Strange IndiaStrange India

“I’m a botanist, and I study plants in my home country of Lesotho. In this photo, I am walking through the Bokong Nature Reserve, located 3,000 metres above sea level. It’s almost always windy and cold up here. On these trips, I bring warm clothes, a camera to photograph the plants, a GPS device to note the coordinates of significant observations and my notebook.

The place might look dry, but the reserve is dominated by wetlands and is a catchment for dams that supply lower-lying areas with water. Lesotho provides water to some of the most populous parts of neighbouring South Africa, so the health of these wetlands matters to a large number of people, and it’s important to track what grows here.

One of the most charismatic plants you find up here, and one of the ones I’m looking for in the picture, is the Lesotho red-hot poker (Kniphofia caulescens). It’s a red-and-yellow wetland flower used for ornamental as well as medicinal purposes. Some people plant it near their homesteads, because they believe it wards off lightning strikes.

When visiting this area, I was also excited about Merxmuellera, an important grass that the Basotho — the people of Lesotho — use for making various crafts, including the traditional Basotho hat, or mokorotlo.

Many of Lesotho’s wetlands are under threat. In some areas, they have been overgrazed; in others, plants used to treat medical conditions are becoming increasingly rare, particularly where formal health care is not accessible.

I study the wetlands to protect them, and to see whether there is any deterioration. But the idea is not to stop local people from using the natural resources that they depend on — just to make sure it’s done sustainably.

I marvel that, in these remote places, you find plants that you don’t see any more in other parts of the country. You also find that your heart is at peace out here. You forget about everything else.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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