Tugela: ‘Combretum stylesii’ has extremely tiny habitat

2011-05-24 00:00

A NEW species of tree has been found along the Tugela River. The new species of bushwillow, or Combretum, was found along a 10-kilometre stretch next to the river, in an inhospitable and inaccessible area of the Mapumulo District Municipality, north of Durban.

The discovery has just been published in the South African Journal of Botany, and is named Combretum stylesii after David Styles, the botanist who found it.

Styles first came across the tree in 2004, but it took several years for him to collect enough flower and seed samples to complete a description of the tree.

He was also hampered by the remoteness of the tree’s habitat. This remoteness may be a reason why the tree had not been discovered before, but its habitat is fast becoming threatened by road development and rural sprawl.

“Bushwillow species can be distinguished from each other by tiny scales on the leaves that are as unique as a human fingerprint,” Styles said.

“The scales of Combretum stylesii were also studied under a microscope and its DNA was analysed, proving its distinctness from other known species,” he added.

The tree grows both as a stand alone tree up to 14 metres high, as well as winding itself around other trees, and likes dry bushveld.

Styles suspects there may be more plants to be discovered in the area, as the vegetation is reasonably unknown.

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