Welcome to Mountainlands news & views

6 12 2009

This blog will feature regular news and views about the Mountainlands Nature Reserve, outside Barberton in South Africa.  We trust that you will find it informative and perhaps even a bit whimsical and entertaining at times.

Go to www.mountainlands.co.za for more information on the reserve, investment opportunities and available properties.

Or visit our Facebook group Friends of Mountainlands for a chat.

Blog migrated

2 06 2018

The content of this blog has migrated to its brand new WordPress house on the Mountainlands Nature Reserve website http://www.mountainlands.co.za. We love your comments and support and hope you will follow the news from this unique part of Africa on the new site.

New localities for threatened plant species

16 04 2018

Senecio plant P4132470Expect the unexpected is an appropriate description for two new localities for Senecio triodontiphyllus C. Jeffrey – one in Mountainlands Nature Reserve, Barberton and the other on Wits University’s Pullen Nature Reserve in the Crocodile Gorge Mountains.

One can be excused for thinking the “special” plants always grow in remote, inaccessible corners and not right under one’s nose in regularly traversed areas. With several herbaceous species sporting bright yellow, daisy like flowers in the grasslands and wooded grasslands one would normally not blink twice when looking at them. But this Senecio stands out due to its interesting architecture – large, sweetly scented leaves with double serrated margins growing from the base  up and inflorescences on long stems at the top.

The first collection of this species was made by botanist and banker Ernest Galpin back in 1890 and it was given the name Senecio trifurcatus Klatt which was subsequently changed. According to the Red List of South African Plants it was known from three collections made before 1930. It was rediscovered in 2008 at one of the historical locations and again in the north of Mountainlands Nature Reserve in 2012. It was collected in March 2013 in the Crocodile Gorge Mountains making it the first discovery for that area and of which the details can now be added to the range in which it occurs. The 2018 discovery in Mountainlands makes it the second locality in the reserve for this species endemic to the area between Barberton and Kaapmuiden. Endemic means it occurs nowhere else in the world.

Senecio triodontiphyllus is classified as Vulnerable (VU).  So what does it mean? Threatened species are divided into different categories according to national assessments and this information is contained in the Red List of South African Plants. Vulnerable means that the available evidence indicates that the plant is facing a high risk of extinction as it meets at least one of five IUCN criteria that are used for defining its status. Thus, adding the two new localities is good news for this special plant in need of protection.

Below follow some photos of insects and ectoparasites (ticks) benefitting from the inflorescences


Rare beauty in bloom

3 05 2017

DSCF0152 (2)As if to make her final curtain call before winter sets in, Mother Nature has chosen a rare endemic shrub to bloom on Mountainlands Nature Reserve. Syncolostemon stalmansii stands about a meter or more tall and where hundreds of individuals grow together their abundance of light, lilac inflorescences cover the mountainside like a gigantic pink blanket.

It is named after Marc Stalmans who recognised it as a new species in 1994 while doing an ecological survey of Songimvelo Nature Reserve and it was then described by Alan J Paton and Kevin Balkwill in 2001.  Its range is restricted and it occurs on the mountains between Barberton and Swaziland where it is also recorded from Malolotja Nature Reserve. With a National Red list rating of rare, it means this show stopper is not exposed to any direct or potential threats as most of the populations occur in nature reserves.

The big daddy of Aloes

3 02 2017

20170131_144648_resized-2There is something magical about giant Aloes in their natural habitat. Like giant Euphorbias, they seem like the surreal green children of Mother Nature and with their unique architecture sticks out like a magnificent jewel between other trees on Mountainlands. Although they are referred to as trees they are in truth succulents with the ability to store water and sustain plant growth in times of drought.

Aloe barberae/Aloidendron barberae, commonly named the Tree aloe, is the tallest of the six tree aloe species that occur in southern Africa and can grow up to 20 meters. Its grey bark is a distinguishing feature and it carries small rosettes of leaves at the top. This is also where its compact clusters of light reddish orange inflorescences can be seen from autumn to winter.

It is named after a distinguished naturalist, Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Barber, who was 2 when she and her family arrived in South Africa as 1820 settlers. She started collecting plants when she was still young and her keen observation skills led to her contributing specimens to, among others, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in Britain. She also corresponded with Charles Darwin and from 1870 to 1872 three of her articles dealing with insect pollination and flower structure were published by the Linnean Society, London. Barberton itself commemorates her sons, Fred and Harry Barber and their cousin Graham Hoare Barber, who discovered a reef of gold where the town is now located.

