Friday, 30 June 2017

Outeniqua Trail - challenging tree identification in a tall forest (Thursday 29 June 2017)

A smaller core group was joined by Phakamani Mfuthi (Mzamba Beach Steward) and Sarel Cilliers from the University of the North West and after a brief visit to the herbarium, we set off across the grassland towards the start of the Outeniqua Trail on a fine winter's morning. In a damp area sheltered from the morning sun, we found a small group of a rather tall pink-flowered Hesperantha; we think this might be Hesperantha woodii but intend verifying it as H. woodii appears to be a plant of higher altitude.

Hesperantha cf woodii

We proceeded along the slope examining the tops of the trees growing on the very steep cliff faces below until we reached an area where the slope became too sheer for even the most persistent of woody plants and Phakamani and Sarel could suddenly appreciate the tremendous spectacle of the gorge below us.

Gazing down into the Umtamvuna River gorge
We eventually reached the top of the Outeniqua Trail and started down into the forest. It was not long before we came across a robust (150 mm tall) Holothrix orthoceras growing in the leaf litter.

Holothrix orthoceras

We then set about trying to identify the trees along the path as we worked our way down. Tree identification in a tall forest is often pretty challenging as it is difficult to reach or see the leaf structure when there are many branches mingling above you in the canopy. Nevertheless we managed to identify a number of the taller species such as Podocarpus falcatus (after which the trail was named), Harpephyllum caffrum, Ochna arborea, Olinia emarginata, Eckebergia capensis, Cryptocarya woodii and Schrebera alata. In the understorey we found more shrubby and climbing species such as Allocassine laurifolia, Bachmannia woodii, Cassipourea malosana, Clutia sp. nov., Diospyros simii and D. villosa, Eugenia umtamvunense, Indigofera natalensis, Monanthotaxis caffra, Oricia bachmannii and Trichocladus ellipticus.

After enjoying lunch in the sunshine we walked back along the forest edge, finding local endemics Aspalathus dahlgrenii and Manilkara nicholsonii on the way.

Perched on the edge of the gorge
It was a pleasure to walk with interested newcomers and we hope to be able to share our beautiful places with them again in future.

Participants: Dorothy M, Graham G, Kate G, Phakamani M, Sarel C, Uschi T.

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