By William Bond
Emeritus Professor, Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town
Relative to Cape fynbos, renosterveld has long been the poor sister described as boringly uniform, and monotonously grey by its detractors. This book will surely help to change that perception. Unlike most guides to our Cape flora, this one caters for the complete naturalist. Besides illustrating some 1000 plant species there are also sections on mammals, birds, reptiles, spiders, scorpions, even a slug, and an array of common insects. There are excellent introductory accounts of the current understanding of ecology and biology of the biome and its inhabitants including the ongoing controversies over whether the ecosystem is overgrazed, bush-encroached grassland or has always been shrubland or perhaps a mosaic of the two. There is also a tacit acceptance that this is a fire-dependent ecosystem and that many plant species snychronise their lives to the conditions created by a burn. The heart of the book is the description of the plants of renosterveld, long renowned for its rich geophyte flora. Taxonomy, the science that provides us with the Latin names of species, is described as ‘fraught with drama’, a delightful description suggesting tense stand-offs among the contributors to the volume and their colleagues. The book follows a fairly standard pattern of alphabetic ordering of families, genera and species grouped into ferns, monocots, dicots etc. This is fine if you are knowledgeable about plants, difficult if you are a beginner looking for a photo match for a species in hand. An innovation that I really liked was the insertion of a descriptive paragraph, with attractive, clear line drawings, of families with tricky floral parts such as Cyperaceae, Poaceae, Asteraceae and more. Species descriptions are informative reflecting the strong taxonomic expertise of the authors. They include explanations of the meaning of all the botanical names.
An unusual, perhaps unique, feature of the book is a section on ‘conservation heroes’ of Overberg renosterveld with paragraphs on the famers who have led the way in conserving renosterveld remnants on their properties. Given the extreme fragmentation, and the scattered distribution of narrow endemics on those fragments, conserving renosterveld in the Overberg is a challenge for the most ardent conservationist. The approach led by Odette Curtis and ORCT, working with farmers, while also creating a ‘traditional’ nature reserve, is a model for how it can be done. Fittingly, there are appendices giving practical advice on renosterveld management and formalizing conservation on private land pitched to farmers and conservation managers. The book reflects the energy, excitement and enthusiasm that Odette Curtis and her colleagues have created around the Overberg Renosterveld. This is a book that every Cape naturalist needs on their shelves and will surely tempt many of us to visit the Overberg and enjoy its treasures. With the publication of this book, as Richard Cowing notes in his foreword, ‘Renosterveld has Arrived’!
About the authors of Field Guide to Renosterveld of the Overberg :
Odette Curtis-Scott is the founder and Director of the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust and has spent many years fighting for the preservation of this ecosystem. In 2014, she received the Botanical Society of South Africa’s Flora Conservation Award in recognition of her work. Odette has worked with Mike Goulding, Nick Helme, Rhoda McMaster, Sean Privett and Charles Stirton to develop this material – a team of experts committed to preserving the Renosterveld.