Eastern Cape Section in the Conservatory

The Eastern Cape region is diverse with all the major floristic regions merging here. However, plants originating mainly from the thicket biome are displayed, as it is the most threatened and interesting. Thickets occur in the dry intermontane and fertile valleys of the Eastern Cape and are rich in succulent plant species. The climate of the region is unpredictable. With rain in summer or winter, the region is known for both floods and severe droughts. The Enon Conglomerates geological formation is rich in endemic species and this rock type, together with shale, was introduced to the display. Thicket vegetation is confined to the Eastern Cape region, but there are relict patches right into East Africa. The thickets have a high proportion of endemic species, which is at once characterized by thickets of thorny shrubs, small trees and many succulent plant species, many of these finding shelter in the dense under growth.


The genus Euphorbia is especially well represented in the display. Species introduced include: E. tetragona, E. grandidens, E. curvirama, E. cereiformis, E. polygona & E. pentagona. The Gamtoos cabbage tree (Cussonia gamtoosensis) is an attractive multi-stemmed shrub which bears gray foliage and grows up to 4 meters. It grows well in cultivation. Other noteworthy shrubby plants include: Othonna triplinervia, Pelargonium inquinans, and Portulacaria afra. Portulacaria is known by the vernacular name, Elephants' food, due to its popularity with these pachyderms.

The vegetation is well adapted to animal disturbance (from elephant to tortoise). It is so well adapted that animal grazing and abuse is sometimes vital for reproduction. Many succulent plants (Crassulaceae) and some bulbs (Ornithogalum longibracteatum) from this region root vegetatively from a leaf or branch which has become detached from the mother plant. Among these are plants such as, Portulacaria afra, Crassula ovata, C. tetragona and other Crassula species. Other species include Adromischus and Gasteria. The latter (Gasteria) leaves will root when fragments fall to the ground.


Many of the undergrowth plants are well camouflaged. Gasteria and Ledebouria socialis have mottled leaves and are difficult to detect in the undergrowth. There are also many climbing succulent plants such as Ceropegia, Delosperma, Fockea edulis and Pelargonium peltatum, as well as scramblers such as Fockea. The large, edible root of the Fockea can be eaten fresh or cooked and was formerly used as sustenance by the Khoi and San tribes. The elephants foot (Dioscorea elephantipes) has a large tuber with a corky tortoise-like bark. Annually, it produces green climbing branches; small flowers succeeded by fruit capsules and winged seeds. Formerly used to extract cortisone, the plants are now protected. Males and females are separate. The climbing aloe (Aloe ciliaris) is an attractive species with red flowers pollinated by sunbirds.


Other smaller succulent plants in the display include: the bobbejaankambro (Pachypodium bispinosum), Jatropha capensis, Euphorbia cereiformis, E. polygona, Haworthia attenuata, H. longiana, H. springbokvlakensis & H. bruynsii, Crassula perforata, C. tetragona, and Senecio ficoides, a large shrub with glaucous leaves. Other prominent aloes grown here are Aloe africana, A. speciosa & A reynoldsii. The dwarf cliff adapted plants introduced include: Aloe pictifolia, Cotyledon eliseae, Cyrtanthus montanus and Gasteria rawlinsoni and Gasteria glomerata.


Some of the worlds best houseplants originate form this area such as Pelargonium, Chlorophytum comosum, P. madagascariensis and Ledebouria socialis. The bitter aloe, Aloe ferox has been planted in the background of this section. The bitter, sappy leaves of the plant, common in the Eastern Cape region, are fed to livestock during drought. This is said to rid them of ticks. A few juvenile leopard tortoise (Testudo pardalis) have been released in the display. They are part of this vegetation and feed on members of Crassulaceae, Haworthia, and Portulacaria afra.


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