Biological control of Acacia cyclops (rooikrans) and Acacia saligna (port jackson willow) in fynbos

A total of 13 species of Australian acacias (Mimosaceae) have become naturalized in South Africa and are now declared invasive weeds. Two of the most successful invasive plant species in the fynbos are Acacia cyclops (rooikrans) and Acacia saligna (Port Jackson willow). Both these species were introduced originally to stabilise coastal sand dunes and have proven exceptionally well adapted to local conditions, thriving on the nutrient poor soils of the Cape and proliferating after the regular fires typical of fynbos landscapes.

Port Jackson thrives on acidic mountain soils while rooikrans is most at home on alkaline coastal soils.

Acacia cyclops biocontrolA few years ago a multivoltine midge (Dasineura dielsi) that induces galls on the ovary of its host , was introduced from Australia for the biological control of Acacia cyclops in South Africa. It spread extremely rapidly and now colonizes virtually all mature Acacia cyclops in the region. By inducing the gall it stops the flower from forming and hence drastically reduces the seeds produced.  Extensive studies are undertaken prior to the release of biological control agents in South Africa and all indications are that D. dielsi will be of no significance on any species other than A. cyclops.

Acacia saligna or the Port Jackson willow is a very adaptable and fast growing species, native to Western Australia. It has become one of the most widespread and destructive invasive species in the fynbos region. It is a very difficult species to manage as it is able to resprout from its roots after being cut down and creates massive, long-lived seed banks. The difficulty and cost of eradicating this fast spreading species led to it being targeted for biological control measures.

Gall rust fungus on Port Jackson willowThe gall forming rust fungus Uromycladium tepperianum has proven very successful at controlling reproduction and seed set in Port Jackson. Through wind dispersal this rust fungus is now found wherever Port Jackson is growing in fynbos and it has been found to lower population densities by at least 80% in the absence of fire. The rust fungus reduces the flowering and seed set on Port Jackson and often ends up killing the plants after a few years. It is thought that the rust fungus does not kill the plants by itself but death is rather the result of the high number of galls formed on the plant together with environmental stress such as drought.

These two biological control agents have proven very useful in the battle to control alien invasive species in the fynbos.


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Environmental Social Scientist – Garden Route

Please see the below link to an advertisement for an Environmental Social Scientist – Garden Route.


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Red beauties that feed off other plants – Cytinus sanguineus and Hyobanche sanguineus

Two splashes of red in close proximity to each other on a recent coastal walk  turned out to be two magnificent parasitic plant species, both with red flowers.

Cytinus sanguineus on fynbos hub

Cytinus sanguineus is known as the aardroos (earth or ground rose), a very apt name for this beautiful bright red cupped flowering plant. It is dioecious meaning that the male and females are separate plants and is mostly parasitic on shrubby Asteraceae (daisy family).


Cytinus sanguineus on Fynbos TrailIt is pollinated by sunbirds which is quite unexpected given the location of the flowers at ground level and the absence of perches. Sunbirds generally do not like foraging on the ground. The birds transfer pollen on their beaks while drinking the nectar from the flowers. It flowers from July to December and is found in sandy soils from Namaqualand and the western Karoo to Mossel Bay.

The second parasitic plant was Hyobanche sanguinea which is also a root parasite with scale-like leaves. It has hooded crimson-red or pink, flowers which are very hairy. It flowers in spring and is widespread, growing from southern Namibia to Swaziland. Its common name the ‘Cat’s Claw’ refers to when its in full flower and the white stigmas curve out of the corolla tube looking somewhat like the claws of a cat. Another common name is ink flower. During colonial times, the flowers were dried and crushed to form a black powder which was then diluted to be used as ink.

Haemanthus sanguineus is a holoparasite meaning that it does not photosynthesise for food. Instead it attaches itself to the roots of other plants to draw water and nutrients from its hosts. In our area it appears to mostly parasitize Leucandron’s (cone bushes) and other members of the Protea family.


