It Is Special In The CRR!

There is an abundance of special plants and animals in the CRR, some of them declared as red data species (highly threatened), others that are not, but nevertheless all important for our biodiversity and the reason we met the criteria to become a protected area.

Do you have one you would like to include? Click here to write to the Editor with your suggestions and we will publish your favourites in the Newsletter.

Click to skip to section:



Boophone disticha

Cochlitoma penestes


The Lesser Bush Baby

What could possibly be cuter than a bushbaby? It’s huge eyes, Yoda ears, long tiny fingers and a fluffy body and tail. Their ‘cuteness’ however is only a very small part of who they are. These are fascinating little creatures with complex social structures.

Have you seen them around? Let us know so we can gauge how widespread they are in the CRR. Getting a photo is a real challenge – they are lightning fast and come out to forage in the early evening but Craig from Gerardsville got this beautiful pic the other night. Thanks for sharing, Craig.

They are sociable little animals so NEVER FEED THEM. Not only is it illegal in a protected area, but their social structures are delicate and not to be disturbed.

There are a variety of Bushbaby species, but the Southern Lesser Galago Bushbaby is the one you will find here in the CRR. Endemic to Southern Africa, they are not a threatened species and the furthest south populations are now found in Gauteng.

Some interesting facts about these tiny creatures

They belong to the primate family, sub order is called Strepsirrhini

What is their habitat?
They like semi-arid and savannah woodlands, edges of wooded areas, and forests close to a river. Their favourite trees are mopane and acacia, and the CRR has abundant suitable habitat for them. They are nocturnal so you will see them in the trees just after sunset.

Where do they live?
They like a hollow in a tree, or the fork of a tree for nesting, and cleverly choose one with least grass around it to minimise the threat of fire.

What are their social habits?
They live in small social groups and sleep together, the mother and her babies in one group and the males in another. The young females often stay with their mother into their adulthood and help raise their own ‘children’ alongside their mother, while the males will leave at approximately nine months.
They forage alone at night in a radius of up to 1km, and return to their nests to sleep during the day. In colder weather they will shorten their search for food, and this is when you might be lucky enough to see them during the day.

What do they eat?
They eat fruit and insects and if there is a decline in their food supply, they rely on tree gum that oozes out of certain trees. Special bacteria in their stomach helps to break down and digest the gum.

How are they adapted to suit their environment?
Their large eyes are perfect for night vision, and their large ears make for excellent tracking. They have a wonderful ability which allows them to fold and flatten their ears against their heads to protect them from thorny bush. Grooming is also no hardship as the nail of the second toe is perfectly shaped to do this important job.

What do they sound like?
They have an excellent repertoire of sounds with which to communicate with one another, up to 25 different calls, and odour also forms part of their mode of communication.

All in all, they are truly delightful little creatures, and definitely one of the nicest sightings in the CRR. Whilst they are easily tamed, it is forbidden to attract them by feeding them. This also seriously disturbs their natural patterns and human habituation puts them in great danger from other predators. Look, see, and enjoy without disturbance.

Aloe greatheadii Davyyanna

Abundant Aloes, All Abloom, and gracing our Veld with their colour

What do we all see when we look out onto the beautiful grasslands of the CRR? A wonderful variety of different grasses spotted with trees. If you don’t take the time to walk through these grasses however, you will miss out on some exceptional gems, hidden from sight, until you really ‘look’.

One of these gems is the spotted aloe (Aloe greatheadii vat. Davyanna). Unlike the Mountain Aloe (Aloe marlothii subs. Marlothii Aloe Transvaalensis), which is also found in the CRR and stands tall with its large leaves, the spotted aloe is low to the ground and only really visible in the long grass when its inflorescence, which can reach a height of up to 1.2 metres, appear at the end of May and continue to flower through to July.

Aloe greatheadii Davyyanna is widespread throughout the Northwest and Gauteng and not deemed as threatened. They are stemless with very attractive foliage and adorn the dry dull bushveld with splashes of pink in the middle of winter. These colourful flowers have a practical use besides their beauty. They provide food for the sunbirds during the winter months when no other food is available to them. In return these little birds pollinate the Aloes, and the number of seeds on the Aloes are testimony to the success of this relationship. Their leaves also provide food and moisture for many antelope in particularly dry, severe winters, even though they are spiny. The bitter sap of the leaves has been used to treat wounds, sores and burns.

Able to withstand the regular veld fires, they may appear badly scorched, but the centre of the plant will remain intact, ready to grow again in the summer. These aloes, with their beautiful flowers and foliage are very water wise and frost resistant making them hardy and an excellent addition to any indigenous garden.

In my search for a newsworthy plant to include in this newsletter, I took a trip to the Aloe Farm in Hartbeespoort. The owner, Andy De Wet, was happy to supply me with the information for this article but I came away having learned quite a bit more than the lowdown on the genus Aloe.

