The Early History of IBSA

The initiative to establish an organisation for individuals interested in growing South African bulbous plants was entirely that of Mrs Margaret Thomas. She invited Mrs L. Richfield, Mr Harry Goemans, Mr J.E. Retief (snr), Mr J.D. Retief (jr) and me to establish a society. A meeting was convened, but as Mrs Richfield and Mr Goemans could not attend, only four persons came together on the 15th April 1961 at the home of Mr J.E. Retief in Lincoln Street, Bellville. It was decided to go ahead with the establishment of the society, which was named the Indigenous Bulb Growers Association of South Africa (Die Inheemse Bolkwekersvereniging van Suid-Afrika).

As a matter of course, Mrs Thomas became the first chairperson and I was asked to take on the job of secretary - a position in which I continued for 24 years until I declined further nomination. The constitution was a combined effort by the first members and the committee was extended as more suitable members became available. It was decided to make the Cape the permanent headquarters of the Association and with that in view, it was written into the constitution that the Annual General Meeting had to be either in or near Cape Town. That did not exclude meetings elsewhere, but to my knowledge, only one meeting, convened by the secretary, took place in Pretoria. Initially there were restrictions on membership. A new member had to pay an entry fee and membership was subject to approval by the committee. It was, however, soon realised that these restrictions served no useful purpose and membership was thrown open to everybody. Due to the small membership, meetings were held at the homes of members.

After two years an annual newsletter was started. A list of members was published in the newsletter for the first time after five years. There were 26 members at this time, 4 of whom were from overseas. Some of these members played such an important role in botany and horticulture that they are worth mentioning here:


  • Col. H.A. Baker is famous for his work on the genus Erica. It was never clear which bulbous plants he grew or was interested in, but he attended meetings regularly and took great interest in the proceedings.


  • Dr M.C. Botha is best remembered as a member of Prof Chris Barnard's team who did the world's first heart transplant. He grew Lachenalias and ground orchids. It was reported recently that he is studying the medicinal properties of certain South African plants.


  • Mrs Cynthia Giddy did not stick to bulbous plants for long. She turned to Aloes, and still later, to Cycads on which she produced a magnificent book.


  • Mr Gordon Mac Neil farmed with tropical fruit in the Northern Transvaal but was also well known for his collection of Amaryllids, said to be amongst the biggest in the world. He was particularly interested in Cyrtanthus species. His discovery of Cyrtanthus eucallis was related in the IBSA newsletter. It is believed that he was the first to cross C. sanguineus and C. elatus. He also described and published Nerine platypetala as a new species. He was however commemorated by Obermeyer who named Gladiolus macneilii after him.


  • Mrs L. Richfield took over the farm "Bloemerf" from Kay Stanford. The book "A garden of South African Flowers" by Stanford gives a good idea of what bulbous plants were grown in what was probably the first nursery to concentrate on South African plants. Unfortunately there is no indication of when the book was written and even the publishers were unaware of it's existence! 

Mr Wally Stevens of Bastia Hill, New Zealand, was one of the very first overseas horticulturists who concentrated on South African plants - Proteaceae, Ericaeae and South African bulbs in "bulb-less" New Zealand. He claimed that he had 10 000 Romulea sabulosa in flower at one stage! He also grew Moraea gigandra in large numbers and considered Gladiolus bullatus "no problem". He and his wife visited the Cape in 1964 and attended an IBSA meeting.

Mrs Margaret Thomas first got involved with South African bulbous plants when she went to work at Kirstenbosch in 1935. Here she also got acquainted with two famous botanists who specialised in bulbous plants: Joyce Lewis and Buddy Barker (the first names are given as she used them). She frequently accompanied them on their field trips and took an active part in the search for rare or new species. So it is no wonder that there are several plants bearing her name - Lachenalia thomasiae, Ixia thomasiae and Moraea thomasiae. The last two were named by Peter Goldblatt, so it was not all for friendship for which she was honoured. At a ripe age when she went back to work at Kirstenbosch again, she was not in the bulbous plant section, but she made quite a name for herself with the success she had with growing shrubs and trees from cuttings.

After the first five years the membership continued to grow slowly but steadily, both locally and overseas. It created a wide correspondence which was enjoyed very much, covering most of the globe from Chile and California to Japan and New Zealand. It was inevitable that overseas visitors also started to arrive at my home in Bellville. They came from the USA, England, Holland, France, Germany, Japan and Australia. 
Johan Loubser



Copyright 2010. Powered by Skytouch Media