Monday, 6 February 2017

Thesium hunting with a SANBI team (1st and 2nd February 2017)

Arrangements had been made to guide a group of visiting botanists to localities in the Port Edward area to find examples of the various Thesium species recorded here in the past. The Thesium of the Pondoland Centre of Endemism cannot really be thought of as eye-catching, having very small, often insignificant, flowers on slender stems.  However, when viewed through a hand lens, the flowers can be quite attractive.

We met at the Beacon Hill herbarium, with specialists Marianne le Roux and Natasha Visser from SANBI in Pretoria and Prof. Dan Nickrent from Carbondale University in Illinois, USA. After they had an opportunity to go through the Thesium specimens in the herbarium, we took a walk to the rocky promontory where the commemorative plaque is mounted, where we found many Thesium cupressoides.

We then drove to the Red Desert Nature Reserve where we were able to find Thesium pallidum and Thesium natalense. Along the way, Marianne was able to examine some of the Fabaceae genera which were flowering, while Dan was kept busy taking photographs of the many hemi-parasitic species in the family Orobanchaceae encountered - plants with which he is familiar but had not previously encountered in the field.

Thesium cupressoides
Thesium natalense

Thesium pallidum

The following day we arranged to meet with the rest of the Thursday group at the Western Heights where we would look for Thesium angulosum. Fortunately, having previously collected this species near the swamp forest, it did not take us long to find several plants. This gave me the opportunity to check on a known population of the Rare endemic Emplectanthus dalzelii and we managed to find two plants flowering. Subsequently the group found another on in flower some distance away at the side of the Cascades stream - a previously unknown location!

Emplectanthus dalzellii
On the outskirts of the swamp forest Plectranthus ciliatus were in flower and a short distance away we found two Kniphofia linearifolia with their tall flower spikes, as well as a few Melasma scabra.

Plectranthus ciliatus
Kniphofia linearifolia
Melasma scabra
Dan giving an impromptu Thesium master class in the field (Photo K Grieve)
We then split up as the visitors wanted to explore other Thesium locations, while the balance of the Thursday group continued downstream to the Cascades.  

Lunch at the Cascades (Photo M Abbott)
The other group first made a brief visit to the Vulture Restaurant area to show the visitors the view over the Umtamvuna Gorge.  At this site we were pleased to see the Vulnerable Lampranthus fugitans flowering brightly. Searching for more parasitic genera for Dan, we found Viscum obscurum growing in a Brachylaena discolor.

Lampranthus fugitans
Viscum obscurum
Rhipidoglossum xanthopollinum
We also saw Rhipidoglossum xanthopollinum, Sarcostemma viminale, and the creeping form of Tephrosia bachmannii.

Sarcostemma viminale
Tephrosia bachmannii; the creeping form as opposed to the
bushy form seen at Oribi last week

Natasha trying to keep hold of her hat while enjoying the view of the 
Umtamvuna Gorge and still avoiding getting blown off the cliffs
The Thesium hunters at the Vulture Restaurant
The Thesium Hunters overlooking the Gorge (Photo K Grieve)
Our last Thesium stop was at Rennies' Beach where we found what we think was a stunted form of Thesium pallidum. The following morning Dan, Marianne and Natasha headed northwards to Mtunzini via a detour to Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve, where they found an unusual Thesium after we had provided the locality, having collected some material there previously.

Participants to all the walks during the Thesium hunters' visit: Anne S, Dan N, Dorothy M, Gail B-W, Graham G, Kate G, Maggie A, Marianne le R, Uschi T, Natasha V.

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