Gerbera Valley

Text and photos by Volkmar Seifert, chairman of The Gerbera Association – www.gerbera.org

It was a warm November afternoon. I was on my way back from Durban where I had been on business, and stopped the car when I saw a beautiful valley full of yellow flowers.

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Not being an expert, I thought they might be Gerbera but the yellow petals and leaves had an unusual shape. I recalled what Peter Ambrosius, a Gerbera breeder from Germany, had taught me about Gerbera – their leaves come in a rosette out of the ground and flowers are at the end of a single stem. Although I wasn’t certain, I went to my car, grabbed the camera and took some photos to show Peter, who was on his way to South Africa. I didn’t show the photos to anybody else because I didn’t want to embarrass myself – the chairman of the Gerbera Association not knowing how to identify a Gerbera!

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Prize-giving ceremony for the Honorary Gold Medal. From left: Eckhard Engert, Department of the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Peter Ambrosius, honorary chairman of the Gerbera Association SA, John Olivier, South African Consulate in Munich and Karl Zwerman, president of the Gardeners Association.

GERBERA ASSOCIATION SUCCESS IN GERMANY

The Gerbera Association of South Africa made its first appearance overseas at the international Garden Fair in Rostock, Germany, in 2003. Honorary chairman Peter Ambrosius designed and put together the displays that won several gold medals for us. We have also participated in other fairs in Europe and were recently invited to take part in the Bundesgartenschau in Munich.

Ambrosius again put together our display with the following themes: the botanical name history, botany and discovery of the species Gerbera, the history of Gerbera jamesonii, the Gerbera in its natural habitat, the Gerbera as a medicinal plant in Africa, the breeding and development of the Gerbera, Gerbera for house and garden, natural variations with the Gerbera and the genetic pool of the Gerbera today.

For these displays, the Association was awarded three gold medals, four silver medals, four bronze medals and the large gold medal of the Central Association of Professional Gardeners for outstanding information on the development history of the Gerbera.

In September 2005, a second display was arranged with the following themes: South Africa – God’s garden on earth, pioneers of the history of the Gerbera, over 110 years of breeding and cultural history, the Gerbera from seed to plant, breeding and selection of the Floripot mini, breeding and use of the “Everlast” garden Gerbera, suitability as a groundcover and visions with Gerbera – a look into the future.

For these displays, the Association was awarded nine gold medals, one silver medal and the large gold medal of the Central Association of Professional Gardeners for the informative presentation on the evolution of the Gerbera from wild flowers to cultivars.

Based on the overall successful performance of our organisation at this show, we were presented with an honorary gold award, granted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Consumer Protection and Nutrition, in recognition of excellent user-related information. Johan Olivier of the South African Consulate in Munich accepted this prize on our behalf. Peter Ambrosius is expected in Barberton shortly and will bring all our medals with him.

Letters have been received from visitors to the Munich show congratulating the Gerbera Association on its beautiful displays. We will encourage them to become members.

When Peter arrived I eagerly showed him my photographs and he said with a smile on his face: “Yes, these seem to be Gerberas, but show me where they are.” The next day we went to have a look at the yellow wonders. “These are definitelyGerberas, but what kind?” he said, after seeing the plants in nature. Gerbera aurantiaca was his first reaction, but the most northern distribution of G. aurantiaca was Paulpietersburg in Natal, and this place was more than 200 km further north. The leaves were shaped like those of G.aurantiaca, but the texture was different. All these buts!

Peter and I walked the valley to look at the different clusters of this amazing yellow plant. And if this was not enough, we found, on the slopes of the valley, a cluster of red flowering Gerbera, a real crimson red.

The flower was small with wide, short petals. Again Gerbera aurantiaca, but the leaves definitely in the shape and texture of Gerbera ambigua. Were we in the Jurassic Park of the Gerbera?

We walked further and found still more – a patch of mixed coloured Gerbera, again with leaves like the G. ambigua and small flowers, but spiky like the Barberton Daisy. The entire colour spectrum was there – from yellow to dark orange, close to each other.

We carried on walking and in a different spot on the slope, found another patch of Gerbera with leaves like G. ambigua and flowers shaped like the Barberton Daisy, but this time the colour was a dark, bright red.

We had seen so much that day and were somewhat confused but it was so interesting to see what nature still had in store for us. On our way back home we talked and discussed, but with no real result and we left it at that.

Some days later, after had Peter left, I called Isabel Johnson from the Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg. She is currently doing extensive research on Gerbera aurantiaca, the Hilton Daisy.

After trying to explain everything over the phone, e-mails were sent with the photographs I had taken. She said the yellow ones looked like G. aurantiaca and asked me many questions.

The following weekend she came to Barberton and we went to the spot where I had seen the plants. “Yes, they look like G.aurantiaca,” she said. We obtained a permit to take some plant samples for the herbarium and to conduct further research. In return for the permit, Isabel had to submit the GPS readings of all findings to the Mpumalanga Parks Board in Nelspruit.

So far, no definite answers have been found. Even Professor Hansen from Denmark, who did the latest classification of the species Gerbera, could not identify the plants in the photos which were sent to him. Extensive research will have to start to unravel the mystery, but something special was discovered: the valley of a thousand Gerberas.

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Information and photos supplied by Volkmar Seifert, chairman of The Gerbera Association.