Gerbera Garden

Although the Barberton Daisy or “Gerbera jamesonii ” is well known as a wonderful red flower from the mountains around Barberton, little is known about its history. In this article, Volkmar Seifert, chairman of the Gerbera Association, gives information on the background of this colourful plant and its present-day status.

landscape sa 2005 08 gerbera 1 Gerbera Garden
landscape sa 2005 08 gerbera 2 Gerbera Garden

In 1737 Gronovius, a renowned botanist from the Netherlands, established the species Gerbera. It was named after the German medical doctor and botanist Traugott Gerber, who was employed at the court of Tsarina Anna in Moscow, from where he undertook plant collecting excursions, mainly to eastern parts of Russia.

Anton Rehmann, a botanist who lived in Poland, travelled to Russia, China and twice to South Africa, where he discovered a new Gerbera species in the (then) Transvaal and it is from this that the name Transvaal Daisy originates. In 1886 on his trip to the Transvaal gold?elds, Robert Jameson re-discovered the plant. Jameson was a merchant from Durban, who heard about the rich gold findings near Barberton in the Transvaal and wanted to see if there were any opportunities for investment. On Moodies Estate he found this beautiful plant with its red flowers and, being interested in botany, he took some samples back with him for the botanical gardens in Durban. It was then suggested that this Gerbera species be named after him as he was also responsible for sending some plants to Irwin Lynch, curator of the botanical gardens in Cambridge, England.

The triumphal march of the Gerbera jamesonii had now started. The plant ?rst ?owered in Tillet and then in Kew Gardens, but it was Lynch who first prepared the plant for hybridisation in Europe, crossing the Gerbera jamesonii with a Gerbera veridifolia. Because of active hybridisation, the first so-called “florist Gerberas” were created and horticulturists from all over world worked with this plant – Adnet in France, Diem in Italy, Jaenicke in New York, Steinau in France, Sprenger in Naples, Engelmann in England and de Ridder in Alsmeer. However during the First World War most of the Gerbera cultures in Europe died out and it was only after 1922 that cultivation started again in Europe, with great success. During and shortly after the Second World War, the Gerbera cultures declined again, but they persevered and survived.

So where is South Africa in all of this? The world is using our heritage to make money and what are we doing about it?

In 2001, a Gerbera breeder from Germany, Peter Ambrosius, came to Barberton to see the Barberton Daisy in its natural habitat. Because he did not speak English, the Tourism Office of Barberton referred him to Volkmar Seifert and his wife Camilla. Ambrosius’ enthusiastic manner infected the whole town with a love of Gerberas and during his visit, it was decided to start a Gerbera Association in South Africa.

In December 2002 Ambrosius came back to South Africa and since then, has visited Barberton every year. The inauguration of the Gerbera Association of South Africa took place in 2002, starting with 37 initial members. Now in 2005, the membership has risen to nearly 200 with members from all over the world. The Gerbera Association has taken part in several exhibitions in Europe, the International Garden Fair in Rostock, Hortifair in Holland and in 2005, it had its own stand at Gardenex in Johannesburg.

The species Gerbera is not only the Barberton Daisy. All varieties growing in South Africa have their own charm, including the very common Gerbera ambigua, Gerbera linnee and Gerbera aurantiaca, to name a few. They all require protection.

The Gerbera Association of South Africa gives a home to all friends and patrons of the plant species Gerbera and its mission is to:

  • protect our national and botanical heritage against exploitation and destruction;
  • research the life of Traugott Gerber and present it in a museum;
  • research the botanical history of the Gerbera;
  • research the multiple varieties of all Gerbera species;
  • document the botanical history of Gerbera jamesonii;
  • list and archive all documents relating to Gerbera;
  • establish international contacts with museums, horticulturists, biologists and other interested parties; and
  • establish, support and maintain a Gerbera museum and garden in South Africa.

landscape sa 2005 08 gerbera 3 Gerbera Garden

The Gerbera Association is not a scientific institute and has no political goals. It has its own web page, www.gerbera.org, and just five months after going on line, the page has an average of 40 visitors a day from all over the world. More pages are being added and newsletters are mailed on a regular basis.

The Gerbera Garden

After extensive negotiations with the municipality of Barberton, the Association reached an agreement with it and signed a lease agreement for a park area, Rimer’s Creek, to establish a Gerbera garden. The Association is paying a nominal amount annually for the lease. However, certain unforeseen problems with the identified area arose and the Association is in the process of swapping this piece of ground with another park in the town.

In the garden, the Gerbera Association will document the hybridisation history of the Gerbera jamesonii, from the original Barberton Daisy with all its colour variations to the newest hybrids. The establishment of a collection of the various Gerbera species and a small nursery will be part of the garden. Horticultural courses will soon be offered.

Peter Ambrosius is retiring at the end of this year and negotiations are underway to bring him out to South Africa. He would like to donate his collection of over 25 years of genetic stock to the Gerbera Association. This stock is invaluable for South Africa.

The Association invites the Green Industry to assist with its project to protect the Gerbera and its natural heritage.

Contact the chairman, Volkmar Seifert, on (013) 712 5647 or 082 680 5670. Photos by Volkmar Seifert.

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