A young girl, who was born in Basle, Switzerland, developed an interest in South African plants. She studied the vegetation of the Karoo and later died at the age of 79 at an old age home in Bloemfontein. She was Dr Marguerite Gertrud Anna Henrici. After completing her schooling, Marguerite spent some time in France, but then returned home in 1913 to study botany, chemistry and zoology at the University of Basle. She later specialized in plant physiology and was awarded a doctoral degree in 1917. She went on to work as an assistant and researcher in the university’s botanical institute and from there was recruited by Arnold Theiler to join his team at Onderstepoort (Pretoria). She arrived in South Africa in November, 1922. Her brief was to study seasonal variations of phosphate, deficiencies of which were causing “lamsiekte”. To accomplish this she was put in charge of the Armoedsvlakte experimental farm, near Vryburg, at a time when almost no women were being appointed to professional or managerial posts. This research developed into a life-long study of the food value of South African veld types and grasses. She also studied the cystine and sulphur content of Karoo shrubs.
In time a veld reserve was established at Fauresmith and a special field station was built there for the study of Karoo vegetation. Considering she spoke German, French and very little English, Marguerite adapted particularly well to South Africa’s Afrikaans-speaking communities where she did ground breaking work, despite the fact that controversy surrounded her statements on the effect of indigenous and exotic trees on ground water sources. She reached retirement age in 1948, but continued to work on her research for a further 20 years, until poor health forced her take up residence in an old age home in Bloemfontein. When she left Fauresmith in 1968, the local farming community honoured her with an illuminated address. She died in Bloemfontein two years later at the age of 79.
© Rose’s Roundup, October 2011 (No 213)
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