Helichrysum herbaceum

Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to the 5th “Plant of Interest” article for 2016!! This week we’ll be looking at a member of the Asteraceae (Daizy) family, also known as the Compositaceae (on account of the composite arrangement of the flowerheads of all the species within the family).

Helichrysum herbaceum (Monkey Tail Everlasting in English and tlhako in Sesotho) is a perennial herb with many erect stems sprouting from a creeping rhizome, occurring from the Western Cape through to KZN. It occurs almost exclusively in grassveld but may overlap to a lesser extent with woody Kloof-vegetation. This species has been observed at a maximum altitude of 2600m A.S.L., preferring full sun.

Helichrysum 1

As the species name implies – herbaceum refers to this Helichrysum conforming to a herb-like morphology as opposed a woody morphology. This specimen was photographed on the Porcupine Trail. In full sunlight the papery ray florets take on a brilliant brown-golden sheen that can be difficult to observe directly for more than a few short seconds at a time.

Helichrysum 2


 Helichrysum herbaceum does not exceed a height of 400mm, with each inflorescence borne singularly aloft a flowering stem. The leaves are khaki-olive green, dulled somewhat white-grey by fine hairs covering the ventral surface – these hairs appear woven as if in a loose fabric. The hairs are largely absent from the dorsal surface. The basal leaves measure approximately 40-50mm long X 20-30mm wide with undulating margins. The basal leaves occur in a loose rosette, which falls away on the flowering stems in favour of an overlapping composition in which the leaves are considerably smaller, measuring around 20mm X 2-3mm wide. The flowerheads measure approximately 25mm wide. Flowering takes place from as early as December according to some sources, but generally occurs from Feb-May.

EcologyHelichyrsum 3

The morphology of many species within the Helichrysum genus is such that it facilitates growth in semi-arid environs, usually on thin or partially exposed soils.  Helichrysum plants are therefore drought tolerant. The outer florets are paper-thin; leaves are covered in fine hairs and the arrangements of both the basal and stem-covering leaves are all designed to interlink, thus reducing water loss. Fine hairs offer the dual function of both reducing water loss and retention – the arrangement of the hairs on H. herbaceum allow for the absorption of tiny drops of dew in the early morning.

Traditional uses

 Helichrysum herbaceum has reportedly been burned as an offering to the ancestors of various African tribes in order to profit from their divine blessings. The stems and leaves were also burned as incense in ancestral rituals.

Conservation Status

Regarded as of Least Concern by SANBI on account of its stable presence throughout its distribution.


Damien1-100x100Article and research by Damien Coulson

Head ranger Clarens Village Nature Reserve

CVC Report-Back March 2016

CVC Report back

Alien clearingcvc march 2

This past month the rangers have observed an increasing number of Datura stramonium or Common Thorn Apple, growing in the Clarens Nature Reserve and have taken measures to remove the poisonous weed wherever encountered. This is a Category 1b Alien & Invasive Plant (A&IP) as classified according to NEMBA (act 10 of 2004), requiring mandatory removal – see the article on this invasive published in the Clarens News for a detailed description of the adverse effects it has on humans. For more information about invasive plants and their management in and around Clarens, please contact the CVC at the details provided below.


Environmental Education

The CVC and a local volunteer have been working towards the establishment of a photography competition which aims to raise awareness of the intrinsic beauty and value of the natural environment. Great prizes have been locally sponsored and we have some ultra-keen judges aboard to help decide the winning photographs. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for more info relating to this exciting new competition launching mid-April. The rangers also lead guests on a guided tour of the Spruit & Mallen Wall. By the end of the hike the guests reported that they were thoroughly impressed with the level of knowledge and heart put into the tour by the rangers – why shucks!

 Trail maintenance & enhancements

cvc march 3The rangers and Clarens Working on Fire team have been hard at work preparing the Caracal Contour cycle trail and Titanic trail for the Easter holidays. Cattle had done much damage to the trails; however with the persistence of the CVC and WOF, these have been restored to their full glory. Preparations for the Ashburton MTB Cycle Series (15th – 17th April) are underway and a temporary path has been opened for the event from the top of the CNR, linking up with the sky-high Sky Contour trail and eventually, through to the majestic Caracal Contour.

Special activities

cvc report march 4Clarens experienced its first ever Lush Festival, based at Linwood farm over Easter weekend. The music fest attracted some 4 thousand campers; festival goers; runners and avid cyclists. A portion of the Lush Fest cycle race entered the CNR and several of the cyclists were able to enjoy the stunning scenery afforded from high-above in the reserve (well as much as we imagine they possibly could towards the end of a race) – all considered, it was a big success for everyone involved. The next big cycle event in Clarens is the Ashburton MTB Cycle Series wherein a total of 2500 cyclists will be taking part – 2000 of which are expected to cycle through the scenic CNR. This is almost double the 2015 figures and includes international riders and locals alike. The event is an amazing opportunity to showcase both the beauty and value of the CNR, and the race will be captured by a news-crew and televised on Supersport.

