Retiree compiles guide on local flora

Fiona Watson holding the definitive list of species found on Meadowridge Common.

Many people living around a piece of land in the heart of Meadowridge have no idea what treasures it holds.

Fiona Watson, 79, has compiled and created a DVD, Flora of Meadowridge Common. Well timed with spring around the corner, it chronicles the history of the area and is the definitive list of the many beautiful flowers – and some of the animals – found there.

Ms Watson has more information about the flora of Meadowridge Common than anyone else, and, due to deteriorating eyesight from macular degeneration, she did not want this valuable knowledge to be lost.

The DVD is not her first. Having grown up near the 40-hectare Rondebosch Common and walking the family dog there, she started to notice the flora. In 1970, she bought a Nikon FM camera with macro lens and has been photographing flowers ever since. Getting them identified by a number of botanists, she compiled a list of the flowers. This list, with additions, is the definitive list for Rondebosch Common.

In 1981, she moved to Meadowridge with her husband but it was in 1997 when she retired as principal from Sans Souci Girls’ High School that she started photographing and identifying the plants on the six-hectare Meadowridge Common. Although both areas have the same vegetation type, that of Cape Flats Sand Fynbos (CFSF), found nowhere else in the world, she began noticing flowers not present on Rondebosch Common.

Recording the plants this time she went deeper into her investigation, mapping the area, plotting the locations of species, recording when she saw them in flower, describing their structures of interests together with their photographs. These documented records, together with Dr William Frederick Purcell’s list and herbarium specimens of the 595 species he noted on Bergvliet Farm between 1912 and 1919, are now held in the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the biodiversity unit of the City’s environmental resource management department.

In 2011, Ms Watson donated all her slides of the flora to the Friends of Rondebosch Common. These were subsequently digitised and the following year she worked on and off with Friends volunteer David Stegmann to produce a DVD to raise funds for their work.

“Three years later and never again,” she exclaimed. But in November 2015 she relented, and work began on the Meadowridge Common DVD. This was no easy feat with rapidly diminishing eyesight and the challenge of recording 137 different flowering plant species, of which 15 are listed as endangered on the Red List of South African Plants.

Recently released, it is an important chronicle of the history of the area. With beautiful pictures of plants, divided into monocotyledons (seed has an embryo with a single cotyledon) and a dicotyledons (seed has an embryo with two cotyledons); then into families and finally into species. Whether you have some botanical knowledge or not, you are sure to learn the basics of flower identification. Ms Watson provides the origin of names which helps in remembering their botanical name.

She also raises conservation issues since the common has started becoming degraded. One of her main concerns is the lack of fire. Other challenges include fungus, theft, drought, climate change, trampling by vagrants, people making paths, the growing number of people and their dogs crushing plants, guinea fowl eating bulbs and the surprising introduction of some plants which are not endemic to the area.

“I’m very happy with the end result. It’s sure to be of interest to botanists interested in conservation and all those who walk there,” said Ms Watson.

Ms Watson has won two awards: the WESSA Green Champions award for her work identifying plants on Rondebosch and Meadowridge commons in October 2013, and a Civic Honour from the City of Cape Town in 2009 for her contribution to recording the flora of Meadowridge Common.

* The DVD is for sale at R100 and all profits will go towards the Friends of Meadowridge Common. To purchase a copy, contact Fiona Watson at 021 712 0696.

* The Friends of Meadowridge Common annual spring wildflower walk will take place on Saturday September 17. The walk is free, and open to anyone. Meet at the gravel road off Faraday Way near the soccer fields at 11.30am.