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Far Afield with Bruce and Lesley

by Bruce and Lesley Bohm

The latest article in Bruce's Field Trip to Africa series is:
Melianthus major
Bruce introduces us to A Few of South Arica's Uncommon Plant Families

African baobab tree
The African baobab tree was just one of the unusual and fascinating plant species the Bohm's encountered on their South Africa field trip.
Lesley and Bruce

Field Trip to Africa:
A Few of South Arica's Uncommon Plant Families A Spring Visit to Namaqualand and Beyond
Desert Life


Field Trip to Hawaii:
These are links to Bruce's articles on the unique plant life of the Hawaiian Islands:
Dubautia — A Study in Diversity
Hawaiian Sandalwood - A Shameful History
Hawaiian Silversword
Iliau—Kaua`i’s Silversword
Lava Life
Mo‘omomi Dunes, Moloka‘i
Rare Delights of Hawaii

Our family’s first trip to Africa is almost ancient history. We spent two and a half weeks on the continent in 1972 on our way for a year’s sabbatical in Queensland, Australia. We first visited a colleague of mine at the National Research Center in Cairo, and then flew on for two weeks in East Africa, one of which was spent on safari in Kenya and Tanzania, and one at a beach resort on the Kenyan coast. Since we were traveling with two young daughters, seven and nine, little interest was shown in plants; it was all about animals, swimming pools, and beaches! It was enough for the older members, however, to appreciate the stunning differences between the middle elevation inland vegetation and the rich tropical plant communities nearer the coast. The highlight plant for me was the baobab, Adansonia digitata. After the Australian year it was back to work and school for everyone. Owing to school, jobs, careers, and the like, it was to be some time before Africa became a travel destination again.

            In 1998 one of us (my wife Lesley) had the opportunity to travel to southern Africa along with about 30 other members of the Cross Canada Cycle Tour Society (they don’t just tour in Canada). The six week long trip consisted of two parts, the first three weeks on bicycles from Port Elizabeth on the southern coast to Cape Town, the second three weeks on a truck-based safari from Cape Town north through Namibia and Botswana to The Zambia and Zimbabwe—where the main attraction was Victoria Falls—and back to Johannesburg. The bicycle route went west from Port Elizabeth—into the wind most of the way—following the famous Garden Route, more or less, including visits to Nature’s Valley, Knysna, George, Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Ladismith, Onrus-Hermanus, Swellendam, Franchhoek, Stellenbosch, and Paarl. The group also visited Cape Agulhus, the most southerly point on the continent, where the Indian Ocean lies to the east and Atlantic Ocean to the west.

Some of the plants that the group passed would be familiar to most readers, especially members of Proteaceae (proteas) and Ericaceae (mostly the genus Erica). Others perhaps not so familiar are characteristic of the African flora, Restionaceae (restios) and the uniquely South African family Bruniaceae, for example.  Since Lesley was the only professional botanist (and illustrator) on the trip—most members of the group had only marginal interest in the flora—she saw many of these new and fascinating plants only in passing or during camping stops that were all too brief. What was needed was more ‘time on the ground’ at these spots to enjoy the wonderful plant life, but the group pressed on. The opportunity to return to some of those places and enjoy a more leisurely visit had to wait.

            That opportunity presented itself during a slide show on the Namaqualand flora given by Ron Long, a local British Columbian photographer and naturalist. During his presentation to the Vancouver Natural History Society, Ron suggested that he would organize another trip to South Africa to photograph the spring flora if he could find a half dozen or so interested people. Lesley and I, plus another person from the audience, expressed immediate interest. Over the next several months—this was late 2005—enough other folks expressed interest for Ron to make enquiries with Landscape Tours, the group with whom he had traveled on an earlier trip to Namaqualand. In the end, 11 of us from British Columbia and a photographer from Texas, whom Ron met on one of his trips, rounded out the group at an even dozen. The plan was for the group to meet in Johannesburg on the 21st of August in preparation for our flight to Upington, a small town in western South Africa, where we were to be met by our two guide-drivers. In the several articles to follow in this series, we will share with readers some of our experiences and images of some of the most stunning floristic landscapes imaginable. Enjoy.

February 18, 2008; updated September 12, 2011

© LC
Tallahassee, Florida USA