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Leo, the Leopard Tortoise

Stigmochelys pardalis, more commonly known as the
leopard tortoise, bergskilpad or mfutsu, is an attractively
marked, long-lived member of South Africa’s ‘Small
Five’ (along with the rhino beetle, the red-billed buffalo
weaver, elephant shrew and the antlion). The largest
species of tortoise in southern Africa, the leopard
tortoise is the only species in the genus Stigmochelys.

The leopard tortoise is considered not threatened. They
are notably adaptable and wild leopard tortoises can
reach an age of up to 100 years, while living only
between 30 to 75 years in captivity.

Adults are recognised by the dark colouration of their
decorative, dome-like shells and their large size.

Tortoises originated in Asia, thereafter, spreading to
Europe and North America and are now widespread
throughout the savannah regions of Africa,
stretching from southern Sudan, Ethiopia and
Somalia in East Africa, to the Eastern Cape, Karoo,
southern Angola, and Namibia.

Leopard tortoises enjoy succulents, grass shoots and
fallen fruits in their diet, using their sense of smell to
find food. Their diet has a high liquid content,
however, they still need to drink water. Leopard
tortoises reserve their water in a ‘bursa sac,’ which is
used for hydration and to moisten dry ground,
making it easier for females to dig a nest and lay
their eggs.

Tortoises may eject their stored water as a deterrent
or defence mechanism when picked up. However,
this leaves them vulnerable to dehydration if they

are unable to reach a water source to replenish in
time, especially during winter months.
The leopard tortoise is an important seed
disperser. Their scat or faeces is full of
undamaged seeds, and they therefore fill an
important ecological role. They can also swim
due to their buoyancy and unique ability to raise
their heads.

Article by Lezelle Frank

Photo’s by Lezelle Frank

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Forest boardwalk in the mushroom meander: Progress update

In August last year the GRBG announced the
commencement of a new Garden upgrade project: The
Forest Boardwalk for Wheelchair Access to the
Mushroom Meander
. A generous donation from the
Rowland and Leta Hill Trust
made it possible to ‘break
ground’ on this project and for the past nine months
Ken Gie and his team have been hard at work tackling
the mammoth task of building boardwalks, ramps and
railings across a tricky, irregular terrain.

In recent weeks regular visitors to the Meander have,
understandably, become curious as to when the Forest
Boardwalk will be complete and ready for use. The
current phase of the project is scheduled to be
completed by the end of July 2021. This phase
includes completing the construction of the boardwalk
and adding the necessary finishes so that it’s safe for
pedestrians and wheelchair users, as well as levelling
the surrounding pathways by flattening and
compacting the ground and removing obstacles such
as tree stumps.

Once this phase is done, the next phase will see the
construction team creating a wheelchair-accessible
route stretching from the Mushroom Meander to the
Medicinal Spiral
by levelling the pathway that
connects these two areas of the Garden. Another
donation from the Rowland and Leta Hill trust will help
finance this phase.

All of this work is being undertaken voluntarily by a
small team of dedicated craftsmen
who frequently
work after-hours and without lunch breaks. This
includes Ken, who is leading the project, and his
assistant, Fred Hennop, who is doing most of the
woodwork. They are joined twice-weekly by GRBG
staff members Jackson Nkampini and Bertie Jordaan.

The ultimate completion of the Boardwalk (i.e. all the
phases of construction) is subject to the availability of
funding. (Donations from the public are welcome.)
Until then, anyone entering and passing through the
Mushroom Meander does so at their own risk.

The Garden Route Botanical Garden thanks all
Members and visitors
for their continued patience
while we complete this big but important project.

A completed section of the Forest
Boardwalk – sanded down and varnished.
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A Mad Summer, a Cuckoos Summer

It has been a mad summer, with COVID lock-downs, masks, hand sanitisers and late starts to the day. Bird life numbers are down this year but several interesting sightings have been made. While sitting quietly watching for the Brown-hooded Kingfisher, a Diederik’s Cuckoo came and sat close by, oblivious (or tolerant?) of the camera and posed for several minutes in perfect soft light from behind me. Ever had a good look at the range of colours in this bird? Incredibly beautiful, not that a camera can do justice to the iridescence.

Not to be out done, a Black Cuckoo flew down, spied a large caterpillar and proceeded try and catch it. The caterpillar, a large one, a Fulvous Hawk Moth, was not going to let go of the twig it clinged to, so the cuckoo literally hung from the caterpillar at times, some serious flapping of wings too. The bird eventually managed to free the caterpillar and flew off to a convenient branch to beat the unfortunate caterpillar to death and squeeze the gut contents out. It seems that they like the caterpillar only, not what it had been eating. Imagine swallowing whole, a caterpillar this size! This Black Cuckoo hung around the dam and wetland for several days, keeping mainly to shady trees, Black birds in the shade are not the best photographic subjects, but in sunlight the “Black Cuckoo” displays a range of very beautiful deep purple/blue iridescence.