Andy de Wet and his partner Quinton Bean were the proud recipients of the Flower of the Year Award at the Chelsea Flower show held recently for their stunning agapanthus, aptly named ‘Blackjack’. This is not the first time they have won an award. At the IPM Trade Show in Germany they walked away with the prize for the best perennial of the year. These awards are a real feather in the Cap, not only for their Aloe Farm, but also for South Africa.

With a master’s degree in Botany, Andy has chosen to create the Aloe Farm with mostly scientifically based activities. They are one of very few independent plant breeders in the world. The process that will eventually produce a winner is long and arduous and it can take seven to eight years before the selected plant reaches the market. Andy assures me however that it is the most rewarding job because each generation of plants they produce is bound to be better than the one before.

If you feel like a day out, the Aloe Farm is well worth a visit, not just to see their beautiful aloes, but a huge variety of plants and trees. In particular, their renowned agapanthus, ranging in colours from white to deep purple and vibrant blues, and last but not least, their bonsai.

Boophone disticha

One of the most iconic plants in the CRR

Boophone disticha, also known as the tumbleweed, is an Amaryllidaceae endemic to South Africa and tropical Africa. This species is widespread and long-lived but is assessed as Declining by the Red List of South African Plants because the wild plants are harvested and sold in large quantities at traditional medicine markets, which is causing the wild population to decrease, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The fan shaped (disticha) bulbous plant is most rewarding to see. A good portion of its bulb will protrude from the ground, long graceful leaves fan out and eventually a beautiful single inflorescent, coloured from shades of pink to red, is produced.

This plant thrives in full sun in well-drained, sandy soil and in rocky areas. Although it can withstand drought it does not like frost. The plants seem to grow equally well in well-drained, sandy soil and in hard ground, but they take a long time to flower. The bulbs do not produce flowers until they are quite large.

Looking at this lovely flower one struggles to see how it can eventually become a tumbleweed, but as the flower matures the fruiting head’s pedicels stiffen and elongate to approximately 300mm. The head separates where it is joined to the stalk and the wind carries the tumbleweed easily, scattering seeds as it rolls.

The large round sweetly scented flowerheads attract bees and flies, which pollinate the flowers. The plants also receive visits from ants.

What makes this unusual-looking plant special?

Besides its beauty, it has some rather interesting characteristics and was considered one of the strongest traditional cures of its time.
There have been a few variations of its name, but the origins of its genus come from the Greek words bous meaning ox and phontes meaning killer. This is a ‘dead’ giveaway as to some of the Boophone’s properties.
The bulb of this plant contains poisonous alkaloids; buphandrin, crinamidine and buphanine. These alkaloids can cause agitation and strong hallucinations. In high quantities it can induce a coma or cause death.

The Bushman, Koi and Bantu may not have known the scientific names but they were well aware of it’s dangerous attributes and used parts of the plant to make arrow poison. It also served as an effective pain killer and was used in male circumcision as well as in the treatment of emotional disorders.
Traditional Healers also used the plant to put themselves in a trance, where it was believed they would move through the doorway into the afterlife and back again. A group of women were always at the ready to shake the Traditional Healer out of her trance, and back into the land of the living. It was a belief of the Khoi people that the Boophone bulb had the power to transport the dead through the doorway into the afterlife. This was undoubtebly the reason why the Boophone’s bulb was used in the preservation of the Khoi Kouga mummy found in the Kouga region in the Eastern Cape. The body was also covered in Boophone disticha leaves for preservation. To this day the Boophone continues to be used by Traditional Healers. This sadly leads to the over-harvesting of the plant.

We need to remember that the removal of plants from a Nature Reserve is illegal and an environmental crime. The NEM:PAA (Act No.57 of 2003) Regulations on Proper Administration of Nature Reserves unambiguously specifies that “(4) No person may remove any species or specimen….”.
Nature Reserves, like the CRR, afford plants like the Boophone disticha a chance at survival, to fulfil its role in the ecosystem and remain a part of nature and culture for future generations.

A snail is a snail is a snail! Well, yes and no.

Cochlitoma penestes

We see so many of them in the CRR, particularly after the rains. Some of you may even try to avoid them when driving on our dirt roads, not so easy.

Do all of these above look just the same to you? The first two are typical grassland snail species found in the CRR and elsewhere, but look at the last one, it is a little different. Cochlitoma penestes, to be precise, has been found only in the CRR area up to date. During a biodiversity evaluation done in Roodekrans, Dr Stephan Veldsman of GDARDE photographed a live one – only the third live specimen seen in about 60 years! Three years ago, the species was thought to be extinct as only very old and dead shells had been found here. A special sighting in the CRR….. and thank you to Stephan for sharing.