Fynbos royalty set alight

Mashudu Nndanduleni to flex his greenfingers at Chelsea Flower Show.

Mashudu Nndanduleni from Khayelitsha will be part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) team that will represent the country at the Chelsea Flower Show in London next month.

Last year Mr Nndanduleni, 36, graduated with a Horticultural BTech from Unisa.

He wrote a proposal to set fire to some of the protea flower beds in the 36ha cultivated part of the 528ha Kirstenbosch.

Founded in 1913, there have been very few fires in what is one of Cape Town’s big seven tourist attractions.

And it is for this reason that fire would not have been a good idea, until recently.

Curator Philip le Roux granted permission and last year under ideal conditions and with safety precautions in place, they set fire to the beds.

Mr Nndanduleni said the goal was to see if fire could be used in a garden to cleanse the bed of disease or reduce it significantly. These disease problems often result in over 50 percent mortality within a year of planting and noticeable losses of mature proteas. The focus of his experiment is on disease in the soil and if it’s possible to eradicate or reduce it.

Mr Nndanduleni divided the protea bed in three sections – one is rotivated which is a mechanical way of turning the soil and planted; another is planted without being rotivated; the third is not burned, nor rotivated and but is planted.

For the next three years he will record the reseeder and resprouter species that come up, including weeds, and exotic and alien plants. He will concentrate on the protea genus which includes Protea cynaroides, king Protea, also the national flower of South Africa. It has the largest flower head of all Protea. Other ornamental species include Leucospermum and Leucadendron with a few hardy Serruria, Mimetes and Paranomus species.

So far he has come across some amazing finds. Some plants have never grown in the beds although they are found on Table Mountain and have possibly been dispersed by wind or birds. The Leucospermum argenteum, silvertrees, are looking good and Mimetes cucullatus, red pagoda, have resprouted and are looking better than they ever have. Other genus are also coming up (including aliens) which are being recorded and removed or transplanted, some because they are competing for space and air circulation.

A fly in the project has been the drought. The irrigation system was removed prior to the fire. Mr Nndanduleni did not want to irrigate the beds as water may carry disease but after six months the beds were looking so dry they relented and began watering in December.

And now his huge smile is infectious as he counts the days to when he leaves for the Chelsea Flower Show on May 13.

He lists the things he plans to do, apart from helping build and man the Sanbi exhibit.

There will be networking and meeting other horticulturists he has corresponded with when he plans to visit the Eden Project in Cornwall to see how they collect the plants and to experience the conservancy.

At the top of the list is a visit to Kew Garden to see a 200-year-old pincushion with a fascinating history. The seeds were collected in 1803 by Dutch merchant Jan Teerlink. Arriving in Table Bay aboard the Dutch trading ship Henriette, he came ashore, explored Table Mountain and collected seeds of 32 species in packets and recorded them in his leather-bound notebook.

The Henriette was captured by the British navy on its way home – the English were at war with the French at the time. All the documents were seized. Teerlink’s notebook full of seeds was sent to the Tower of London and then Chancery Lane and it ended up in the The National Archives in London where it was discovered in 2005 during cataloguing.

A few seeds were sent to Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank and being so old and having been stored in such poor conditions, none were expected to germinate.

However, one of eight seeds that Teerlink had labelled Protea conocarpa, germinated and grew into a plant that has been positively identified as Leucospermum conocarpodendron subspecies conocarpodendron, the Grey Tree Pincushion.

In 2013, to mark 100 years of a close working relationship, Kew repatriated cuttings of this plant to Kirstenbosch. Anthony Hitchcock named it ‘Princess Elizabeth’ after Elizabeth 1 of England, who also survived a period of incarceration in the infamous Tower of London. “I can’t wait to see this plant in Kew Gardens,” says Mr Nndanduleni.

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