Amatola Mountains of Southern Africa



Greetings from the garden.

The following images and note are from an extraordinary disk by Cameron McMaster.

The Flowering Plants Insects and Landscapes of the Amatola Mountains of Southern Africa. Cameron has gone to great lengths to capture the incredible flora of this special area on earth. The work that has been done on this disk will go along way to hep you discover this amazing place. It is my pleasure to bring you this wonderful addition to you library. The cost is only $55.00, includes postage).



Here are a few excerpts from the disk.

MOUNTAIN OF HEALERS First Published 1999 in Plantlife No 21, p.16-18

By JC McMaster, PO Box 26 Napier 7270

A strange title, you may think, for a publication devoted to indigenous plants.
Yes, it is relevant - I am referring to Mt. Thomas, the elegant peak in the Amatola
mountains which, together with its bigger companion Mt. Kubusie, towers above that
most beautiful of lakes, mecca of trout anglers, Gubu Dam near Stutterheim in the Eastern
Cape. It was named after St. Thomas Aquinas by the first missionaries. It must have had
an older name. It was at a prestigious angling event at Gubu Dam recently that I was
asked "How did Gubu get its name?" I made it my business to find out.

The name Gubu is of course far older than the dam. It is the name of the crystal clear
stream that has its source at the base of Mt. Thomas and the name of the valley in which
the dam was eventually built. Gubu is a Xhosa name for "drum" - a drum made of skin and
beaten by the ancient Xhosa healers and witchdoctors in pursuance of their magic. Legend
has it that Mt. Thomas was the domain of these healers who used to ascend its slopes
to gather muti to strengthen and protect the warriors of the tribe. It was a mountain
particularly rich in the plants and herbs that supplied the ingredients for their healing
brews, and for casting their spells. It is said that plants grow there that occur
nowhere else. It was alleged to be a mountain frequented by lynx, leopard and wild cat,
hunted for their magic qualities. These cats were very crafty, and so it was only the
witchdoctors who ventured there, beating their drums as they communicated with the
spirits. The drum beats would roll down the slopes and echo through the valley, and so
the area became known as GUBU - the place of the drums. The local folk sometimes refer
to the mountain as "Intabeni ugqirha" - mountain of healers. They still recall that the
last witchdoctor to frequent the mountain died on its slopes about fifty years ago.
His name was "Jwara" and it is said that he was killed by a mythical beast who did not
like humans intruding on the mountain. He may of course have died of exposure in a snow

The connection that the Mountain of Healers has with Plantlife, is the richness of its
flora. I was awestruck many years ago when I first climbed its gentle slopes at the
amazing profusion and variety of the wild flowers that occur there. As years went by
and I returned regularly, I grew to know them better, learned their names,
and photographed them. In fact, one summer season many years ago I went up every
month of the year to record every flowering plant on film throughout the season.
It is a small mountain - its slopes can be traversed in a morning. It is possible
to make checklists, and yet impossible, because each year you return, you find something

It was the proteas that first of all impressed me - as one emerges from the forest
on the way up, if it is February, one is greeted by masses of the tiny Protea simplex
in bloom. This is probably the southernmost range of this common summer rainfall Protea. It is deciduous by nature, each summer sending up new simple shoots from the woody rootstock, at the tip a bud will develop and eventually bloom. For over a century the southern slopes of Mt. Thomas have fallen within the Kubusie forest reserve, and have been well preserved by the Department of Forestry. Just across the boundary fence on land that has been grazed by sheep for a hundred years, not a solitary Protea simplex has survived - illustrating dramatically how vulnerable are many of our indigenous flowers to grazing livestock.







2.) Sharing this seepage where  N. angulata grows are a number of other bulbous plants.   In early February there are masses of  the deep pink Tritonia discolor which, although they have rudimentary corms, spread chiefly by means of rhizomes.  Hesperantha huttonii, a very delicate plant  flowers in March followed in April by its more robust cousin, Hesperantha pulchra.  The showy pink Chironia krebsii also prefers damp spots.

