It has been a delight and pleasure to share vicariously in the spectacular flower show on the West Coast this year. Spring came just as people were throwing off the shackles of the hard lockdown and many enthusiasts made the trip up the coast to revel in the extraordinary show this year. 

Carpets of spring flowers can also be seen in the West Coast National Park.

Yes, despite the freezing weather and snow-capped mountains, the Namaqualand flowers were in full bloom. If that seems strange, remember that the trigger for flowering is not the temperature, but rather the length of the day.

Biedouw Valley

The Biedouw Valley near Clanwilliam is transformed into a floral wonderland in early spring. PHOTO: Jean Tresfon

And what a show! Social media were awash with spectacular photographs (thanks to everyone!). It’s hard to see such beauty and not want to share it with others. So I was delighted that one of my favourite conservation photographers, Jean Tesfon, shared his photos of the Biedouw Valley for the rest of us to enjoy. 

Pretty awesome, wouldn’t you say? So I was intrigued by a response in the comments to Jean’s photograph by Andrew Baxter. Andrew pointed out something that is not immediately obvious – unless you are an ecologist.

You have so elegantly captured, in the beauty of these flower carpets, a subtle underlying ecological tragedy that few would readily recognize. The profusion of Asteraceous flowers does not represent a healthily diverse landscape but rather a denuded veld that has suffered previous repetitive clearing (for marginal production of winter wheat, potatoes, grazing etc). The flowers are pioneer species (weeds, some might call them), and they neatly correspond to the fence lines, valleys and former fallow fields. They represent ecological disturbance, not diversity and certainly not a healthy ecosystem. The steeper slopes, which are predominantly green scrub inter-fused with diverse flowers, are what the landscape should look like.

Interestingly, one can see the impact of colonial farming in the pollen records. As the widespread practice of dragging old railway tracks behind a tractor (to stimulate grazing) and the ploughing of marginal lands became more common, so the profusion of flowers began, and there is a significant increase in Asteraceous pollen in the sediments from around these areas from 1700 onward. I’m not sure this is something we should celebrate in the way we do (a whole industry is built around the ‘flowers’) although I can’t argue that visual displays are impressive to behold.

What we should be seeing is Winecups, Sparaxis, Lachenalia, and Babiana flowers. We should see annuals as well as geophytes in a rich diversity of colour. The annuals include the delicate white Cotula nudicaulis, different species of Nemesia, but especially the striking Nemesia cheiranthus, and mauve-flowered ‘basterpershongerblom’, Senecio cakilefolius.

The geophytes include many RomuleasLachenaliasOrnithogalums, some Hesperanthas and many more genera. Most spectacular are the brilliant, deep blue Pride-of-Nieuwoudtville, Geissorhiza splendidissima, sky blue bloukalossie, Ixia rapunculoides and the two finest Sparaxis species, the coppery pink Sparaxis elegans and damp loving Sparaxis pillansii.

Rocherpan Nature Reserve

Rocherpan is a coastal nature reserve teeming with birds and colourful wildflowers.

Rocherpan is another top-rated West Coast tourist attraction that is the fortuitous consequence of uninformed meddling with nature. CapeNature describes it thus:

Rocherpan is a coastal nature reserve teeming with birds and colourful wildflowers. The reserve, which lies 25 km north of Velddrif on the Cape West Coast, consists largely of a seasonal vlei that is usually dry between March and June. Rocherpan was established as a nature reserve (930 hectares in size) in 1966, and the adjacent section of the Atlantic Ocean was declared a marine reserve in 1988 (150 hectares in size).

Rocherpan is a coastal nature reserve teeming with birds and colourful wildflowers.

Rocherpan had a fortuitous start when farmer Pierre Rocher (pronounced Roché) arrived in this area in 1839 looking for improved summer grazing for his livestock. Rocher and his workers closed off the mouth of Papkuils River, forcing it to flow behind the dunes that separate the sandveld from the sea. This inadvertently created a perfect habitat for waterbirds, and the local species have thrived ever since. Along the coast, you’ll see the endangered black oystercatcher, the kelp gull and the Cape Shoveller.

So this time, meddling with nature had a beneficial consequence for birdlife and avi-tourism. Just as well, as otherwise I would have been covered in embarrassment. You see, Pierre Rocher was my ancestor.

About the Author

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Whale Coast Conservation passionately lives by its slogan “Caring for your environment”.

Its small staff and volunteers are dedicated to

  • raising community and visitor awareness of the unique, biodiverse natural resources of the Cape Whale Coast region and
  • to projects that convert awareness into practical actions that lead towards living sustainably.

WCC ensures expert representation in public participation processes that contribute to environmental and developmental policies and legislation.  We monitor regional development; and ensure compliance with legislation and guidelines.

WCC increases general public awareness of sustainability through environmental education, citizen-science research projects, community projects and campaigns.

WCC communicates with its audience through exhibitions, signage, technology demonstrations, workshops, talks, film shows, newsletters and articles.

WCC places emphasis on educating future generations through its Youth Environment Programme (YEP).  YEP is offered to 24 schools in its target area with a total of over 10,000 learners.

WCC facilitates schools’ participation in special events such as Earth Day, Walking for Water, Arbor Day and Coastal Clean-ups.

WCC facilitates educator development programmes to improve the capacity of educators to offer informed environmental content in their lessons across all learning streams.

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