Field Mission to South Africa (September 1-10, 2017) - Didier Roguet & Fred Stauffer (CJB)

These are some pictures of our field mission to South Africa in search of Hyphaene coriacea and Hyphaene petersiana, but also looking for other South African palms (i.e. Phoenix reclinata, Raphia australis). Follow us day by day in our botanical mission to this amazing country. Field work in the region is kindly supported by Mkhipheni Ngwenya (scientific officer) and Yashica Singh (Herbarium curator at NH), both from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).We will do our best to maintain you informed about the highlights of the day. Most pictures have been taken by Didier, skilled photographer and ethnobotanist of the mission, and myself. Some results of this field mission were published by Stauffer et al. (2018)

Flight from Johannesburg to Durban. In search of the southernmost populations of Hyphaene

Day 1. (September 2, 2017). Visit to the Durban Botanical Garden and the Herbarium of the KwaZulu-Natal Province (SANBI).

We were invited by our colleague Mkhipheni to visit the botanical garden and the herbarium. Join our visit to these lovely places and enjoy the palm collection in the garden.

Raphia australis (left side of the picture) is the only Raphia present in South Africa. This individual is already flowering

General view of the garden showing massive individuals of Encephalarthos (Cycadaceae, left of the image) and a couple of very tall individuals of Latania sp.

“Palm Avenue” at the Durban Botanical Garden. Some of the tall palms are Roystonea borinquena and Syagrus romanzoffianum. This botanical garden is supposed to have more than 170 palm species in cultivation, including palms from all over the world.

The Durban Botanical Garden belongs to the Municipality of Durban and hosts about 170 different palm species. This general view of the garden shows Raphia australis (to the left), the Raphia species reaching the southernmost limit for the whole genus

Mkhipheni Ngwenya is showing to us an individual of Hyphaene coriacea, locally known as Ilala Palm.

The KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium is part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the institution that is supporting our research field work in the country. The herbarium is located just nearby the Botanical Garden

Didier Roguet in front of the herbarium facilities (currently under massive renovation). Reopening is expected for late 2017. This is a beautiful  historical building dating back 1908 .

Very interesting picture depicting two native palms from South Africa. Hyphaene coriacea (left) and Jubaeopsis caffra (right). The latter belongs to a monotypic genus of Cocoseae entirely endemic from the country.

Day 2. (September 3, 2017). From Durban north to Lake St. Lucia; finally able to study populations of Hyphaene coriacea in the coastal area of KwaZulu-Natal.

On our way to Richards Bay we found our first populations of Hyphaene coriacea. While Fred collects the palm Didier was checking at some palms that may be suitable for the DNA sampling.  Scattered individuals of Raphia australis and Phoenix reclinata could be also observed in the region.

Fruiting individual of Hyphane coriacea. This corresponds to the collection 867, for which a herbarium specimen was gathered and DNA material sampled for the molecular phylogenetic analysis.

Heavy work under very warm conditions, this is what palm collecting really means. The leaf blade is measured and sectioned to get a comprehensive herbarium specimen

Late in the evening we continued the work measuring and describing the fruits of this palm. The specimen is already pressed.

By mid-day we stoped in a small handcraft market just before arriving to Saint Lucia. In this place almost all objects were done with the Ilala palm, which is the Zulu name for the Hyphaene coriacea. We bought some objects for the ethnobotanical collection of CJB.

Some of the very nicely weaved baskets sold in this shop. All of them made of the leaves from Hyphaene coriacea.

In particular these baskets showed a very fine manufacture. All of them are made of joung leaves of the Ilala palm.

Day 3. (September 4, 2017). From Richards Bay to Hluhluwe.

Today we concentrated in ethnobotanical research. Didier was in charge of getting this information, in particular with a Zulu woman called Marran Nene. She showed to us the way to weave Ilala palms for making baskets. We were able to purchase some objects for our ethnobotanical research. Here some pictures of the day.

Didier getting ethnobotanical data critical for the project. Mrs Nene showed to us several different technics to weave the leaves of Ilala (Hyphaene coriacea)

Our colleage Mkhipheni from SANBI holds a bunch of dried leaves of Hyphaene coriacea (Ilala palm). This is the raw material used for basket weaving.

There is a wide diversity of objects made of Ilala palm, in particular baskets with many different designs.

Colorful objects like these make use of natural dyes, not only of plants but also from some minerals

Some of these objects made of Ilala palm were purchased for the ethnobotanical collection of CJB.

Day 4. (September, 5). From Hluhluwe to Sodwana Bay

At Sodwana Bay, in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, we found some scattered individuals of Hyphaene coriacea. They were all at fruiting stage and we could gather a very good collection of a female exemplar.

Palm collecting requires a lot of time, measuring and sectioning all the palm organs. This specimen was collected in the Zululand Zafari Lodge Private Reserve, on the way to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve

Mkhipheni Ngwenya helps collecting the Ilala palm with a pole saw. Shortly after we collected this palm some zebras were hanging around in this place

This is all the material that we collected this day. Most of the specimens are in plastic bags and will be pressed.

