Sunday, 3 September 2017

Basic botany exposure for the Beach Stewards (Wednesday 30 August 2017)

In discussion with Liseka Gqumani, we agreed to run a basic botany workshop for the whole team of Beach Stewards after their mid-year module courses. With the cooperation of KZN Wildlife we were able to do the workshop at Beacon Hill.

Armed with examples of fresh plant specimens from our gardens we greeted the 18 students as they arrived in probably the biggest bus ever to visit Beacon Hill. Having given them a chance to have tea, we started the workshop by discussing the parts of a flower, and how that helps to identify the family to which the plant belongs. The students were given a opportunity to examine a "daisy-type" flower in detail to see the structure of this composite inflorescence. Then we moved on to leaf shapes and types again providing the students with examples to look at.

Looking at the parts of a flower

Having covered these two aspects of a flowering plant we set the students a practical challenge - to go outside into the adjacent grassland, track down a "daisy-type" flower and examine its flower and leaf shape and then see if they could identify the plant in copies of Elsa Pooley's "A Field Guide to Wild Flowers KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region". We wandered amongst the groups providing a little guidance where needed and eventually all the groups managed to identify their chosen plant to species level.

Concentrating carefully in tracking down the identity of their plant

Having helped them familiarise themselves with using reference books to identify plants, we then took the students out for a broader exposure to the plants flowering in the grassland at Beacon Hill. One of the first special plants we came across was a small cluster of the endemic Watsonia mtamvunae.

Some of the students were intrigued to learn that some plants are either male or female and Acalypha peduncularis was used as an example. There was great jubilation when we found a female plant after coming across many males. We then showed them an impressive display of Merwilla plumbea on a lower slope in a wetland.  
Watsonia mtamvunae

A haze of Merwilla plumbea

We skirted around the wetland and walked down the path to give the students a chance to look down into the Bulolo River gorge below us. On the way we could look at the small group of the Critically Endangered Brunia trigyna which had been re-established at Beacon Hill - a good example to illustrate active population management in answer to a question which had been raised during the workshop.

Brunia trigyna - an example of a re-established endangered plant

After getting back to the hall we wrapped up the workshop session encouraging the students to keep their eyes open for unusual plants and to send us photos if they wanted to know the identity of something they had found. Hopefully through this process we will have more eyes out there looking for the kind of plants that CREW is interested in.


CREW - Anne S, Graham G, Kate G.
Liseka G (WESSA program coordinator) and Beach Stewards

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