A Search-and-Rescue Propagation Project
Across 4 000 hectares of land, amidst the Hottentots Holland and Helderberg Mountains, Lourensford Wine Estate hosts a biodiverse landscape with a rich floral heritage. In 2020, Deon van Eeden and the team at Vula Environmental Services undertook a project to restore a 5.5-hectare parcel of land on a farm with a legacy dating back to the 1700s.
Between 2020 and 2022, Vula Environmental Services executed a restoration for Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West, Cape Town. By a team who specialises in a vast range of restoration and rehabilitation of landscapes, the plant selection for the project was carefully considered. The restoration was anchored in a seed-based approach, and more than 30 species were collected for seeding in Autumn 2020. The launch of the project entailed several search-and-rescue trips on site between June 2020 and July 2022. It was during these missions that plant material was collected for propagation, which was then prepared at the Morningstar Nursery before finding its way back to the estate.
All other material to be added to the site was collected in the form of cuttings. Apart from Protea repens and Protea nerifolia, no other proteoid material was available on site either during material collection events. Vula used various growing media for the rooting of the plants, such as a 1:1 ratio of coco peat and washed river sand, a 2.2:1 ratio of coco peat and perlite, and a 3:2 ratio of local sand to perlite.
To track the progress of the endeavour, the species selected for propagation were assessed individually, and it was clear that each experienced various levels of success by the end of the project. Leucadendron salignum, Serruria fasciflora, Protea repens, and Protea nerifolia were the only species that showed notable success following propagation, while Oftia africana and Selago corymbosa presented limited success. On the other hand, the following plant species had no success in their new environments: Brunia noduliflora, Widdringtonia nodiflora, Euclea polyandra, Berzelia lanuginisa, Athanasia sp., Erica sp., Pseudoselago, and Cliffortia cunea. Significantly, there was very limited growth witnessed in propagation by cuttings as opposed to seeds.
Sighting the setbacks
Several difficulties were encountered during the propagation of the collected material which led to low propagation success. These limitations, in conjunction with the dissimilarity between the source
location’s climate and habitat and that of the nursery where the plants were propagated, resulted in high plant fatality numbers. Additionally, the propagation facility’s light conditions, which were suited to general propagation, might have been too low, and water requirements during the rooting phase were difficult to determine, aggravating the setbacks.
In addition to the cuttings taken, seeds were collected throughout the process when available. These seeds were sown and germination was started, but these were mainly protea species, limiting the diversity input to the species list to mostly plants that were introduced as seeds. During the spring 2023 site review, it was however observed that a functional eco system had been well established with more than 95% vegetation cover and limited erosion present. The species diversification has increased thanks to natural dispersal drivers such as rodents, birds, and wind, and with the habitat restoration undertaken, will continue to draw more biological dispersal agents aiding to the recovery trajectory of the site.
For sites with histories as hearty as Lourensford Wine Estate’s age and evolution, teams like Vula Environmental Services continue to explore the essence of restoration and appreciation of the local landscapes. An inspired approach, this pathway forward is one which many landscapes would do well to undertake for the preservation of their heritage and habitat.