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Written by: Jane Forrester and Catherine Browne

Finally we had an excuse not to just look at the flora of our area, but also to admire the fauna – and it was still in the name of work! 

For many years the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, which is located in the Western Cape province, concentrated on the flowers of the fynbos. However, when the mandate of the organisation expanded to include fauna, and its name changed to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, we began to look far more closely at the birds and bees too.

Disa Kloof, Harold Porter National Botanical Garden. ©Jane Forrester
Disa Kloof, Harold Porter National Botanical Garden ©Jane Forrester

As animals rarely stay in one place as plants do, we need to take photographs to help identify them. In early 2015 the Hermanus Botanical Society asked SANBI to put up a photographic display featuring insects as part of their festival theme of ‘Fynbos Creatures’. This was the kick in the pants needed to expand our fauna listings beyond the bird list.

And so the ‘Creature Catalogue’ was conceived and grew to a brochure listing 293 creatures from frogs to feathered friends, some illustrated with photographs, that can be found in the area. The catalogue was born when the Botanical Society of South Africa agreed to sponsor the publication of 40,000 A3 full colour brochures. 25 large posters featuring about 150 of these animals were put up at the festival where we also handed out the brochures.

Insect posters displayed with flower specimens at the 2015 Hermanus Wild Flower Festival. ©Jane Forrester
Insect posters displayed with flower specimens at the 2015 Hermanus Wild Flower Festival ©Jane Forrester

Since then we have found a rabbit and another three dragonflies to add to the lists. And there are still hundreds to go!

Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, SANBI and BotSoc would like to share just five of the featured creatures – all of which fly!

1.     The Cape sugarbird

The male Cape sugarbird is a real show-off with his flirty long tail, which he ‘clatters’ along with the lovely ‘frirrriping’ sound that he makes with his wings when he is trying to impress the females. Females react most favourably to the guys with the longest tails. But sometimes when there is a strong wind blowing I think that these fellows must find that fancy tail quite a liability!

Sugarbird male on Berzelia stokoei (formerly Brunia). ©Jane Forrester
Male sugarbird on a Berzelia stokoei (formerly Brunia) ©Jane Forrester

2.     The orange-breasted sunbird

This sunbird is endemic to the fynbos and a good place to see them is in the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden. They feed mainly on ericas and proteas, by reaching into the flowers with their long, curved bills. For their size, these little birds can be amazingly noisy, and it would seem the minute that you approach them with a camera, they dart off out of range or hide behind a bunch of flowers. But when you don’t have a camera, they behave perfectly!

Sugarbird male on Berzelia stokoei (formerly Brunia). ©Jane Forrester
Orange-breasted sunbird on Erica nana ©Loretta Floors

3.     The carpenter bee

This bee belongs to the Xylocopa genus of wood-boring bees. The one pictured here is busy cheating – instead of pollinating the flower, she is simply drilling through its base with her wood-chomping jaws to get to the nectar, bypassing the stigma and pollen-loaded anthers. However, she will do a good job at pollinating plants from the pea family, which are better designed for the job and provide the nectar in such a way that she can’t escape her duty.

Carpenter bee ©Jane Forrester
Carpenter bee ©Jane Forrester
Carpenter bee ©Jane Forrester
A log that holds up one corner of the entrance building to the garden shows two bees approaching their holes in the nest riddled wood. ©Jane Forrester

4. The malachite damselfly

Even though it is named the conspicuous malachite, this damselfly can be quite hard to spot amongst the fynbos plants. Endemic to the Southern Cape, it is found close to streams and rivers in open fynbos or forested areas.

Conspicuous malachite damselfly ©Lesego Seipetlho
Conspicuous malachite damselfly ©Lesego Seipetlho

5. The spider-hunting wasp

Rain spiders are the favourite prey for spider-hunting wasp. The spiders put up quite a fight but usually the wasp is the winner, victoriously dragging the unfortunate arachnid off to serve as a living food supply for the wasp larvae.

Spider-eating wasp ©Lesego Seiphetlho

The Botanical Society of South Africa and SANBI encourage an awareness and appreciation of biodiversity, and promote conservation and education about nature and living in harmony with our environment. Harold Porter gardens in Betty’s Bay is one of the 10 SANBI gardens, and each gorgeous garden offers the opportunity to explore rich biodiversity. Botanical Society members enjoy free access to all SANBI National Botanical Gardens.


Find out more about the Botanical Society of South Africa here. To support the Botanical Society and the work that they do in conservation and environmental education consider becoming a member and/or getting a MyPlanet card and making them your chosen beneficiary.

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