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We had booked into the Obesa Lodge in Graaff-Reinet, quite appropriate as we were hoping to see the rare-in-nature, common-in-cultivation Euphorbia obesa that grows near the town. The Lodge is a series of B&B lodgings but, if required, breakfast is prepared away from the apartments and served at the requested time.

Last night we had asked the owner, Sonja Bouwer about the origins of the name and that of the Obesa Cactus Garden across the road. She confirmed that both were named after the Euphorbia. I asked if she knew Albert and Daphne Pritchard who had been active in setting up funding for a fence around the site to protect the plants from poachers as part of a conservation project funded by the British Cactus & Succulent Society (BCSS). Yes, she knew them very well, but in recent years had lost contact. I explained that Albert had passed away a few years ago and that Daphne seemed to have disappeared off the succulent hobby scene in England since then. I don’t know how to get in contact with Daphne, but if you should read this and are still in contact with her, please pass on Sonja’s best wishes. Her son Egmont would contact her ex-husband to arrange a visit of the Cactus Garden this morning. Johanus also remembered Daphne and Albert and also passes on his best wishes to Daphne.

We had a great time exploring around this impressive if slightly overgrown garden with many mature specimen cacti planted out in the open and obviously enjoying the conditions away from home – almost all cacti are endemic to the Americas but some have been brought over to South Africa and have escaped into nature. All images around the garden are filed as S2759

S2759 - Obesa Cactus Garden

S2759 – Obesa Cactus Garden

Johan and Egmont promised to take us to the Euphorbia obesa site in the afternoon. They had to return to town once we had reached the spot (S2760) and left instructions how where we might find the owner of the estate. The gates along the road were all labelled ‘Kendrew Estate’ but where would we find the owner? And would they grant us permission to see the plants? We asked more directions from workers in a nearby field and found the owner’s house.

We were greeted by Lynda Charles who made us some refreshments while we waited for her husband, Garth, to return. Both were charming and very hospitable and after our drinks Garth and his daughter lead the way to the entrance to a field through which the obesa site could be entered.

S2761 - Euphorbia obesa

S2761 – Euphorbia obesa

We were surprised to learn that last winter, these plants (not unusually) had experienced frost and snow, that goats and sheep often grazed here, but had no interest in these Euphorbias (I thought goats at everything and anything) and that about a year ago local boys were caught stealing some 500 plants for sale. We had seen some real poverty during our stay in South Africa and it is therefore not too surprising that some people are tempted with the relatively small reward of poaching and selling plants. But as always in such cases, if there is no demand from hobbyists for ex-habitat plants – particularly when I have seen nurseries in the Netherlands and in the UK where these plants are grown in their millions – there would be no illegal trade.

Conservation begins at home and we can all contribute to the cause by refusing to buy plants from ex-habitat sources.

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