Not to be out done, a juvenile Red-chested Cuckoo was seen feeding in the trees and from the lawn around the Gazebo. Juvenile birds can be very confusing and seldom illustrated in bird books, but this one has been confirmed. Adults were active and very vocal in the Mushroom Meander area earlier in the summer. As with most cuckoo, not hard to hear but hard to see.

Not seen this summer but on record as being seen in the Garden are the Klaas’s Cuckoo and the African Emerald Cuckoo. The male of this species is a spectacular iridescent green with a yellow front, the Springbok of the Cuckoos maybe?

To add to the cuckoos, both the Black and the Grey Cuckooshrikes have been seen this summer a fairly rare sighting of the Cuckoo Hawk. Seven birds with cuckoo in their name justifies a Cuckoo Summer, where wearing masks and rubber gloves in a bank did not lead to immediate arrest as it would have done a year ago.

Article and photos by Colin Ralston


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Wheelchair friendly mushroom meander

We are hard at work to finish up our wheelchair friendly mushroom meander project!

In March last year we received a donation from the Rowland and Leta Hill trust for our wheelchair friendly project. Unfortunately with lockdown and covid we could not start the construction immediately as we had planned.  A few months went by and finally we could start up the construction in August 2020 and we have been working hard since then to get the project done.

As seen in the picture our staff are working tirelessly, even offering up their weekends, to ensure that the mushroom meander can become wheelchair friendly.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page or website for further updates on the Mushroom Meander project.

From left to right in the picture: Fred(volunteer), Burgert Jordaan(staff) and Jackson Nkampini(staff)

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Birds of the Garden Route Botanical Garden

The Garden Route Botanical Garden’s (GRBG) main aim may be to conserve the rich floral heritage of the Garden Route, but in doing so we attract a great deal of local fauna. Of the myriad of creatures residing in our Garden, one of the most notable are birds. Over the last year local photographer , Ettiene de Beer, has spent countless hours meandering through the GRBG enjoying the bird life. Below are the most spectacular moments he has captured.

Images from the Garden Route Botanical Garden Bird-Hide

A yellow billed duck taking a rest in our Wetland.

The striking Malachite Kingfisher on the lookout for his next meal.

A Moorhen caring for her young chick.

The Black Crake wading through the shallows of the Wetland.

The common, yet beautiful Waxbill

The elusive African Rail can often be spotted from our birdhide

Images from the Van Kervel Dam

The Darter sunning on his local perch

A Moorhen, gliding across the dam.

Images from the Garden 

The Karoo-prinia perching on a Wachendorfia thrysifolia 

A Cape White-eye visiting the patch of W. thyrsifolia next to our wetland

The Greater Double Collared Sunbird can be found en-mass during September when our Aloe display is in flower

An Olive Thrush enjoying a patch of indigenous forest in the GRBG

The beautiful, locally endemic Cape Sugar-bird.

We hope this encourages you to visit our beloved community garden, not only for the beautiful plants, but also for the unique birds!

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New Research on the Leto venus moth in the Garden Route Botanical Garden

The Keurboom Moth (Leto venus) is a Moth endemic to the Southern Cape of South Africa. The large size and unique markings of this moth make it an incredibly attractive specimen to encounter. For most of its life, this moth lives as a larvae in the stems of Keurbooms and Honey Bush. Once the moth emerges, it scarcely lives for more than a day as it has no mouth parts.

Despite research on this moth dating back nearly 80 years, there is still much that it unknown about this moths life-cycle, habits, and morphology. Photographer, Naturalist and Garden Route Botanical Garden (GRBG) Enthusiast, Mr Colin Ralston has recently co-authored two research papers on L. venus based on data collected in the GRBG . This intriguing research studied the feeding habits of L. venus’s larval stage as well as morphological characteristics of the male moth. Below are links to his research.

2018 Grehan & Ralston Leto venus

Grehan, Ralston & Van Noort Leto venus

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Thank you to all those involved in 2019!

2019 has been an incredibly constructive year at the Garden Route Botanical Garden (GRBG). Many new developments took place in our Garden including the construction of a new parking lot and welcome bed, redevelopment of the Tea Garden, planting about 2000 new trees and many other exciting projects. None of these projects would have been possible without the generosity and good will of the supporters of the GRBG. This article intends to thank these good willed individuals.

