Botanist John Parker previously worked as Professor of Plant Cytogenetics, Director of the University Botanic Garden and Curator of the University Herbarium at Cambridge University for 15 years. He is an Emeritus Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge. He has also served as a Trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was on the Council and committees of the Royal Horticultural Society, and has held an Honorary Fellowship of the Natural History Museum, London.
When botanical experts are unwilling to leave an area, because there is so much to see, then you know you are providing a sanctuary to a plant wonderland.
That was exactly the case during a Fauna & Flora International (FFI) supported tour with botanist John Parker. The destination? Flower Valley Farm, hidden in the Fynbos landscapes in South Africa – the home of Flower Valley Conservation Trust. Flower Valley is a long-time partner of FFI, and works across the Cape Floral Kingdom to protect Fynbos landscapes and those livelihoods that depend on Fynbos harvesting.
Fynbos is incredible for many reasons. It makes up the largest part of the smallest, yet most diverse plant kingdom in the world – the Greater Cape Floral Kingdom – home to more than 9,500 species.
But the threats to Fynbos cannot be overstated. Because of this diversity, should a tiny patch of Fynbos be lost, it could lead to the extinction of an entire Fynbos population (already 21 species have been lost forever).
For John Parker, it was this incredible diversity on the 540 hectare property that had him and his guests delaying their departure. “Stand anywhere on Flower Valley Farm and look around you. Your eyes will be besieged and bewildered by colours, forms and textures, but all merging into a single impression.
“Look more carefully and in a short time this simple but beautiful pattern will resolve in your mind into an incredible complexity, with your attention drawn successively from plant to plant, each one a species with its own individuality.”
Here are the 5 Fynbos species that surprised and delighted Professor Parker and his touring guests the most – and why these beauties stood out for him.
1. Leucospermum cordifolium/patersonii
Amongst the tallest shrubs, the glorious explosions of orange and salmon-pink spheres dotting the landscape are the flower heads of sturdy Leucospermum species L. cordifolium and patersonii. Close study reveals the fascinating unrolling of glorious yellow-tipped styles, giving rise to the characteristic ‘pincushion’.
Leucospermum patersonii. Credit: John Parker
2. Psoralea affinis
In complete contrast, the willow-wand branches of Psoralea affinis are outlined by clinging purple-blue pea flowers, and wave delicately in even the gentlest wind.
Psoralea affinis. Credit: John Parker
3. Pelargonium betulinum
Drop your eyes below to the smaller shrubs. The solid stems and jutting bristly leaves of Pelargonium betulinum hold up exquisite five-petalled pure white flowers etched with delicate red lines, each flower with a five-fingered stamen group bearing orange anthers as a startling contrast.
Pelargonium betulinum. Credit: John Parker
4. Lobostemon curvifolius
Lobostemon curvifolius with its grey hoary leaves carries masses of flaring trumpets, glowing luminous pink even in the brightest sunshine – a brash contrast to the elegance of Pelargonium.
Lobostemon curvifolius. Credit: John Parker
5. Geissorhiza & Oxalis
Scan the ground for the geophytes, which spend only the spring above ground. The star-like beauty of Geissorhiza with its perfect radial symmetry rises here and there above the ubiquitous Oxalis obtusifolia. Across one site on Valley Farm, an orange-flowered variant of this species has remarkable doubled flowers, ruffled and pleated – a textural contrast to its simple single-flowered relatives.
Geisssorhiza. Credit: John Parker
Flower Valley Conservation Trust was born in 1999, when Fauna & Flora International bought a beautiful fynbos farm in the Western Cape of South Africa to protect the endangered fynbos species here. At the time, there was a threat that the farm would be converted to vineyards. And so Flower Valley grew over the years, to today coordinate the only Fynbos Sustainable Harvesting Assurance Programme in the world – encouraging responsible fynbos harvesting and good social and labour practice. The Trust is still based on Flower Valley Farm.
For more information, please visit: www.flowervalley.org.za