4th Conference 2019

Fourth Wild Orchids Conference

Drakensberg 25-27 January 2018

Theme - 'Getting to know our orchids'


The Fourth Wild Orchids Southern Africa Conference was held at the Goodersons Drakensberg Gardens Hotel from 25-27 January 2019.

The venue was selected to give delegates the opportunity to see the indigenous orchids of the southern Drakensberg during outings on the Friday before and the Sunday after the Conference. More than 21 orchid species were seen on the field trips that were arranged by the KZN CREW teams led by Julie Braby. These trips were designed for those that simply wanted to step out of the vehicles into the orchids to a light amble through the grasslands or the more challenging walks. Delegates were able to choose the walk most suited to their liking. Each group was accompanied by a guide from the local CREW team.


Disa stachyoides   Habenaria dives

The Conference was preceded by the WOSA AGM on the Friday evening with the Conference kicking off on the Saturday morning. Jimmy Pauck opened the Conference with the opening address presented by Karsten Wodrich.

Prof Steve Johnson gave an enlightening talk about the reproductive strategies with emphasis on the pollination biology of our indigenous orchids.

Veteran orchid grower Jim Holmes followed with an insight into growing indigenous terrestrial orchids. He grows many of these using the principles of keeping mycorrhizal associations with the plants intact.

MSc Student Dean Phillips then presented his much anticipated phylogenetic and morphologic studies on the genus Stenoglottis culminating in a taxonomic proposal for the systematic revision of the genus. His research was fresh off the press under supervision of Prof Benny Bytebier and a formal publication of the results is currently in preparation.

After a short tea break Dr. Peter Ashton presented the genus Polystachya in South Africa accompanied with spectacular photographs of each of the species found in South Africa.

Prof Craig Peter presented his talk: A synthesis of the threats to and conservation status of South African Orchids. Craig explained the red list classification of orchids and then using OrchidMap and herbarium data, he extracted various traits, classifications and distributions from the data relating to the threats facing the various groups. His talk proves the invaluable tool that OrchidMap gives researchers.

Martin Rautenbach presented numerous interesting ‘abnormalities’ amongst our indigenous orchids showing some spectacular and interesting variations of orchids that remain to be conclusively identified, presenting identification challenges to the botanists at the conference. Some of these orchids may even prove to be new species.

Prof. Joanna Dames presented orchid mycorrhiza in layman’s terms and again stressed that the importance of mycorrhizal fungi is currently still majorly underestimated. She presented the various research projects currently underway in her department and posed the question whether it is possible for mycorrhizal fungi to connect trees and other plant species to each other via the fungal network below the soil. The movie Avatar comes to mind where the connection between trees and other organisms may no longer be fiction but could be proven to be reality.

A sumptuous buffet lunch was enjoyed in the Hotel restaurant before the presentations resumed in the newly renovated Conference Hall.

Mycorrhizal fungi research results by MSc student Modjadji Makwela was presented where both fungi found in the roots in Habenaria barbertonii and Habenaria epipactidea and in the soil around the plants were identified and compared to mycorrhiza found elsewhere in the world. Currently research to determine the effectiveness of the isolated mycorrhizal fungi for the germination of the orchid species that they were isolated from is underway.

Dr. Tanay Bose, Modjadji’s research supervisor, then presented his research in using DNA analysis for identifying all fungi present in the soil in the area that Habenaria barbertonii and Habenaria epipactidea are found in and presenting some of the possible conclusions that can be drawn from the difference in sheer number of identified fungi in the soil around the orchids and soil from an area without orchids.

The team of Prof. Hammerbacher, Dr. Bose and Modjadji Makwela from the University of Pretoria and the team under Prof. Joana Dames from the University of Pietermaritzburg must be considered some of the top researchers in the world with regards to the topic of mycorrhizal fungi.

Tying in with the research done by Modjadji and Dr. Bose, Gerrit van Ede gave a detailed look into the challenges of conserving orchids on his plot just outside Pretoria. He highlighted the importance of keeping alien invasive species in check, the effects of vegetation change and most importantly the correct application of burn cycles that all affect the orchid species survival or demise.

After a short tea break the Assistant Curator of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, Andrew Hankey gave a post mortem of the crowdfunding exercise for the conservation of the highly sensitive mountain ridges behind the Botanical Garden and the conservation of the Albertina Sisulu orchid and the Black Eagles. The exercise brought in funds around R 80,000.00 that can now be used for conservation related expenses.

Richard Braby then presented his pending publication ‘It’s my Religion – A photographic guide to the orchids of the Southern Drakensberg’ that is due for publication later this year in March or April 2019. The evening was finished off with a buffet dinner in the Vine Knot restaurant during which Gerrit van Ede gave a short summary of the Friends of Verlorenvallei.

Front left to right: Christo Page (Session Chairman), Jim Holmes (Speaker), Jimmy Pauck (Organiser), Modjadji Makwela (Speaker), Prof Joanna Dames (Speaker), Dean Phillips (Speaker)

Rear left to right: Prof Craig Peter (Speaker), Richard Braby (Speaker), Gerrit van Ede (Speaker), Prof Steve Johnson (Speaker), Andrew Hankey (Speaker), Marinus Kort (Audiovisual), Dr Peter Ashton (Speaker), Martin Rautenbach (Speaker), Erhard Schmid (Registrar), Enone Pauck (Organiser), Dr Tanay Bose (Speaker), Karsten Wodrich (President)

Sunday morning kicked off with a discussion and the formulation of the plan around the funds that Prof. Craig Peter had secured for sowing seed of Diaphananthe millari. The idea is to re-introduce plants not only into the original locations where they have been stripped by muthi collectors but possibly also introduce them into trees on private property and municipal trees.


 Delegates during the Friday and Sunday outings

The Sunday outings were well attended, and the weather cleared to give a full view of the Southern Drakensberg towards the afternoon.

A very big thank you to the KZN contingent and in particular the conference organisers Jimmy and Enone Pauck and Julie Braby and her team that made the Conference a memorable event. Delegates and speakers have commented that this was the best Conference sofar.  

The Conference Proceedings will be posted as soon as they have been compiled



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