The Construction of the new Parking Lot and Welcome Bed

  • WTW Construction donated a great deal of G7, as well as their machinery and expertise to level and construct the parking lot.
  • K1 quarries donated 120 cubes of G4 gravel as a topping to our road and parking lot to reduce muddiness when it rains.
  • Keith Kirsten and Elands Nursery donated R20 814.00 worth of trees for the isles of the parking lot
  • 2hire donated one day’s use of their Kabuta digger-loader
  • Tilly Reitz assisted in the landscape design of the welcome bed.


Figure 1: New Welcome Bed in Progress

Figure 2: New Parking Lot

The Restaurant and Tea Garden renovation

  • Colleen Gardner from Noordhoek, Capetown donated the Glass-House structure to the GRBG and contributed R 6000.00 to its transport costs to George.
  • Mr Ken Gie oversaw the whole operation from removing the glass-house in Cape Town to reconstructing it in the GRBG Tea Garden.
  • All the participants of the 2019 GRBG Golf Day. The proceeds of this event went towards reconstructing the Glass-House in the tea garden and redeveloping the surrounding garden.
  • Clint du Preez of Groundworx Landscapes assisted in the garden design.
  • BUCO donated some building materials to the project.
  • Prof Adré Boshoff donated varnish for the floors of the Moriarty Centre and the outside tables in the tea garden. He also made monthly donations to augment the salaries of two employees.

Figure 3: A sneak peak at our new restaurant


Abour Month Planting

  • The Department of Environment Forestry and Fishery donated 250 trees to the GRBG, 150 of which were planted in the garden.

Figure 4: Donated trees ready to be planted in the GRBG

Figure 5: Donated Trees ready to green a school ground

GreenPop Planting

  • GreenPop donated and planted 1 500 trees in the GRBG as well as facilitated the painting of a fantastic educational mural inspired by the plants and animals of Knysna Forest.
  • Sandy Haddad prepared the tree planting site with his subsoiler. Thanks to Sandy, our trees are now thriving.

Figure 6: Volunteers planting a forest during the GreenPop planting

Figure 7: An educational mural painted at our Education Centre during the GreenPop planting

Precious Tree Project Planting

  • Ray Nolan and Mellissa Dalton of Precious Tree Project planted 40 trees in the GRBG contributing to our new forest

Stiles Tree Planting

  • Stiles planted 20 trees in the GRBG during their end of year function. They intend to add more to this forest each year.


  • An unimaginable amount of work has been done in our nursery, propagation yard and herbarium by three invaluable volunteer teams. The GRBG would like to extend a Heart – Felt thank you to all those involved.
  • A massive thank you must also be given to the talented Mr P. Beukes, who voluntarily constructed a spectacular mosaic of the George Lily in the GRBG. Stiles generously provided the tiles for this project at a greatly discounted cost.

Figure 8: A beautiful mosaic of the George Lily – the GRBG’s Emblem

Other Important Help

  • George Municipality and George Golf Club shared the responsibility of cutting the grass in the GRBG.
  • Sandy Haddad continued to repair our tractor free of charge
  • Chipper SA donated the use of their wood chipper whenever the GRBG needed it.
  • Kelpak donated 120 l of Kelpak fertiliser over the last year.
  • Kraaibosch Nursery donated 50 Aloe vera’s.
  • Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden donated a diversity of fynbos and medicinal plants over the year, as well as training for the GRBG staff members.
  • An anonymous donation of R 5 000 was made to the GRBG nursery.
  • Kraaibosch donated pots to the GRBG nursery
  • Kazin trading donated the rental of a 2.75 x 2.4 m container on a yearly basis for the purpose of storage at our Environmental Education Centre
  • Dr Susanne Mc Gregor donated the purchase and installation of 8 blinds to the Garden Route Environmental Education Centre, making power-point presentations possible.
  • Afrigetics sponsored the labour for removing Typha capensis from the wetland surrounding our Bird Hide
  • Dr Daan Botha donated 6 boxes of botanical books to the Southern Cape Herbarium Library. An additional 3 boxes of botanical books were anonymously donated.

The lists of supporters mentioned above are just a few of a large number of fantastic individuals voluntarily making the operation of our beloved Community Botanical Garden possible. A great thank you to all those involved, and we look forward to another fruitful year to come for all!

Finn Rautenbach

Manager: Garden Route Botanical Garden


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Bee Talk

On the 24th of July 2019, Yvette van Wyk presented her findings on the historical interconnection between  humans of the Southern Cape and Honey-bees at the Garden Route Botanical Garden.