Our rangers on patrol

cvc march 5Wood collecting is on the rise as it always is on the approach to winter. Several concerned residents have spotted the wood collectors harvesting large volumes of wood along the length of the Spruit and the area of the reserve below Titanic Rock. The rangers have observed the collectors harvesting live wood in addition to dead Oldwood trees from within the CNR. Several more of our trail markers have disappeared and yet others have been found discarded some distance away from their original positions, elsewhere gates in the reserve have been bound shut with barbed wire and the prickly wire has been carefully removed by the rangers on numerous occasions. These prohibited activities may result in anyone caught engaging in them facing serious criminal charges. The CVC has a notion of the culprits’ identities in each case and are in the process of addressing the issue with the municipality and SAPS. Please be vigilant and notify the rangers of any suspect behaviour in the reserve and along the Spruit streams.


cvc march 6The CVC has received a number of small cash donations at our stall at the Clarens Country Market (Bibliophile) over the past month.. As always, your contributions go a long way in the management of the Reserve and Clarens as a whole.  Anyone willing to make a donation of any form and amount can contact us via our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ClarensVillageConservancy or through our link in the Clarens News. The CVC Banking details – Acc. name: Clarens Village Conservancy. Acc. number: 330544489. Standard Bank, Bethlehem. Branch code: 055033.

Article and title picture by D. Coulson   Cell: 076 833 8910 or 060 307 1489

In text photo credits: D. Coulson and the CVC Rangers

Email: otgtechnologies@gmail.com

Datura stramonium

Stinkblaar 1 Stinkblaar 2
Stinkblaar 4 Stinkblaar 3

Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to the 4th “Plant of Interest” article for 2016!! This week we’ll be looking at a member of the Solanaceae (potato/Nightshade) family. Any plant can be of interest when it displays unique traits – always a favourite to the author, are plants that seem inconsequential at a glance, but chemically tell a whole different story – as this week’s PoI will convey.

  Datura stramonium (Common Thorn Apple in English, Gewone Stinkblaar in Afrikaans and lechoe in Sesotho) is an annual weed occurring from the Western Cape through to KZN. It can be found along roadsides, old pastures and in disturbed areas at altitudes ranging from 0 – 2400 m A.S.L. It is believed to have originated in tropical areas of the U.S. but was most likely accidentally introduced to South Africa among cereal grain.

The specimen photographed here is just one of many found recently growing in the area. It is often eaten and spread by livestock, resulting in fatalities. When even a small stem is cut, it releases an acrid scent (hence the Afrikaans Stinkblaar) which permeates the air for many metres. Cutting of a large patch of the plant can result in blurred vision, proving removal challenging and is a wholly unpleasant task. From a management perspective, the plant is regarded as a weed and declared a Category 1b invasive in South Africa – the detrimental applications and implications on an economic and social scale outweigh its value greatly. It thus requires mandatory removal from all public areas and even private residences.

Many species of this family contain toxic substances such as alkaloids (see medicinal uses) many of which are intentionally and sometimes accidentally ingested. This plant is notable for its many uses in the treatment of numerous ailments as well as the psychological effects that it imbues on the user as a narcotic. As with any plant or medicine, the use of the plant is all about dosage. Even the tiniest miscalculation can be the difference between a favourable effect on the body & mind or a fatality. It is not advised to use this plant or any of its derivatives without prior professional consent.

Physiologically, the plant may obtain a height of 1.5 metres, and is much branched as a weedy shrub. It may occur in isolation but is usually observed in large scraggly patches in older stands. The ovate 4 chambered fruit (measuring approx. 50mm long by 30mm wide) are a bright green when young and covered in multiple short, nasty looking spines of around 10mm. When dry, the fruit brown and split down the centre, releasing the dark brown seed. The leaves are large – measuring in excess of 100mm by 60mm and have irregularly toothed margins. Each leave stalk holds one large purple-white tubular flower (these are closed in sunlight and open at night and in partial shade). Grows Nov – April.


Increasing number of D. stramonium in the veld is a symptom of overgrazing or degradation.  This is especially of concern since the spread of this species has only been widely observed this past summer in the region, and is another indication that the cattle and goats in the reserve are indeed a factor leading to the reserves decline. Removed before a seed-bed can be accumulated, the problem can be reversed with regular follow-ups.

Medicinal uses

Dubbed “malpitte” (mad pips) in Afrikaans, the ingestion of a high dosage of this plant (as seeds) – according to one source who confessed in their youth to consuming parts of the plant – can lead to a variety of symptoms including disorientation, rage, anxiety, hallucinations, etc. At low doses extracted from the leaves it may be used as a sedative and depressant.