Mrs. Barber first came across Aloe barberae / Aloidendron barberae in the Eastern Cape from where its distribution range stretches north into Mpumalanga, Swaziland and onward to central Mozambique. Over the years these trees have become favourite garden plants – not only in South Africa, but also in countries like the United States of America, Hawaii and Australia. Although their natural habitat is in forests and wooded ravines, they may occur in more open areas.dscf1585a

Life took hold on land earlier than thought

10 11 2016


A study that has been conducted in the Barberton Greenstone Belt suggests that life took hold on land 300 million years earlier than thought – at least as early as 3.2 billion years ago. Click on the link below to read the full article.


Samango photographed on Mountainlands

21 09 2016

Camera trap photo of samango monkey

When you least expect it, someone comes along with evidence to solve a mystery. That is what happened with samango monkeys (Cercopithecus albogularis) on Mountainlands Nature Reserve.

Like author Emma Orczy’s elusive character the Scarlet pimpernel, no one was quite sure if they occurred there. And if someone claimed to have seen one, there was always the chance that it may have been a vervet monkey (Cerceopithecus aethiops).

Samangos differ from vervet monkeys in several ways. They are generally larger with longer and darker fur and have grey faces with black arms.  Vervets have black faces, silver grey body hair, a white tail tip and their lower limbs are black.

Thanks to the camera traps that were placed on the reserve by NGO Panthera for their leopard survey there is now proof of samangos occurring on Mountainlands. One ventured from the forest canopy in Hyslop’s Creek in the southwest of the reserve onto the ground and luckily passed in front of a set of camera traps. When downloading the photos, Matthew Rogan from Panthera immediately identified it and shared the photos with us.

This brings the number of primates that occur on Mountainlands to five, namely the thick-tailed bushbaby also called the large-eared greater galago (Otolemur crassicaudatus), lesser bushbaby or mohol bushbaby (Galago moholi), chacma baboon (Papio cynocephalus ursinus), vervet and somango monkeys.


Chacma baboon selfie taken by a camera trap

The samango (from the Zulu name iNsimango) is widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa and represents the southernmost extent of arboreal guneons on the continent. Two species are recognised: Cercopithecus albogularis is distributed from Ethiopia to South Africa, the South and East Democratic Republic of the Congo and Northwest Angola. Cercopithecus mitus occurs from the Congo-Oubangui River system to the East African Rift Valley, Northern Angola and North Western Zambia.*

C. albogularis occurs in the eastern regions of southern Africa. Three distinct genetic entities or subspecies are recognised namely C. a. schwarzi, C.a labiatus and C.a. erythrachus.

C. a. schwarzi is distributed in the northern Escarpment (Pilgrims Rest, Mariepskop, Magoebaskloof) area. A recent study argues that the Soutpansberg population should also be classified as C. a schwarzi instead of the current classification of C. a. erythrachus due to certain similarities.*

The distribution of C. a. labiatus and C. a. erythrachus coincides with the distribution of Indian Ocean coastal belt, Scarp and Afromontane forests. The two subspecies do not overlap in distribution.*

The southern limit of the habitat of C. a. labiatus is the Pirie forest in the Eastern Cape, stretching north-eastwards to the Kwazulu-Natal midlands. Samangos are not found in the large evergreen Tzitzikamma and Knysna forests, which poses the question why did they not radiate further south? This could relate to the forest history in southern Africa which is a subject in itself.

C .a.  erythrachus is found in the Afromontane forests of Eastern Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province and Northern Kwazulu-Natal. It is likely that the one photographed by the camera traps may be this subspecies. However, only more colour photos and field research will conclusively identify it.

Although their range seems large, Afromontane and Indian Ocean coast belt forests in South Africa are also fragmented and small and under threat from land-use pressure, among other things. This leads to further fragmentation which may impact the habitat of the species. Nationally, the species is listed as “Vulnerable” (considered to face a high risk of extinction in the wild) in the Red Data Book of the Mammals of South Africa.

We are glad the forests on Mountainlands Nature Reserve are a safe haven for these monkeys and we hope to photograph more of them in future.

*Dalton DL, Linden B, Wimberger K, Nupen LJ, Tordiffe ASW, Taylor PJ, et al. (2015) New Insights into Samango Monkey Speciation in South Africa. PLos ONE 10(3): e0117003. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117003

Attractions in the Barberton area

14 09 2016

Dear reader,

Country Life Magazine has published another insightful article about the attractions in the greater Barberton area. You can access it by clicking on the following link.


