A Cycad Travelogue: March-April 2002
In the early spring of 2002, my son Adam and I traveled to England and South Africa. This article will touch on a few of the places we visited.
The Kew Gardens and our Visit with David Cooke and the Kew’s Encephalartos Woodii
Londonís Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, are home to an amazing collection of plants, including some remarkable Encephalartos that have been collected over centuries. I had corresponded with David Cooke, whom I’d met at the Cycad 1999 Biology Conference in Miami. David is a curator at the Kew and has managed the Palm House and the Temperate House there for years. He has the distinction of having a palm species named for him, Dypsis cookei. David was an incredibly gracious host, with an quick mind, and a delightfully humble sense of humor that is very rare among people as accomplished as he is. We shared a few (permitted) Dioon merolae seeds with him and got a wonderful insider’s tour of the Kew’s cycad collection. Two highlights of that tour were the Encephalartos woodii and Encephalartos altensteinii.
In the Temperate house, Adam and I had the chance to see the large Encephalartos woodii. Kew considers this its rarest plant, which was a gift many years ago from the Natal (now KwaZulu Natal) National Parks. It is one of the largest surviving specimens in the world. You’ll see David’s photo with Adam here. Adam is the younger one…
We also saw the famous specimen of Encephalartos altensteinii in the palm house. Kew believes this to be among the oldest potted plants in the world. Originally collected in the 1770’s in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, it was originally misidentified as E. longifolius. Subsequent research and taxonomic analysis revealed it to be E. altensteinii. This is a HUGE plant, with over over 14 feet of trunk length, growing about 1 inch per year. Apparently it has only coned once in the time it has been at the Kew.
South Africa—The Home of Encephalartos
Adam and I headed onward to South Africa, a long flight that impresses because in our classic North America-centric maps, the continent of Africa is given a much smaller perspective than its true size. After an enjoyable stay with friends in the Johannesburg area, we traveled to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces where we visited the most impressive cycad gardens I’ve ever seen. Three major highlights of that trip were visits to Charlie Hewson’s Garden, the Durban Botanical Garden, and Douglas Goode’s home and studio.
A Visit to Charlie Hewson’s Cycad Garden
The garden of the late Charles Hewson, in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, may have been the most significant cycad garden in the history of the African continent. In early April 2002, my son Adam and I had the chance to visit this garden.
Charlie Hewson was a self-made entrepreneur who had built and sold off a successful auction business in Grahamstown before moving to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Upon moving to P.E., he commenced his second career, real estate, buying land and developing properties. He also began to collect exotic birds and cycads. His bird collection was world-renowned, and created such a cacophony that his neighbors complained. So, he bought out all of the properties adjoining his, and rented them out to people who did not have a problem with the birds’ noise!
In terms of cycads, Charlie traveled throughout South Africa, collecting plants under permit, and bringing them to his garden. When you look at some of the photos here you will see literally hedges of cycads, islands of rarity in the gardens at the Hewson residence.
Among the more amazing cycads in the Hewson garden was the large Encephalartos latifrons which seems to float above the E. lehmannii in this photo. It is over 10 feet in trunk length, with numerous offsets. There is also a detail photo of the offsets.
Other impressive plants included a 10 foot tall E. longifolius and a hedge of the rare E. horridus “Dwarf Form”.
Greg Holzman, a fellow Cycad Society Board Member had visited Charlie Hewson in the early 1990s. His article recalling that visit can be seen in Issue #5 (B&W edition).
Our Visit to Douglas Goode and the Durban Botanical Garden
That evening, we traveled to Natal, and the following day, we visited the home, studio and garden of Douglas Goode, the renowned cycad horticulturalist, author and artist. Among the things we enjoyed were the large swing that Adam enjoyed at the bottom of the slope below Douglas’ property, and the chance to see Douglas’ studio, where Adam and I had the chance to view up close Mr. Goode’s newest cycad artwork. You’ll see a photo here of Douglas and Adam holding this painting.
The Durban Botanical Garden
After visiting his home and atelier, we were taken by Douglas Goode for a tour of the Durban Botanical Gardens. Not only did we see a good number of beautiful and specimen sized cycads, we also had the chance to take photographs of and be photographed with three of the original trunks of Encephalartos woodii that were brought to the “Durban Bot” from the plant’s discovery in the wild. Notice the leaf detail, as well as the aerial branches in the photographs here. Some of the other impressive plants there were the Plumeria rubra next to which Adam almost seems to be dancing, and the Strelitzia regina “Mandela’s Gold”.