‘I’ve been living in the area for eight years, and never knew what was on my doorstep’.
This was a comment by one of the Elfindale residents who attended the guided walk at Princess Vlei on Saturday March 13. The walk was organised by the Princess Vlei Forum to make local residents and others aware of some of the botanical riches growing at Princess Vlei, and to inspire residents to participate in our exciting fynbos restoration project. Amongst the group were members of the Kristenbosch botanical Society, who have been assisting the Forum with the
Thirty-two people of all ages came together for the four kilometre walk, which set off from Briana Crescent. Addressing the group, fynbos consultant Alex Lansdowne explained that the Princess Vlei conservation area is rich in biodiversity, and contains three of Cape Town’s most threatened vegetation types. It has been degraded for 200 years, and chronically underfunded for decades, but the community is working to bring back the biodiversity, plant by plant.
Lansdowne spoke about coming to Princess Vlei with his grandfather as a child. His grandfather harvested many medicinal plants, such as geranium incanum, which he used in a tea for stomach complaints. Lansdowne said that the original Khoe inhabitants of the area sustained themselves on the rich bulbs that characterise this vegetation type.
Lansdowne pointed out the plants from three of the four aromatic plant families found in fynbos - the daisies, the mint family, the pelargoniums and citrus family. People were surprised to discover that buchu is from the citrus family. This is the only family not currently growing at Princess Vlei.
He explained that that characteristic red colour of many fynbos plants is the plant’s survival mechanism for the dry summers - towards the end of the summer, they slow down their photosynthesis by flooding the leaves with red pigment, to conserve their resources.
Lansdowne said that there are three endangered vegetation types that could grow at Princess Vlei — Dune Strandveld, Freshwater aquatic systems, and Cape Flats Sand Fynbos. This last vegetation type is very rich in biodiversity, but has been almost eradicated by development, with 14 species going extinct in the last ten years. Princess Vlei has a substantial area of pristine Dune Strandveld, near the Retreat Civic. The restoration project is proposing to restore 5 to 10 Ha of Dune strandveld and Cape Flats Sand Fynbos.
Princess Vlei has been badly neglected, mainly as a result of apartheid spatial planning, which means that the authorities have not invested the kind of resources needed that would have been invested in similar sites in traditionally white areas.
However, Forum raises over R500 000 per annum to spend on project managers, consultants, restoration, and environmental education programmes with local schools. This community investment has encouraged the City of Cape Town to invest in improving the infrastructure and management of the site, and Cllr Southgate invests a portion of the ward budget each year.
The City has upgraded braai areas, provided a play area, and is in the process of installing a 5km walkway around the vlei. This will considerably improve access to the vlei for hikers, joggers and family groups, and will make it much easier to police.
Lansdowne said that it was important to make all parts of the vlei accessible to the community, in order to increase community understanding of the value of the biodiversity and natural beauty of the site.
Denisha Anand, currently employed by the Forum to help the City manage the site, said that before white settlers came, the indigenous people were the custodians, and knew how to care for their environment. Their rich knowledge and value systems were marginalised by the colonial authorities, but now it was important to draw on this traditional knowledge, and to work with Khoe groups in the community in restoring and protecting the ecology of the area.
Lansdowne showed new proteas coming up from seed in the areas already under restoration - the first proteas growing at the vlei in fifty years. Amongst these is the serruria foeniculea, or strawberry spider head. This plant was last seen at Princess Vlei in 2010. A specimen was found in Grassy Park in 1970 by Howard Langley, who propagated it at Rondevlei. The plant has a small habitat range of only 5 km2. Princess vlei has the right conditions to host the biggest population of this critically endangered species.
The Forum is currently preparing a 120m2 restoration site near Briana crescent by removing alien grasses. This restoration will re-establish Cape Flats Sand Fynbos in the area, including species such as serruria foeniculae and erica verticillata, which is extinct in the wild.
In May, community members will be invited to assist with planting seedlings specially propagated for the site. Some of these were ‘rescued’ from nearby areas that were being cleared for development.
The Forum would like to thank all who attended the walk, and invite all local community members to get involved in this wonderful project to restore the rich natural life and beautiful plants of Princess Vlei.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.