Margaret Rutherford Levyns

Margaret Levyns

Margaret Levyns sitting by her plant press during a botanical expedition around Montagu in 1922

Very amusing anecdote

From Insnar’d with flow’rs, the post-humously published autobiography (Botanical Society of South Africa: 1977), with notes by her husband, of Dr MRB Levyns, botanist:

‘On this particular day the weather was perfect and the valley dotted with flowers, for it was spring. The party had split up into small groups which had scrambled up the slopes in search of specimens which, when of interest, were placed in a large collecting tin known as a vasculum. It was nearing midday and members of the party began to feel that it was time to get back to the road and overtake the wagon which would be waiting at a spot suitable for lunch [for careful observation they chose to go by horse- and mule-drawn wagons and walked far]. In those days roads carried very little traffic [...] a group of about six of us were making our way to the wagon and lunch. As we trudged along a car was seen approaching, presumably on its way to Clanwilliam.

As it came abreast, it drew up suddenly and the driver put his head out of the window, seemingly amazed at the appearance of a number of dusty individuals, obviously collecting plants. ‘‘Are you collecting plants?” he demanded rather unnecessarily. We confirmed his suspicions, whereupon he cast a scornful glance at my battered vasculum from which the once shining enamel had largely disappeared, and remarked that that thing was useless for plants in South Africa. He followed up this remark by stating that a haversack was the only sensible thing to use. I did not agree but clearly my interrogator was not interested in views other than his own on the subject of collecting kit. Immediately he began to tell us about a rare crassula which he had discovered on the nearby slopes. Suddenly he began to rummage among his luggage in the car and in a moment or two emerged triumphant with one rather battered volume of Flora Capensis. This he assured us was a great work and the only guide to the flora. With pats of affection he held it up for us to see and said that one day we might be privileged to come across it and perhaps use it.

None of us was capable of speech so we nodded to indicate that we were suitably impressed. With that the interview was at an end and the car proceeded on its way. The tension was released and the party gave itself up to helpless laughter. Who could have imagined that a lecturer in botany at the University of Cape Town, only too familiar with Flora Capensis, [she was in fact involved in the process of updating it] would find herself and her students being solemnly introduced to that august work on a country road! When the merriment had subsided my husband remarked casually, ‘‘I suppose you know who those people were?” It turned out that none of us did and he proceeded to enlighten us. The driver was Dr Louis Leipoldt and his silent companion was Professor JJ Smith, editor of the Afrikaans dictionary!'