IBSA Post Symposium trip to Middelpos

Mary Sue Ittner msittner@mcn.org
Tue, 26 Sep 2006 22:23:41 PDT
As promised here is my report on our trip to Middelpos. Almost every year 
the members of IBSA journey to Middelpos to see the spring blooming bulbs 
and stay in the hotel and botanize during the day.  My husband and I had 
joined them for one night in 2001, but it was the day we arrived from the 
United States so by the time we got there it was dark. We stopped along the 
way since we were traveling with Rod and Rachel Saunders who are good plant 
spotters from a moving vehicle, but we had a long way to go so I am sure we 
hit just some of the highlights. They were both driving since they didn't 
trust us to stay awake after two days of traveling and many hours on the 
plane. We saw Daubneya aurea in the fading light and the next day we went 
on to Nieuwoudtville. So our experience with Middelpos was very limited. 
Mostly we recalled how we couldn't sleep at night in spite of being 
exhausted since we were so cold.

On the other hand each year since I'd read about the annual trip to 
Middelpos and about the wonderful plants seen, even in years of low 
rainfall. So when we were asked if we wanted to join some of the other 
delegates for a post trip to Middelpos we jumped at the chance and said 
yes, please. After all we now travel with hot water bottles when visiting 
South Africa in winter. Middelpos is in the Roggeveld. In the Color 
Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs this area is designated as RV, initials used in 
the US that stand for Recreational Vehicle and we did see a lot of people 
passing us by very quickly in donkey carts. This area extends from Calvinia 
southward along the Roggeveld Escarpment to the foothills at 
Matjiesfontein. It is a very dry area with the rainfall occurring in 
winter. According to the book, rain averages 125-250 mm (5-10 inches) a 
year with the escarpment getting the higher amount. This year a drought was 
ended with three times the lower amount of rain so we expected the 
flowering display would be very good. The Roggeveld is a fairly flat, rocky 
plain with isolated steep sided mountains. Winter temperatures are cool and 
frost and snow is usual. In fact Sutherland in this area is one of the 
colder spots in South Africa. The best displays of bulbs occur along the 
edges of the Escarpment and the Hantamsberg, a flat topped mountain at 
Calvinia. Soils are fine grained from shale or dolerite. The latter we 
remembered from our visit to Nieuwoudtville, red clay that sticks to your 
boots when it is wet.

Middelpos is halfway between Sutherland and Calvinia. It was the distance 
you could get in a day by horse from one town or the other. It is lower 
than Sutherland so not quite so cold, but it is a very small settlement 
with the hotel being the largest building. Even so there wasn't room for 
all 37 of us at the hotel so they came up with some creative arrangements. 
We heard that some of the family were sent away on visits so their homes 
were made available for groups of six or eight. Being at Middelpos is not 
about luxury accommodations, but the people owning and working at the hotel 
were very pleasant and did their best to meet our needs and provided a lot 
of food for each meal we had, although there were not many vegetables 
besides potatoes. We ate at some kind of community center across from the 
hotel so they obviously enlisted the help of others. We spent 3 nights at 
Middelpos and a few others stayed on for a fourth.

The first day we had a late start since we had visited the garden at 
Worcester the last morning of the Symposium and then had to wait for some 
of the other delegates to be returned to the Spa. Most of the roads in this 
area are dirt with big ruts so you have to drive carefully and pay 
attention. At least one of our group hit one of the ditches and blew out a 
tire in their rental car. It had turned surprisingly warm during the day. 
The weather was good for looking for plants the whole time. They hadn't had 
rain for long enough that you could walk around without getting stuck in 
the mud. There was so much in bloom and it wasn't as windy as it can be. 
And there weren't as many pesty pollinators as we encountered later in our 
trip. On the way up most of us took the turn off to the Komsberg to see the 
plants there. In South Africa a lot of the flowers don't open until 10 and 
then only if it is warm and not windy and they start closing in early 
afternoon. So we were in a bit of a rush to see what we could see before 
the flowers closed. There were sheets of flowers along the way (a lot of 
annuals). Some of the bulbs we saw were Gladiolus venustus or  had it now 
become scullyi because of where it was, Bulbinellas (both yellow and white 
and some in large numbers) and Bulbines,  Moraea macronyx, M. (Homeria) 
miniata, another unidentified Moraea, Homeria subgroup, some kind of a blue 
Ixia and I think another purple species, several white Hesperanthas, lots 
of Oxalis obtusa, Lapeirousia montana (a pale blue flower), Androcymbium 
burchellii, and another Ferraria not identified. A highlight was a whole 
field of Knipfophia, I think K. sarmentosa. As we were climbing down to get 
a better picture of that some of us spied some Oxalis palmifrons and no, it 
wasn't blooming there either. Since mine never blooms I don't know when it 
is supposed to. We also saw a lot of Romuleas this day, although many of 
them were already in the closing mode. We saw. R. atrandra and R. 
kombergensis that way, but did manage to see some nice Romulea tortuosa 
with spiraling leaves and best of all fields of solid bright 
yellow  Romulea diversiformis stretching for a great distance. This was in 
a very wet field. So we felt we were off to a good start.