Leopard survey completed

5 09 2016

After nearly two months, the leopard camera trap survey conducted by wildlife NGO Panthera on Barberton Nature Reserve phases 1, 2 and 3 has come to an end.  Although no leopards have been photographed we got some insight into what other elusive animals go about their business while humans are not watching. (For background information about the leopard survey, refer to the blog post “Counting the spots” posted on 27 July 2016).

According to Matthew Rogan who is affiliated with Panthera and who was doing the survey as part of his PhD degree, it does not mean leopards are absent from the reserves. DNA analysis of some carnivore scat samples offers an alternative way to identify leopards in Barberton Nature Reserve.  There may be several reasons why they were not photographed.  It may be that they occur at very low density and the following reasons can contribute to that. They could travel really far and have large home ranges, like in the Kgalakgadi where they may range over an area larger than one thousand square kilometers. When that happens, the probability to see them in any spot is low. However, the area around Barberton is significantly more productive than an arid zone like the Kalahari, and consequently extremely low leopard densities are likely to be caused by human disturbance of either leopards or their prey. The leopards that use the area are not necessarily residents, although one would expect leopards to remain in an area with enough prey; or they are especially at risk of coming in contact with communities and human conflict.

Matthew is now repeating the exercise at Mpumalanga Tourism and Park Agency’s Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve for the next leg of this project.  We wish him all the best and we hope the leopards there are less publicity shy and will set off one of the trap cameras in that beautiful, mountainous reserve.

Below follows photos that were taken by the Panthera camera-traps. Thank you Matt for sharing these with us.


Serval (Felis serval)


Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis)


Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) with its black saddle on its back as the most outstanding feature that distinguishes it easily from the Side-striped jackal.

sly fox

Gotcha! A Side-striped Jackal (Canis adustus) sneaking past the camera trap. The white tipped tail and lack of a saddle distinguish it from the Black -backed jackal.



Honey badger (Mellivora capensis)


African civet (Civettictis civetta)


African wild cat (Felis lybica)


Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus)

two caracals

Caracal (Felis caracal)





Nice hairdo dude! A Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis) adult with two young.


Endearing Bambi: A Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) lamb with an adult.

Then and now landscape changes

10 08 2016

An article about the rePhotoSA project that is documenting landscape changes. Two photos of the Barberton area are included of what it used to look like and now.DSCF9132

What’s in bloom now

2 08 2016

It is late winter on Mountainlands Nature Reserve. The golden yellow of the veld has morphed into a light brown and the air is filled with a dry, lulling haze. Back burns have been made and block burns to bring new life to moribund patches. Some plants only flower when stimulated by fire; putting up a showy display against a black backdrop.  When taking a stroll you may come across some of the following:


Tetradenia riparia (Ginger-bush), a semi-succulent multi-stemmed shrub.The crushed leaves have a strong ginger like scent. These plants tend to stick to the rocky hillsides and dry, wooded grasslands.


The Erica drakensbergensis shrubs that grow on Mountainlands don’t read their “when to flower” manual  and can be found blooming in winter and early summer in the grasslands and higher lying forest margins.


Aloe chortolirioides is a striking grass aloe that often flowers in response to fire.


An outstanding feature of  Halleria lucida (Tree Fuchsia) is the flowers that sometimes grow in dense clusters on old wood. The trees can be seen growing along streams or in the higher lying grasslands.


Easy to miss due to their size of about 20cm tall. Drimia depressa in bloom in the grasslands after fire.


Flowering mostly in summer, Asclepias stellifera can also be seen in bloom after grassland fires.


2016-07-28 15.39.56_1469792804219_resized

Apodolirion buchananii (Natal Crocus)  is a small bulbous plant that is easy to miss. It flowers after burns and colours vary from white to pink.

DSCF4768 - Copy (2)

Cyrtanthus galpinii is exceptionally beautiful and flowers in winter with a preference to partial shade.


Brachystelma pygmaeum subsp. pygmaeam is a low growing herb that occurs in rocky grasslands. Due to its tiny size, its bright yellow colour is best spotted after a burn.

2016-08-02 09.58.57_resized - Copy

The  brightscarlet flowers of Erythrina  lysistemon (Sacred Coral-tree) appears before the leaves  making the trees stand out in the veld.

Dombeya rotundifolia

Dombeya rotundifolia (Wild pear) seems to prefer a certain elevation on Mountainlands. Many small trees can be seen flowering together wrapping themselves like a white girdle around the mountains.