2019 An Ancient Relationship between Plants, Bees and Humans

This fascinating research stems from her doctoral thesis – ‘Plants, people, and place: complex, mutualistic, and co-evolving global patterns through time’. Follow the link below to read deeper into van Wyk’s integrally pertinent research

Click here

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Adopt a (garden) bed at the Garden Route Botanical Garden

The significant commercial value of the Garden Route region, its mild climate and astonishing wealth of biodiversity were all instrumental in the creation of the Garden Route Botanical Garden Trust (GRBGT). The notion of the Garden was originally mooted during the 1960’s. The idea persisted until finally during the early 1990’s, a branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa was founded by a group of local members and their first project was the establishment of the GRBG which eventually became the independent Non-profit organisation (NPO) (NPO 009-676) the Garden Route Botanical Garden Trust (GRBGT) (Trust No IT 2704-97). The GRBGT is based at 49 Caledon Street, George.

As the age of technological advance accelerates, George is likewise experiencing rapid growth. Offering a magnificent environment and sound infrastructure, technology makes it possible to conduct business regardless of where one resides. These factors make George a very attractive destination both for business people and retirees, which has resulted in the city’s very rapid growth over the past 20+ years.


While economic growth is the lifeblood of any city, conversely this triggers an almost insatiable appetite for land – both for business and residential purposes to keep pace with the resultant population growth. This fact was recognised many years ago and maintaining the biodiversity of the region necessitated the preservation of our natural history in tandem with the development of our city. This is particularly true in respect of activities which offer opportunities for:

  • Biodiversity Conservation – Plant and animal communities losing ground to encroaching human activities

  • Outdoor biodiversity Education – hands on learning experiences aligned with school curricula as well as adult education

  • Tourism – the GRBG has over time attracted many foreign tourists many of whom have much more than a passing interest in our region’s plant life

  • Heritage Conservation – maintaining George’s rich cultural and historical heritage

  • Recreation – a place of tranquillity and beauty, where tourists and locals alike can benefit from being outdoors in a multi-dimensional environment reflecting the impressive biodiversity of the Garden Route

In the above context therefore a major function of the GRBG is to both maintain the genetic material of our region’s flora and vegetation (for research and future rehabilitation projects) and to create a living collection of these plants of the Garden Route (for environmental education of the ever increasing population of the region and to create a safe haven for plants, animals and people). Hence the need to maintain a Botanical Garden of high quality is of integral importance.


The sole and principal object of this NPO is engaging in the conservation, rehabilitation and protection of the natural environment, including the flora and fauna of the biosphere primarily through the Garden Route Botanical Garden and the Southern Cape Herbarium. These aims are fulfilled by means of a number of projects which the Garden Route Botanical Garden drives.

These projects include the following

  • A sustainable harvesting project in which we encourage the sustainable harvesting of indigenous medicinal plants within the Garden Route Botanical Garden 
  • Environmental education through outreach programmes (such as tree plantings) and by means of the Garden Route Environmental Education Centre
  • Maintaining and displaying a living collection of the highly diverse plant species found within the Southern Cape. This is of the most important aims of a Botanical Garden which needs to be maintained in the highest quality, both genetically and aesthetically in order to preserve the significance of the collection with regards to both environmental education and aesthetic appeal.

Due to the importance of this activity in order to ensure the functionality and beauty of a botanical garden, it is a priority for the GRBGT. It is currently a major project driven by an excited and driven team to bring the standards of the GRBGT’s living collection up to the international standards for which we strive. This has involved redesigning many beds in our garden, creating relevant interpretative signage and accessioned (recorded) plant labels, and accessing and propagating the relevant plant material.


Since the GRBGT is a Trust driven NPO depending largely on sustained consistent funding this highly significant project is currently unable to generate the vital energy input that we are anticipating with the help of your company.

In this context we propose that your company sponsor a thematic bed or beds in the GRBGT. The themed bed will be entirely your preference. You’ll have a number of choices, e.g.:

  • Succulent collections

  • Fynbos displays

  • Afromontane forest beds

  • Permaculture gardens

Every bed has a specific theme and a detailed management plan dictating its use to facilitate environmental education and increasing awareness regarding the importance of preservation of indigenous plants of the Southern Cape. These plans will be used within our education plans in conjunction with the Garden Route Environmental Education Centre. We appeal for your support in providing funds for developing the bed (extra man power and a contribution to the purchase and propagation of accessioned plant material), maintaining the bed (additional labour to assist our staff) and interpretative signage.

There are a number of ways in which we will acknowledge your support of this cause. As a registered NPO/PBO (Public Benefit Organisation), your donation will qualify for a tax exemption certificate. We will also offer space on all interpretative signage in the bed/s you sponsor to acknowledge your company’s contribution to the Garden. In addition we would also offer free membership of the garden for up to 10 of your staff. The various project options you can choose from are attached.

To acquire a detailed description of each garden bed and its significance, please contact Finn Rautenbach using the following email:

Sincere thanks for your time and consideration in supporting the Garden Route Botanical Garden.