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Where have all the flowers gone?

If youíre looking for something to do on the third weekend of September, why not take a slow drive up to Darling, where the residents of this charming West Coast town will be hosting their annual Wild Flower show for an incredible 95th time. What started in 1917 as a local flower arranging competition has evolved into a celebration of the regionís floral riches and stands today not only for the display of wild flowers, but also for the promotion and conservation of these transient and colourful little national assets. 

Aside from the informative indoor displays there are a number of easily accessible flower reserves around the town that offer the opportunity to enjoy the flowers in situ, either on foot or from a vehicle. Amongst others they include: the Darling Renosterveld Reserve, the Groenekloof Renosterveld Reserve, the Waylands Flower Reserve and the Tienie Versfeld Wildflower Reserve. In fact, Darling, as the good townsfolk will tell you, lies within an area of plant diversity found nowhere else in the world. The district comprises a unique blend of soil types - a kind of melange of sand, clay and silt that results in Sandveld, Strandveld, Renosterveld and Rietveld. These vegetation types cumulatively account for 10% of the Cape Floral Kingdom species, despite constituting less than 1 % of its area.
 Indeed, whilst the Darling flower show heralds a pilgrimage of sedans into the Swartland every Spring, for many it is actually only the gateway - a kind of base camp, to the treasures that lie beyond. For those intrepid flower enthusiasts wanting to explore every back-road, dirt-track and mud-patch between here and the Orange River, there are many other spots to seek out: like the Hantam National Botanical Garden just outside Nieuwoudtville, where the variety of habitats, soil types and flower species provide stunning flower displays along with a myriad of insects and birds. Or the West Coast National Park, near Langebaan, where the morning mist lifts to reveal a sunny embroidery of flowers woven in with the Strandveld. There are also opportunities for whale watching, game viewing and, for birders, thousands of seabirds on white sandy beaches. 

Further afield, for the most adventurous types, is the Richtersveld National Park. Here, in an area jointly managed by the local Nama people and the South African National Parks, strange looking plants of all shapes and sizes unite with the dramatic topography to create a landscape of almost surreal beauty. Besides the myriad of spring flowers, the park also offers opportunities for activities such as hiking, 4x4 trails, river rafting and mountain biking .There are also over two hundred bird species and unsurpassed opportunities for photography enthusiasts. Note that visitors to the Richtersveld National Park should be well prepared, this is an austere and unforgiving landscape and whilst it is infinitely beautiful it is no place to be driving a sedan. Or to be in a hurry

Despite these exceptional botanical attributes, these veld types (especially Renosterveld) have been steadily losing ground to agriculture for centuries. Today just 5% of the West Coast Renosterveld remains uncultivated and, due to the soilís suitability for the growing of wheat and other crops, there is little hope of preserving much more. Many of its typical species are on the SANBI Red List and the entire veld-type itself is listed as critically endangered. What is currently being conserved exists only in various isolated reserves scattered throughout the region, along roadsides and on uncultivated lands between the farmlands. 

The good news is that a growing number of individuals and organisations are working on all levels to ensure that these rare and beautiful wildflowers survive, not only on the ground, but also in the hearts and minds of all those lucky enough to enjoy them on a warm, sunny day, sometime in Spring. 

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Posted: 10/17/2012 (1:41:45 PM)

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