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Why Plants Matter

Three years ago, Monique Groenewaldt completed the compulsory practical part of the bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Management she was working towards obtaining from NUST by working at Namib Trees, the indigenous nursery co-owned by Ivor Powell, who is also the driving force behind the DBGN. What began as a short-term arrangement bloomed into a new-found passion for threatened plants, so much so that Monique has in the meantime completed her Honours degree and is working towards beginning her Masters.

Monique Groenewaldt
Monique Groenewaldt

How did you get involved with the DBGN?

“After I did my internship at Namib Trees, I was asked to come back to work on a casual basis. Over time that arrangement became more formalised and in addition to doing sales and customer service, I started working on compiling plant lists and managing threatened species permit applications. I also assisted on the plant rescue and restoration project Namib Trees is working on for Namdeb in the Sperrgebiet, and in fact that project became the basis of my Honours thesis, which is entitled "Comparison of seed production, germination success and trends, of endemic Cephalophyllum herrei and Juttadinteria albata collected from parent plants growing in undisturbed and disturbed soils in the southern Namib, Namibia: Implications for restoration". My studies are pertinent not only to the Namdeb project as we need to propagate the seeds we collected at the site in order to restore plant populations there in the next couple of years, but also to the DBGN as we have a Garden to populate, and a Seed Bank and Herbarium to establish.”

Monique Groenewaldt - Field studies at the Desert Botanic Garden
Monique Groenewaldt conducting field studies at the Desert Botanic Garden.

Why is this field of study important?

“While visiting various forestry nurseries while doing my studies I noticed that for the most part they focus on large trees only, and not on shrubs or succulents. However, the latter are a valuable part of our ecosystem, and we really need to make the awareness around and study of these smaller endangered plants a priority. Conservation in Namibia is mostly focused on wildlife, but if these smaller plants disappear, the whole ecosystem is weakened.”

On being the lone ‘plant person’ in her student cohort

“Growing up I was determined to go into wildlife conservation; plants were definitely not on my radar. But when I had to make a choice as part of my degree, I was the only student to follow the botanical studies option. My family, friends, and fellow students were rather shocked at first, as I had always maintained that I wanted to be a game ranger. But now, having done my internship and working on the restoration project and having immersed myself in the plant world, I can honestly say that my passion has very much shifted.”

People I’m inspired by

“Having worked with them on the Namdeb project, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to learn from Silke Rügheimer and Dr Antje Burke from EnviroScience. Silke and I recently did a plant survey at the Desert Botanic Garden, and while we were there she told me about the 10 years she spent in the field — I find that very inspiring because I’ve realised that’s how you learn, by being out there, observing the plants in their habitat. I also appreciate and admire Dr. Jonathan Kamwi, my plant studies lecturer at NUST, because he guided my introduction into this field of study.”

The big picture

“Working on the plant rescue and restoration project has really removed a veil from my eyes and made me aware of how much we lose through everyday activities such as road building or mining. On a recent trip out to the Garden, the gravel road that runs past the Garden – the C26 – was being graded, and the impact this had on the plants along the road was quite shocking. No forethought was given to rescuing plants prior to grading operations commencing, and as a result so many plants — some of them endangered — were sacrificed. We aren’t taught to pay attention to the smaller plants, even though the loss of a population of shrubs is as important as the loss of a tree. There is a huge need to create awareness about the spectrum of plant loss, and the impact of it all. Whether it is aimed at tourists, the public, or even those involved in plant conservation, there needs to be more education and collaboration, and for people to understand how collectively every contribution towards preserving Namibia’s floral wealth, no matter how small, makes a difference. I think the DBGN has a very important role to play in creating this awareness, and I’m very excited about the future, especially in terms of continuing my research and collaborating with other institutions such as Gobabeb while working towards making a

meaningful impact.”

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