Human Flower Project

The Biz of Indigenous Orchids

Conservation and women’s empowerment grow together in Cape Town’s flower project.

imageBulelwa Magula

prepares a cut vine

for an orchid seedling

Photo:  Londolozani Orchids

Epiphyte orchids of South Africa, many of them endangered plants, grow up in healthy trees. Having seen what a bit of symbiosis can do, the robust, 50-year-old Cape Orchid Society was ready to support a new endeavor.


The hobbyists’ group began Londolozani Orchids both to conserve Africa’s rare orchids and to train women in Cape Town to run their own nursery business. Last year Mike Tibbs, who heads the society and also owns Exotic Plant Company, began working with Mhani Gingi, a network for black community leaders. By December 2006, with help from donors and other partners, a group of local women had learned to germinate the seeds of indigenous orchids and grow them in the greenhouse/nursery at Helderberg Nature Reserve. 

imageAngraecum Orchid, first product

Photo: Londolozani Orchids

According to the Londolozani site, “There is already a substantial market in three-week-old plants from the laboratory, so the women will not have to wait for years or even months for the opportunity to earn money.” Some of their plants will be sold for profit and others reintroduced into the environment. It appears that one early offering is the delicate Angraecum Orchid.

“The challenge is how to grow a sustainable project or business, and take it forward,” Lillian Masebenza of Mhani Gingi told the Cape Argus. “My concept is to mobilise women specifically, and create partnerships with people who want to take up the challenge. For example, our vehicle broke down today - two of our members are stranded. It would be great if someone would partner us and donate a vehicle.”

Frida Vesterberg, a conservationist with the City of Cape Town, explained. “The project is focusing, for now, on a few epiphytic orchids, Aerangis modesta, A fuscata, and A.mystacidii.” But it’s also focusing on these seven women, many of them grandmothers, who are eager to turn their love of plants into a livelihood.


Entrepreneurs and partners in the Women Orchid Legacy Project

Photo: Londolozani Orchids

For more on the Women Orchid Legacy Project, phone Lillian Masebenza 082 465 4687 or check the project’s website, where you’ll find bios of the women themselves. Too much of the time social programs compete for funding with conservation efforts. Not so with this ingenious effort.

Come September, the Cape Orchid Society will hold its 50th anniversary celebration. Both epiphytes and entrepreneurs should be in bloom.

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