The next day traveling from Middelpos we passed fields of Moraea, Homeria 
subgroup. People told us that they had never seen so many before and we 
thought them quite striking in apricot and yellow, but apparently the 
others didn't, since they didn't stop  for photographs. I don't think they 
were all M. miniata, but some of them were probably that species and I can 
understand its reputation for weediness. We again saw Lapeirousia montana, 
including some there were a darker blue with nice markings. We saw a lot of 
Gladious uysiae (which sounds like they are saying a-see-i  which confused 
me for awhile as I couldn't imagine what they were talking about). It's a 
very beautiful little Gladiolus. We also saw Moraea ciliata and M. 
tripetala in different colors. My husband managed to take a picture that 
included both Marlene and Bob Werra lying flat on the ground to get the 
best vantage point for the same yellow M. ciliata. They are dedicated when 
it comes to photographing Moraeas. There were fields of annuals everywhere 
and finding your way was a huge challenge as we didn't want to step on any 
of the flowers. There were yellow Romuleas and also Romulea tetragona. 
Growing together were an Ixia  and a Geissorhiza heterostyla, both looking 
very similar and no doubt having the same pollinator. All of our boots 
became golden with pollen.  We took pictures of some of the most colorful 
boots. There were many Oxalis obtusas, interspersed with all the blooming 
annuals. This was definitely nature's garden. We were excited to spy a red 
Gladiolus splendens, one of those species that used to be something else 
with an unusual shape. There were lots more G. scullyi which we saw over 
and over again.

Finally we encountered our first of the magnificent Romuleas, R. 
subfistulosa. What a thrill to see it. It is just as beautiful in person as 
in all the pictures I have seen. Digital cameras make it easy to take lots 
and lots and lots and lots of pictures when you find something so 
spectacular. We both overdid it a bit. We saw some really pretty 
Androcymbium latifolium with wine red bracts and some nice Wurmbea. Shortly 
after we saw the one Romulea, we saw our next big red Romulea, R. unifolia 
with orange red flowers and black and yellow blotches. Further on we got 
number three with masses of Romulea monadelpha. Some of us followed the 
wrong car for the last stop of the day and ended up back in the hotel 
early. People generally visited the bar and got something to drink and then 
hung out there or in front of the hotel visiting and sharing in the wonders 
of the day instead of rushing to their rooms. Two nights we had nightly 
entertainment. Cameron McMaster set his computer up to show Gladiolus 
pictures on the wall as we were waiting for dinner. And Rod Saunders gave a 
slide show of flowers of the Drakensberg another night.

Our final day in Middelpos we hit the jackpot. We had already seen so much 
that your senses almost become numbed and you forget how wonderful it was 
until you look at your pictures again. The owner of the hotel is setting 
aside an area to protect so we went there first as ISBA members are going 
to make a list of what is growing there. We saw lots of Lachenalia obscura 
and the wonderful patterned leaves of L. zebrina and some nice L. violacea. 
We were all excited (including the owner) to find some Tritonia karooica, 
yellow flushed orange with nice veins. There was an Ornithogalum (Albuca) 
with coiled leaves and a pretty Babiana, Bulbine torta (with coiled leaves) 
and more of the same things we had seen the day before. On another stop we 
saw Daubenya marginata which was a little past it, but it was still a 
thrill to see it. In this area there were wonderful Oxalis obtusas, in many 
different color combinations. The ones in the shade were much darker. Those 
were often protected by short shrubs.  The group lined up to photograph odd 
flowers. It there was a bright magenta Romulea and someone found a pale 
pink one everyone wanted to photograph that one. If there were mostly 
yellow Bulbinellas, the sole orange one was photographed the most. Yellow 
Bulbinellas growing in a field with blue Felicias with yellow centers are 
quite striking. This day we saw more of the gorgeous Romuleas we saw the 
day before. The highlight of the day and maybe the trip was discovering the 
field of Daubenya aurea. This was perhaps sensory overload. It's such a 
bright red orange and growing in the same field of red clay was Romulea 
subfistulosa, Moraea ciliata, blue-purple Felicia, and white annuals. It 
was quite a show and once again a good excuse to take lots of pictures. The 
last stop of the day the leaders very kindly took those of us who made the 
wrong turn the night before to see what we missed even though it was a very 
long way. We visited a field of Romulea kombergensis growing and blooming 
in mass in a very wet area. There was a white one and a violet one almost 
the color of R. bulbocodium in the middle of all those pinkish flowers. 
What a thrill to see so many Romuleas in such great numbers in this area. 
Also growing in the last stop were some yellow Spiloxene.

The next morning we said our goodbyes and headed off in different 
directions with more gorgeous flowers yet to see. We were very grateful 
that we had this opportunity to travel with people who knew where to find 
the flowers and to get to know some of the people better over dinner, 
breakfast, or when carpooling.  I didn't add any pictures of what we saw to 
the wiki this time as it took me so long to do it last time, but I could 
add pictures in the weeks to come if people are interested. We also 
botanized in the Calvinia area, Nieuwoudtville, Namaqualand, the Cedarberg, 
Clanwilliam, the Biedouw Valley, Citrusdal, Darling, Bainskloof, 
Brackenfell, Kirstenbosch, Table Mountain and Lion's Head (before and after 
the Symposium). But I'm thinking writing about all that might be too much 
so perhaps I should just stop with this report and let some of the others 
who went to South Africa take over. As you can imagine we will be going 
through our pictures for a long time trying to figure out all we saw.

Mary Sue

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