Wild Clivias in South Africa

Jacques van Zijl

Thank you for showing an interest in what we are doing. Because of the competitive nature of Clivias in the green trade, I have been somewhat hesitant about who and how to go about asking for help.

An experienced herbalist, Dave Etherington, and myself have been collecting various seed since January, concentrating on rare endangered and exploited medicinal bulbs. In so doing we have covered quite a large area, about 40km both sides of the Umzimvubu river. We have visited 8 clivia sites on a regular basis and have learned a great deal in a short time about c.miniata and c.gardenii in their natural habitat. i.e. Flowering periods and forms. We believe that the diversity in the natural gene pool is far broader than many are aware.

Seeing such incredible beauty in such abundance is a privilege few can enjoy, because it is often quite hazardous (snakes, rockslides, and long hikes), but more importantly it brings to light the impact that human settlement have on these clivia gene pool strongholds.

People are prepared to clear thick virgin forest often on land with low farming potential / clivia habitat - to plant corn for about 3 seasons, only to have to clear more forest to ensure their livelihood. In some cases large colonies of clivia and sometimes other species like scadoxus membranaceae are indiscriminately slashed and burned to be replaced by mealies (corn). The other "culprits" are wood carvers removing large canopy trees, mostly Millettia grandis (umzimbeet) in and around clivia habitat, and the natural medicine trade.

A rampant bamboo like creeper and a plectranthus species smother the clivia as a result of the influx of light. Perhaps forever! This mostly happens on tribal land, so there is no point in asking locals not to live off the land in the way that they are accustomed unless you can offer a viable alternative. Economic prospects and conservation do not go hand-in-hand but in the case of clivia I believe it could.

I have a few ideas: I have started collecting damaged plants and plants that have lost their habitat and replanted them with great success in a small piece of forest that I am currently rehabilitating at Mpandi / Tswelini. I have introduced these plants. If planted correctly they could even have potential as a low maintenance crop, fairly safe from cows and goats, without a huge capital outlay. I have approached landowners and asked them not to continue cutting into clivia habitat, and in some cases taught them to harvest and clean the seed; and have offered to buy it from them. Thereby showing them the value of leaving the land intact and avoiding a lot of hard work slashing and burning.

I am in the process of erecting a shade house to grow seed, collect different varieties, and rehabilitate damaged plants. Seed and rhizomes are kept separate with the hope of re-introducing them to their original sites provided they are still habitable, or for boosting existing colonies. I believe the nursery will also create awareness as well as be a good centralised area from which to conserve and manage this beautiful heritage. I believe a larger nursery in Port St Johns would also be appropriate as a centralised area for these activities. Where is all the money going to come from? Well sir, I have seen clivia advertised at $10 per plant and $1 a seed. Never mind yellow clivias there is also a clivia society in every western country. An average corn (mielies) filed yields about 5 bags per field at about R80 per bag. I believe that with good management and bit of redirection and the creation of awareness both locally and internationally clivia societies could easily fund such a project. In the meantime, I continue to collect, conserve and grow.