A local farm, Glenlyon, was owned by the MacGregors, a family of Scottish settlers who had purchased it in 1883. The farm was made famous a century later by Neil MacGregor (1936-2010) who developed highly original conservation farming practices that ensured an everimproving display of the farm’s spectacular wild-flower diversity. MacGregor was well known for his infectious enthusiasm and gracious charm, over the years taking thousands of visitors around the flower spectacles on Glenlyon in an ancient Bedford bus. Such was the value of the knowledge shared by MacGregor that the NBI, from 1999 to 2004, included Glenlyon in a national project that studied best practice in farm management in terms of biodiversity conservation. When the NBI was searching for a site on which a new NBG could safeguard the unrivalled floral richness in the Northern Cape, Glenlyon was clearly the top candidate and the ultimate site of choice.
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Two similar species of Romulea are pollinated by different species of monkey beetle, which select their hosts according to soil conditions – not flower pattern. R. sabulosa (top) occurs on tillite clays, and R. monadelpha (above) on dolerite soils.
Research by Kirstenbosch botanists John Manning, Kim Steiner, Peter Goldblatt and many associates during the 1980s had spread the fame of the Bokkeveld far and wide. In the early 1990s the BBC produced the TV documentary series Private Lives of Plants, enchantingly narrated by Sir David Attenborough at his most inspired. The subject of the documentary was the intriguing coevolution of plants and animals. At the farm Glenlyon, just outside the town of Nieuwoudtville, they filmed the pollination of the long-tubed corollas of Lapeirousia and Babiana by long-tongued flies.
Another fascinating relationship discovered was that of oil-collecting bees, attracted to Diascia and Hemimerris flowers, which have evolved tiny jars of oil in specially elongated spurs of the corolla. The bees insert their hairy front legs into the oil-filled spurs of the flowers, simultaneously collecting oil and pollinating the flower.
Yet another fascinating discovery was that of the association of monkey beetles and the brilliantly coloured irid Romulea. Different species of monkey beetle are specific to different species of very similar-looking Romuleas growing on different soils, such as Romulea sabulosa on tillite soils and R. monadelpha on dolerite soils. It appears that the ecological separation of the different species of monkey beetle associated, in this instance, with the two species of Romulea, is a consequence of the choice of soil type by the beetle larvae, and not due to any particular feature of the plants with which they are so often found associated.
Every spring, a seemingly endless carpet of flowers reaches to the horizon in the Hantam National Botanical Garden, a world-famous floral festival. Seen here are Hesperantha pauciflora (pink), Oxalis obtusa (pale yellow) and Felicia australis (blue).