Scattered over the better drained slopes of the mountain are a large variety of other flowers.  Two types of Agapanthus bloom all over in midsummer  - the large and showy deep blue Agapanthus praecox which grows particulary amongst the rocks in the kranses, has been especially named as the Mt. Thomas form.  Near to it one finds the diminutive Agapanthus campanulatum, with short leaves and dainty flowers carried on stems scarcely 30 cm high.  Strangely there is absolutely no evidence of hybridization between these two species.   Similarly, some species of Kniphofia  flower at the same time.  The robust bright red-orange Kniphofia uvaria is so different from dainty little Kniphofia triangularis, both of which flower in mid-summer.  Kniphofia parviflora, a very different looking poker with its its small pale yellow flowers all carried on on side of the stem, is also common on this mountian.

Dieramas number but one - Dierama pulcherrimum - but it is a particularly robust tall form with large pink flowers, blooming in autumn.  The spectacular yellow Moraea reticulata with its very long floppy leaves, sometimes up to 1,5 meters, is also common, flowering in autumn.  Urginia capitata is an interesting bulb that flowers in early spring. Gladiolus are represented by Gladiolus dalenii and Gladiolus ecklonii.  Mt. Thomas is also a habitat for the endemic grey-leaved Watsonia amatolae which blooms profusely with large, dense, deep pink flowers on short stems at Christmas time.  This is truly one the most beautiful watsonias. 

Some years ago I observed a number of very small, thin watsonia-like plants on a rocky  dolerite outcrop on Mt. Thomas, but no sign of  flowers.   Two bulbs I collected flowered the following year in my garden - short and small, pale orange blooms of a watsonia I had never seen before.  Peter Goldblatt , author of the definitive work on watsonias,  who visited us last year,  is of the opinion that it is an undescribed species which required some investigation.

In a brief survey such as this there are so many flowers that go unmentioned.  Just to name a few more - many varied species of Hypoxis, the spectacular parasitic Harveya that turn jet black as they wither, spreading Crotalarias with their little yellow flowers, Diaschias, many Pelargoniums, yellow and pink Helichrysums, and not forgetting the lovely deciduous grass aloe, Aloe ecklonis, the small neat Scilla nervosa,  Albucas, Ornithogalums, Ledebourias and so many more.



Prepared for Karen Kirkman, SA Forest Company Ltd

 Prepared by Cameron and Rhoda McMaster,   PO Box 26, Napier 7270, South Africa.

1.   Summary

We were commissioned by Safcol in the year 2000 to make an intensive study of the montane grassland of the Amatola mountains above the town of Stutterheim.  We are dedicated naturalists who reside just under the mountain and because of our interest in indigenous flora and fauna we have been involved in an intimate life-long relationship with the Amatola Mountains and Forests.

While the mountain grassland of the Eastern Amatolas is one of the very few almost pristine areas where the original flora and bio-diversity still exists, it is currently under severe threat.  In this study, which involved a survey of the flowering plants, the current status of the area was assessed, the threats to its preservation were identified and the various land-use options and management strategies were examined.   As a repository of many beautiful, rare and potentially useful plants, most of which have been destroyed elsewhere, these mountains are part of the heritage of the people of the Eastern Cape This implies that we have a sacred duty to preserve in trust our natural heritage for the benefit of future generations.  This is especially true of sensitive areas, such as mountain grassland, which are not suitable for commercial exploitation.

These mountains are also of utmost importance as a source of quality water. The value of their potential as a water source for the communities below is far more important than any other land-use option.  This is complemented by their value for eco-tourism, a potential that can only be realised if the region is properly conserved.

The Amatola montane grassland is one of the few areas in our province that is State land and which, until recently, enjoyed State protection. Our report suggests that it is necessary to consider ways in which its preservation and conservation can be assured.  This will necessitate an investigation into the various options that are possible in order to protect the area as a Nature Reserve.

Recommendations and suggestions for the management of the montane grassland are set out under the various sections to which they pertain and are listed together in Section 9 at the end of the report.

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A disk of images and cultivation information called 'Wild bulbs of the Eastern Cape' is available from Cameron McMaster. This disk is a highly informative and extremely pictorial collection, captured by Cameron whilst collecting seeds out in the field. Cameron McMaster is one of South Africa's most noted naturalists, whose enthusiasm shines through on this information available. His love of the plants and the surrounding environment resounds through this disk. I consider myself very lucky to have a friendship with such a dedicated and personable gentleman.



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