Night-pressing! It is 18h30 and the sun has already gone. Pressing should be done this day to guarantee that we will get optimal herbarium specimens.

In how many places of the world you have to deal simultaneously with crocodiles, sharks and hippos?. Late in the afternoon we wanted to go to the beach!!!! However, there was some risk and we decided to invest our time in other less dangerous activities!!!!

The day after we stopped to visit a family weaving Ilala palm leaves. The showed to us different objects, including hats and baskets.

Day 5. (September, 6, 2017). From Sodwana Bay to Kosi Bay (Maputaland). About 10 km south from the South Africa-Mozambique border.

Kosi Bay. This is the place supposedly to host huge populations of Raphia australis. This species may reach the southernmost distribution of the genus in this area.

The trail to the lagoon showed impressive vegetation, in particular with many ferns climbing on the trees

This is one of the lagoons of the Kosi Bay in the Maputaland, about 10 km from the South Africa-Mozambique border.

Large Raphia australis stand at the Kosi Bay area. The sunset was close and we had to hurry to visit the populations

Close up of two individuals of Raphia australis. The one at the right is now at fruiting stage

General view inside the Raphia australis stand. The stems are massive and the leaves measure about 10 m. The walls of the small house are made of petioles of this palm.

The Ilala palm team now studying Raphia australis!

The dominance and the height of these palms is impressive. Literally no other plant is able to be part of this particular type of vegetation

Pathway made of petioles of Raphia australis. The soil is very organic and water-saturated. Juveniles of the palm can be seen to the left and to the right side of the trail

Ripe fruits of Raphia australis. The scales covering the fruits are much larger than the ones observed in other Raphia species. Different mammals feed on these fruits

Day 6 (September, 7, 20017). From Kosi Bay to eMkhondo (Piet Retief)

Looking for the Ilala palm we got stuck in the Tembe Natural Reserve, not far from the Swaziland border. The soil is extremely sandy and  we did not realize that ours was not a 4x4 car. Fortunately some employees of the reserve stopped for some help.

The work done we could continue exploring the reserve, not without further concerns regarding our car. After that we continued our way to the north

The Jozini Dam is the most important water supply for the region. This is a massive construction at about 450 m of altitude.

Day 7. (September 8, 2017). From eMkhondo (Piet Retief) to the Kruger National Park (Mpumalanga Province)


From Piet Retief to Neusprit we took a beautiful road in the mountains, not far from many very interesting spots for geological studies.

Fires are sometimes severely affecting the region and flames reach the summit of most mountains.  Not much opportunity for biodiversity!


Cyathea tree ferns ate are among the survivors of extensive Pinus plantations in the region

For several hundreds of kilometers we drove through Pinus plantations, an important economic activity in the Mpumalanga Province

One of the many trucks charging timber that we saw on our way to Neusprit    

More trucks!

One of the survivors of the fire severely affecting the natural vegetation: Lasiosiphon caffer Meisn (Thymelaeaceae)

Approaching the Kruger National Park we saw some handcraft; however, none of these objects are made of palm leaves

Elephants enjoy humid areas and rivers in the Kruger National Park. To the left a young individual of Phoenix reclinata

Day 8. (September 9, 2017). From Neusprit to Durban.

7:30 in the morning. Long way back to Durban, where we arrived by 17H00

The road Neusprit-Durban is very long and we crossed several plateaus, the highest at 1859 m of elevation. Mostly grasslands and crops

Human-induced fires are spread all over the region. Cattle is very frequent in the area and fire is induced to regenerate the grass cover; unfortunatlely, this was always associated to quite devastated landscapes

Some hills are covered by a native Aloe marlothii subsp marlothii (Asphodelaceae) that seems to resist fire

Townships are spread along the road side and most often in the surrounding of the cities. Many of these urban areas are associated to mining activities (Chrome, Coal, etc)

Street market on our way to Carolina. Mostly chinese products are sold in these stands and no Ilala-made products could be identified.

Day 9. (September 10, 2017). Herbarium of the KwaZulu-Natal Province and visit to Durban markets

Time to separate the sets of specimens. One will be left in the KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium of SANBI and another will go to Geneva. The herbarium in Durban is now under heavy renovation. Mkipheni immediately put the plants in the plant drier.

Visit to the Railway Station Market at Durban. Many objects made of Ilala palm are commercialized in this place. Most of the women come from the region of Mbaswana

More objects made of Ilala Palms. Some of them were purchased for the Geneva ethnobotanical collection (Railway Station Market at Durban)

Victoria Market at Durban. These sieves are used in the elaboration of traditional, cereal-based beer. 

Day 10 (September 10-11, 2017). Durban - Johannesburg - Zurich - Geneva

It is 8h00 and we fly from Zurich to Geneva. End of the field mission to South Africa!