Traditionally, infusions have been used to relieve asthma and reduce pain. They may also be used to induce a trance for ceremonies and act as aphrodisiacs. A fresh, warmed leaf may be applied in a poultice to treat rheumatism, gout, boils, abscesses, and small wounds. The green fruit may be sucked to treat tonsillitis, sore throat and even toothache. The smoke from a dried leave is inhaled to relieve bronchitis and asthma.

At one stage extracts of the leaves were concentrated in certain cough syrups to treat respiratory difficulties; although modern cough syrups do not include the compounds from these extracts. Today, 2 compounds from D. stramonium are still commercially utilised: the alkaloids atropene, in eye-drops; and hyoscine for motion sickness. Hyoscine can also be injected in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and painful back spasms. The pharmacological effects exerted on the human body by various parts of D. stramobium include: increased heart rate; smooth muscle relaxant, saliva, sweat and other secretant reduction, partial ocular paralyses and even glaucoma.

Conservation Status

Not classified by SANBI, regarded as a Cat1b invasive weed according to NEMBA (10 of 2004).

A Clarens Love Story


 van reenen 0244 copy van reenen 0248 copy


The eastern Free State is God’s own country. Wide open plains as far as the eye can see occassionally punctuated by rock outcrops & rolling grasslands flanked by magnificent mountains which form part of the western foothills of the Maluti mountains. This time of the year the landscape is lush & green, seasonal pink & white Cosmos flowers adding splashes of colour to an otherwise drab roadside. It is a landscape that is good for the soul which instantly liberates you from the confines of city life. This is big sky country inhabited by big hearted people. People still in touch with their humanity, still in touch with the old-fashioned, farming virtues of kindness, hospitality, generosity, courtesy & civility. The area has a rich local history of story-telling, legends & African Basotho folklore.This story is about Valerie Wilcocks & Johan Bestendig De la Harpe, a young couple in love. Only a year separated them. Valerie was a beautiful young woman, spirited & independent minded & her boyfriend Johan, a handsome & adventurous young man in his prime.

It was the summer of 1932. Clarens was only twenty years old, a tiny village established in 1912 with dirt roads & sandstone cottages built by Cornish stonemasons. Named after the eponymous Swiss village where President Paul Kruger spent his last years in exile. The young lovers would mount their horses & ride out from the farms of their respective families to meet at a rendezvous in the mountains near Clarens so that they could spend time precious together. They met in secret against the express wishes of their parents because of a long simmering feud between the Wilcocks & the De la Harpe families. Through the ages the sandstone caves in the area served as dwellings for San hunter-gatherers, provided shelter for Basotho worshippers & refuge for Boer families fleeing farms torched by British troops during the Anglo Boer War. We can only speculate but perhaps the young lovers met in one of these caves.

One day while riding near Mont-Aux- Sources, cruel fate unleashed a double tragedy upon their families. The young lovers were struck & killed by lightning. Their grieving families set aside their differences & buried the young lovers next to each other. Valerie was twenty two years old & Johan was twenty one. They died on 18 December 1932, one day after Johan’s twenty second birthday.

 When you travel on the road from the picture perfect Free State village of Clarens towards the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, after 17 kilometres or so you will drive through the check point & after a few kilometres you will see a small cemetery on the left hand side in a grass clearing. Turn off the road & stop next to the Van Reenen family cemetery. The dozen or so graves are enclosed by a low sandstone wall. Above the cemetery on the right, the Rooiberge of the eastern Free State with their eroded cliffs & exposed, horizontal sandstone strata in golden hues of ochre, red & orange, stand as silent sentinels watching over the graves.

Behind the cemetery, on the banks of a river which meanders through lush grassland & reeds, a solitary Weeping Willow tree, its long, thin branches whipped by the wind. This is a well chosen & peaceful, final resting place for loved ones. In this tiny cemetery on the side of the road you will find the graves of Valerie & Johan lying beside each other. In the same cemetery you will find the grave of a brave young hero called Nathan van Reenen lying just below below the tombstone of his brother Laurens. Nathan was slain by an unknown assailant on 7 December 2013 in Durban whilst coming to the assistance of a victim of crime. He was sixteen years old.

The local Sotho people living in the area say that when dark storm clouds gather, you will see Valerie & Johan riding off into the distance.

Ride on young lovers, ride away,

Ride on & forever to a better day.


“May God bless & keep you always,

May your wishes all come true.

May you always do for others, 

And let others do for you.

May you build a ladder to the stars, 

And climb on every rung.

May you stay forever young,

Forever young, forever young, 

May you stay forever young.”

Bob Dylan – Forever Young

Costas Ayiotis



25 March 2016