Rare find on Lion’s Head

2015-09-08 06:00
The Cape Granite Flax, thought to be extinct, has recently been spotted on Lion’s Head.

The Cape Granite Flax, thought to be extinct, has recently been spotted on Lion’s Head.

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A group of conservation volunteers has discovered a living plant so rare it was thought to be extinct.

The plant, last documented in the 1940s, was recently uncovered on Lion’s Head.

The Granite Cape Flax (Polycarena silenoides) was recently found by the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (Crew) team.

With 39 species of Cape wildflowers classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and 22 of these extinct, finds like these are very special.

This population of Granite Cape Flax will now need to be more fully assessed and monitored, so that it’s endangered status can be revised, and more can be learnt about its life form and responses to fire and other threats, says Crew’s Gigi Laidler, who found the plant.

“I felt great excitement, mixed with trepidation at first that I might be mistaken. But I was elated when the expert confirmed that one more of our more elusive targets has been found and that we can now learn more about this species,” she says.

Over 2500 sites are sampled by the Crew team, with 850 species monitored that they are concerned about. They have discovered 19 new species and rediscovered another 23.

“If we don’t know where our threatened plants are found, we are not able to afford them any protection. So recording exact localities and population information about our threatened plants is very important – especially if we visit the same area repeatedly over time and these records can give information of trends – and this could provide background data for tracking impacts of climate change,” she says.

The information gathered by Crew is important for keeping the list of South Africa’s endangered plants up to date and for informing local authorities and conservation agencies about areas that should not be developed and that require special conservation measures, Laidler explains.

“The biggest threat to plants is loss of habitat. Some plants are very particular about their environmental requirements to thrive and be happy. Our demand on land for housing, agriculture, industry and recreation results in less and less natural habitats remaining. The other massive threat comes from invasive alien species that outcompete and overrun our natural habitats,” she says.

A number of volunteers give their time to Crew, to assist in identifying and monitoring endangered plant species.

Anyone who has a passion for plants, even if they are not that knowledgeable about them initially, can contact the Crew office to find where the closest Crew group of volunteers is that they can join. Visit www.sanbi.org for more information.

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