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2022’s plant discoveries that had the botanists celebrating

Jan 13, 2023 | WRITTEN BY BOTSOC NATIONAL. PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE NUWEJAARS WETANDS SPECIAL MANAGEMENT AREA AND BRIAN DU PREEZ, INATURALIST

 

Above: The pretty Cyrtanthus novus-annus glitters in the sunlight – a beautiful sight.

 

Every year some of Mother Nature’s inhabitants are lost forever, sometimes without even getting formally described. Last year was no different, with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) adding 66 species to its extinction list.

That’s why, when new species come to light, there’s real reason for celebration. In 2022, there were a number of discoveries of species new to science. For our local plant lovers, there were two standouts last year which delighted the botanists – including our Botanical Society of South Africa members.

 

Above: The Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area conservation team not only collected data and specimens when a new species was discovered, but they also called in the help of horticulturist Geoff Nichols (bottom right).

 

Nuwejaars lily – at Africa’s southernmost tip

What started out as a practice drive-round for future school visits led to the discovery of a new beautiful Cyrtanthus species. The species was seen in a conservation area called the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA), situated close to Africa’s most southerly tip. It flowers for a short time in late December and early January, so finding it was a spot of luck.

While the new Cyrtanthus was first seen in 2019, Covid-related delays led to it being officially described as a new species by Cyrtanthus expert Dr Dee Snijman in June last year. She named it Cyrtanthus novus-annus, which means ‘new years’ or ‘nuwejaars’ in Latin, in honour of the biodiversity restoration taking place in the Nuwejaars area. The role of BotSoc can also not be overstated: The NWSMA conservation team brought the discovery to the attention of the BotSoc national team, who in turn got the bulb experts involved – including Dr Snijman and Dr John Manning.

The Nuwejaars lily is known from just two locations, close to each other on private farms that are members of the conservation venture. They occur in less than a 5km² area. There are fewer than 250 plants, making it likely that it will be listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Red List.

 

Above: The pretty Cherry Satin flower (Geissorhiza seracina) was first seen by Dr Brian du Preez on the Langeberg Mountains. Photo by Brian du Preez, iNaturalist

 

Cherry Satin flower – in the Langeberg Mountains

Local botanist Brian du Preez made the discovery of a new Iridaceae species high on the Langeberg Mountains, in the Western Cape. The Cherry Satin flower, or Geissorhiza seracina, was first seen in December 2021 – while Du Preez was on a two-day hike over the mountain. Notably, this area had burnt in the preceding summer, it would be interesting to see whether it would persist or be dormant in the next flowering season…

 

Above: It took Du Preez nine hours to hike to the spot where he’d first seen the species to collect specimens. Photo by Brian du Preez, iNaturalist

 

 

When he and experts including Dr Manning realised it was likely a new species, Du Preez undertook the 34km hike again to collect herbarium specimens to be described.

Because new Iridaceae species are rarely discovered, this has proven to be a real gem of a discovery in the botanical world. It’s only known from this one locality.

Sources:

Sci News, 4 October 2022: Beautiful New Species of Iris Discovered in South Africa

The Nation, 22 December 2022: What the extinction crisis took from the world in 2022

South African Journal of Botany: A new species of Cyrtanthus from the Agulhas Plain, Western Cape, South Africa

 

 

 

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