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Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (2014)

Contemporary use and seasonal abundance of indigenous edible plants (with an emphasis on geophytes) available to human foragers on the Cape south coast, South Africa

De Vynck, Jan Carlo

Titre : Contemporary use and seasonal abundance of indigenous edible plants (with an emphasis on geophytes) available to human foragers on the Cape south coast, South Africa

Auteur : De Vynck, Jan Carlo

Université de soutenance : Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Grade : Magister Scientiae 2014

Human subsistence within the Cape Floristic Region (Cape) dates back to our inception as a distinct species. Unique archaeological evidence found here for the defining attribute of cognitive modernity, as well as coinciding paleo-climatic challenges to survival, both highlight the Cape’s potential to support the existence of pre-historic hunter-gatherers. This habitat, with its unprecedented diversity of geophytes and other plant growth forms, has not yet revealed its potential to provide carbohydrate resources for early Homo sapiens sapiens. In order to investigate this potential, an ethnobotanical survey of the south Cape coastal area near Still Bay was conducted. Despite 17th Century colonialism marking the onset of indigenous plant knowledge decline, the 18 people of Khoe-San descent interviewed in this survey still actively used 58 indigenous edible plant species with a variety of 69 uses. Fruit showed the highest popularity of plants used (52 percent) followed by nectar, with plants having underground storage organs (USOs) ranking third (34 percent). Among growth forms, shrubs dominated (34 percent) followed by geophytes and trees (both 21 percent). With the exception of Prionium serratum, which was rare in the research area, this study failed to identify species that could have formed a staple source of carbohydrate for pre-colonial Khoe-San peoples of the Cape south coast. While eight species of USOs were identified (12 percent of total) only Cyphia species emerged as an important carbohydrate source. This study indicated the importance of Thicket Biome species as a source of edible plants. The second component of the study comprised a two year phenological survey of indigenous edible plant species in four primary vegetation types. A total of 32 USO species and 21 species with aboveground edible carbohydrates (fruiting species) were identified across all sites. Limestone Fynbos had the richest flora of edible species (21 USO species and 18 fruiting species), followed by Strandveld (15 USOs and 13 fruiting species), Renosterveld (8 and 8, respectively) and lastly Sand Fynbos (5 and 5, respectively). The season of highest apparency showed slight variation amongst the four sites over the two years, with more variation evident in the period of apparency. The first survey year had below average rainfall, while the second year received an average rainfall amount. The second year saw a dramatic increase in apparency of abundance for all sites (50 to 60 percent increase) except for the Sand Fynbos site, which showed little change. The other sites showed a one month increase in the period of apparency in the second survey year. Overall, late summer to autumn was the period of lowest apparency of USOs. The ripening of certain fruiting species during this time would have provided a source of carbohydrate when USO availability was at its lowest. Strandveld had the highest biomass in the peak of apparency (over 80 kgha-1) in the first year with a nearly 20 percent increase for the second year. The combined biomass for the four study sites in the first survey year was roughly 150 kgha-1 and 185 kgha-1 for the second year. The apparency of abundance (ripe and edible phase) of fruiting species did not increase much for Renosterveld and Strandveld in the second survey year, except for Limestone Fynbos (49 percent increase) and Sand Fynbos (53 percent). A multivariate analysis showed seven phenophases for high apparency of edible USOs and ripe fruit across the four vegetation types. Given the contribution of evergreen USOs and fruiting species, there would always have been carbohydrates available for foragers to collect in the major vegetation types of the south Cape coast. However, harvesting and processing this carbohydrate resource would have posed cognitive challenges for MSA hunter-gatherers, given the interwoven taxonomic complexity of numerous toxic plant species, and the diverse phenology of edible plant species within the varied vegetation types. These challenges were undoubtedly mastered, highlighting the Cape environment as a possible catalyst to improved human cognitive maturity.

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