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Kirstenbosch Gardens gives a green thumbs up to GrandWest


In a first for any casino in South Africa, Sun International’s GrandWest property in Cape Town became an indigenous fynbos exhibitor at the 39th annual Plant Fair held at the world-renowned Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

Kirstenbosch, together with the local branch of the Botanical Society use the popular Plant Fair each year to showcase a wide range of indigenous plants to the public and to raise funds for their long-term cultivation and protection.

Since opening in May 2013, Grannies Green Nursery at GrandWest has rapidly expanded the range of indigenous fynbos propagated on the property, including plants on the endangered species list. The nursery offers over 40 fynbos species which is proving to be particularly popular with landscapers and locals alike.

 The nursery was launched as an environmental project to deal with the waste generated by two hotels, 10 restaurants, a coffee shop, two lounges and a bar area all serving light meals, 14 fast food outlets and four custom snack shops, conference facilities and a staff canteen catering for approximately 3 316 people daily.

After successfully setting up a worm farm to provide compost for the property and the community, GrandWest made a decision to develop a nursery that could serve the dual purpose of protecting the Western Cape’s floral heritage as well as create jobs in the community through an enterprise development project.

Currently, two members of the community are being trained to run the nursery.

For more information, contact Heidi Edson, Corporate Social Investment Manager on 021 505 7535 or e-mail


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Its nearly Fynbos Forum time again!

This years Fynbos Forum will be held from the 3rd to 6th August 2015 at the NG Church Hall in Montagu.  The theme of this years forum is Biome Boundaries.  

This is a fantastic opportunity for all researchers working in fynbos, scientists, students, engineers, planners, educators, Working for Fire, Working for Water, Working for Wetlands, Working on Fire staff, managers in conservation, forestry, agriculture and policy makers, landowners and EIA consultants to meet, interact and learn from each other.

 This will be the 36th meeting of the Fynbos Forum and an exciting programme of presentations, workshops, fieldtrips and posters that examine research, conservation and communication about the globally unique Fynbos biome is planned.

The closing date for registration (early Bird 26th June 2015) is the 20th July 2015. 

A provisional programme will be sent out during June 2015.

Fieldtrips: Field trips will be held on the 5th of August. They will cover a range of features including local fauna and flora, nature education and conservation and development issues. Most field trips will be located within 10 km of the venue and will be led by experts.

Telephone: |+27 (0)21 7975787|*


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Fynbos interview with Sean Privett by Time Travel Turtle

Catch this overview on fynbos as an audio interview with Michael Turtle.

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When the smoke settles new life begins


During the first week of March 2015 a massive fire burnt across the southern Cape Peninsula. An area of about 5,000 hectares was burnt stretching from the slopes of Muizenberg on the Indian Ocean side of the Peninsula across and down to the Atlantic coastline on the Hout Bay side. Immediately following the fire the previously green slopes, with there magnificent variety of fynbos species, had been transformed into a blackened, ash covered lunar-like landscape. A walk through these desolate hills immediately after the fire gave no indication of what was to follow. Death and destruction was everywhere, and all that remained were blackened stems, ash and not a vestige of green anywhere. But within days this seemingly lifeless landscape started to transform itself back into a botanical wonderland.

Protea nitida reprouting after fire on ou kaapse wegJust six weeks later and a walk through this same burnt landscape reveals the many remarkable ways that fynbos is adapted to survive and regrow after fire.

The photo on the left is of Protea nitida (Wagon tree, Waboom). Initially these plants would have appeared blackened and dead, yet they have a special thick, corky white-grey bark that protects them from fire. Just six weeks after fire and these amazing plants have produced new leaves and will be fully recovered and flowering by next year.



Penaea mucronata on plants such as Penaeae mucronata (see left) are able to re-sprout after fire from woody underground lignotubers. A lignotuber is a woody swelling of the root crown used by some plants as protection against fire. While the above ground parts of the plant are destroyed in the fire, the plant is not killed. Instead the crown contains buds from which new stems rapidly sprout.



Erica cerinthoides on Table Mountain National ParkThese re-sprouting plants have a major advantage after fire in comparison with plants that rely entirely on seeds for germination.  A great example of a rapid re-sprouter is Erica cerinthoides (Fire heath). Just six weeks after the Cape Peninsula fire and this amazing Erica has resprouted and produced its magnificent red, bird pollinated flowers.

