Springing into action in Arbor week!

Spring has sprung in the southern hemisphere, although you wouldn’t believe it in Cape Town at the moment because it’s raining and cold. But, more to the point, this means that Arbor Week has begun! Arbor Week is usually associated with planting trees: I fondly remember planting young saplings at my school when I was younger. Although tree planting is something to be celebrated, trees are not the only type of plant that we should be planting. This is because trees do not occur in all environments (e.g. South Africa’s grassland areas or parts of the Succulent Karoo) and because trees are only one type of plant.

Take cycads, for example: cycads are seed plants (like conifers and flowering plants) with a very long fossil history spanning about 200 million years! Individual plants typically have a stout and woody trunk with a crown of large, fairly tough, evergreen pinnate leaves (like the individual above). Cycads were formerly more abundant and more diverse than they are today; their “hey-day” occurred during the Late Triassic or early Cretaceous epochs. Sadly, these unusual plants are threatened with extinction today, with many of the species having highly restricted geographic ranges and low population sizes. One species (Encephalartos woodii) is known to have only a few male individuals left, so is unable to reproduce sexually.

This year I am trying to cultivate a diverse range of plants, including cycads and restios. A friend of mine was kind enough to donate some seeds from an Encephalartos individual that is growing in his garden, and I was able to purchase some restio seeds from a local supplier. Let’s hope conditions get a little warmer in Cape Town, so they can germinate!

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