National Geographic : 1947 Jul
The Dutch and South Africa THE Dutch East India Company was chartered in the year 1602. Its pur pose was to open up trade between Holland and the Far East. All of this commerce was by sea around the Cape of Good Hope. In 1648 the Haarlem, a ship of the Company, was wrecked in Table Bay. The survivors landed near what is now Capetown. (They were picked up later by a boat returning to Holland from the Far East.) Fortunately saving a little seed which they chanced to have, during the five months of their enforced stay these shipwrecked sailors were able to have a small garden. Scurvy was then common on long voyages, and the connection between a supply of fresh green material and freedom from scurvy and kindred ills was realized but not understood. We now know that vitamin deficiency is the cause, but all those old sailors knew was that they were more healthy on long voyages if they could get some fruit and vegetables from time to time. Realizing the potentialities of the Table Bay region, on their return to Hol land they recommended that a garden be established at this halfway place where ships' crews could obtain these fresh foods. In 1652, two ships' companies set out from Hol land with this object in mind. Landing at Table Bay, they made a fortifi cation and laid out a garden. The gardeners they brought along must have been good, for the project flourished. Being gardeners, they were interested also in the unknown plants they found growing naturally about them. They began moving these plants into odd corners of the vegetable plots. And so began the real cultivation of the plants of South Africa, a region destined to play an important part in the development of modern ornamental gardening. By 1679 the original garden had been greatly enlarged so as to be able to include the host of orna mental materials flooding in from the up country regions of Africa as well as the edible and ornamental plants brought by sea from China, Java, Zanzibar, and other points along the way. As early as 1700 these plants from the garden at Table Bay were common in Hol land; from there they later found their way to gardens in other parts of the world. CALLA (Zantedeschia aethiopica): For con venience in our series this plant has been called "Calla," following the usage of many who grow it; but the name really belongs to another member of the same family, Calla palustris, a delightful little plant of our northern swamps, often grown in bog-gardens. More often it is called "Calla-Lily," but this is worse. Most certainly the plant is not a lily; it belongs to the Arum Family, of which our lowly Skunk Cabbage is a member in good standing, as also are the Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Elephant's-Ear, Taro, Caladium, and more than 1,500 other species. Also, the showy thing which looks like a flower is not a flower at all; it is a highly modified leaf surrounding a central spike on which are found the numerous small, closely packed flowers. But no matter what troubles this plant has getting us mortals to understand its structure and give it a proper name, it still is one of Africa's best contributions to our gardens. Several other African species of this genus vith silver-spotted leaves, or with red dish or yellow spathes, are also grown. The genus was named for Francesco Zantedeschi, an Italian student of plants of over a century ago. BIRD-OF-PARADISE FLOWER (Strelitzia Reginae): At first sight one of these bizarre plants in bloom is a botanical puzzle. The sev eral flowers on each stem are enclosed by a much modified, boat-shaped leaf and come popping up in series, one after another. The three sepals of each flower are yellow, or in cultivated forms sometimes orangey. There also are three petals, one very small; the other two have been modified, swung forward into line, and form the blue "tongue," in the groove of which lie the ends of the reproductive struc tures. This plant, a not-too-distant relative of the Banana, was named in honor of Queen Charlotte Sophia, of the house of Mecklen burg-Strelitz, wife of George III. IMPATIENS (Impatiens Holstii): A native of tropical East Africa, this increasingly pop ular garden plant originally had brick-red flowers. Using its more vigorous and rapid growth, earlier blooming habit, and larger flowers as a base, hybridists have now given this species a wider range of tints, ranging from scarlet to salmony, pink and white, by hybridizing it with the otherwise less desirable Impatiens Sultani of the Zanzibar coast. As noted, this species is taking the place of the old Garden Balsam, Impatiens Balsamina, a native of tropical Asia, which unfortunately hides its flowers under the leaves, requiring almost a worm's-eye view to see them prop erly. Impatiens Holstii does not have this too-modest garden habit and so puts on a real show. Anyone who has pinched a ripe fruit pod of this group knows why the genus was named Impatiens.