Behind the Erica the large green leaf is a Watsonia. This leaf has grown from a bulb in just six weeks. Bulbs provides a store of food that can rapidly be used by the plant for growth and flowering after fire. The bulb has been protected from fire by the insulating effects of the soil above. The post fire environment is ideal for bulbs. Fires return essential nutrients back to the soil in the ash and shrubs, that previously competed with the bulb for light and space, have been burnt. The bulbs rapidly take advantage, pushing up fresh, healthy foliage and flowering in the first winter and spring following fire.

For many other species this winter will provide the rainfall for the germination of their seeds that they have carefully stored in preparation for fire.   Ecologists call plants that store their seeds in special protected cones or fruiting bodies in the canopy serotinous plants. While the parent plant dies in the fire, the precious seeds are safeguarded and released a few days later into the moon-like landscape. When cooler autumn days and rains arrive these seeds germinate.

Capelio tabularis (Alciope tabularis) on really caught my eye while driving over the mountains this last weekend was the bright yellow patches in amongst the grey landscape. On closer inspection I found them to be these beautiful Capelio tabularis (Mountain daisy) that flourish in the first season following fire – I cant wait for my next visit in a few weeks to see what’s flowering!







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A sweet red surprise – Tritoniopsis triticea and the Grootbos plant survey

We have been identifying the plant species on Grootbos Nature Reserve since the beginning of 1997. Initially I thought the plant survey would take a year or two to complete. How wrong I was! Original estimates from diversity models (based on size and number of habitats), predicted about 330-370 species on the Grootbos Reserve. Our initial intensive three month survey which covered the entire Reserve resulted in a species list of 250 identified plants of which 31 were species of conservation concern (vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered). So at the time we thought job nearly done. Well we kept exploring and the more we explored the more new plants we found for our list. The list grew through four hundred and when we reached five hundred species we enjoyed a big cake to celebrate. Then in about 2005/06 the new records slowed down and we thought we had reached the end.

rare plants on fynbos trailBut dry conditions and gale force winds across the Agulhas Plain in early February 2006  brought a massive wild fire that burnt the entire Reserve. Over the next twelve months we added no fewer that 70 new plants to our list – including two totally new to science that only flowered in the spring following the fire! One of these new species, Lachenalia lutzeyeri (pictured left) only flowered in the spring of 2006 following the fire and has not been seen since – no doubt waiting patiently underground for the next fire.

By the beginning of 2015 our indigenous plant species list on Grootbos has reached 768 species of which 99 are species of conservation concern! We have now realised that this project will never really be completed and there are still surprises that come along every now and then.

Tritoniopsis triticea on Fynbos HubToday was no exception. I was wondering through our blue gum woodlot on the Reserve – not a place I usually go botanising. And there all around me were these magnificent Tritoniopsis triticea (see left). Plant number 770 for our list.

While this is a fairly common plant in the Cape – growing from the Cape Peninsula and Porterville to Mossel Bay, we have never before recorded it on Grootbos. Simply because we have never happened to be wondering through the blue gum woodlot at the end of February or early March!

The lesson in short is that no quick-fire botanical assessment, as is so often undertaken to fulfil the environmental impact assessment requirements  for new developments, can hope to come close to identifying all the species in a fynbos habitat – no matter how good the botanist might be.

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Fynbos Identification courses coming up

Wendy Hitchcock’s popular Fynbos Identification courses are back – book now to secure your place and get to know how to identify our wonderful fynbos plants.


For more information see  Fynbos Plant Identification Courses

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Part-time employment for student: Exploring the Bio-edge

EB_Advert_for_Student_15_January 2015

Find attached a part time opportunity for a student to provide routine technical website assistance. Duties will include inter alia: i) uploading articles every two weeks; ii) sourcing appropriate scientific literature and photographs for articles; iii) proofreading; and iv) regularly updating social media platforms. The successful candidate will be able to conduct this job from their home/university.

Candidates are encouraged to visit

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