A sweet red surprise – Tritoniopsis triticea and the Grootbos plant survey

We have been identifying the plant species on Grootbos Nature Reserve since the beginning of 1997. Initially I thought the plant survey would take a year or two to complete. How wrong I was! Original estimates from diversity models (based on size and number of habitats), predicted about 330-370 species on the Grootbos Reserve. Our initial intensive three month survey which covered the entire Reserve resulted in a species list of 250 identified plants of which 31 were species of conservation concern (vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered). So at the time we thought job nearly done. Well we kept exploring and the more we explored the more new plants we found for our list. The list grew through four hundred and when we reached five hundred species we enjoyed a big cake to celebrate. Then in about 2005/06 the new records slowed down and we thought we had reached the end.

rare plants on fynbos trailBut dry conditions and gale force winds across the Agulhas Plain in early February 2006  brought a massive wild fire that burnt the entire Reserve. Over the next twelve months we added no fewer that 70 new plants to our list – including two totally new to science that only flowered in the spring following the fire! One of these new species, Lachenalia lutzeyeri (pictured left) only flowered in the spring of 2006 following the fire and has not been seen since – no doubt waiting patiently underground for the next fire.

By the beginning of 2015 our indigenous plant species list on Grootbos has reached 768 species of which 99 are species of conservation concern! We have now realised that this project will never really be completed and there are still surprises that come along every now and then.

Tritoniopsis triticea on Fynbos HubToday was no exception. I was wondering through our blue gum woodlot on the Reserve – not a place I usually go botanising. And there all around me were these magnificent Tritoniopsis triticea (see left). Plant number 770 for our list.

While this is a fairly common plant in the Cape – growing from the Cape Peninsula and Porterville to Mossel Bay, we have never before recorded it on Grootbos. Simply because we have never happened to be wondering through the blue gum woodlot at the end of February or early March!

The lesson in short is that no quick-fire botanical assessment, as is so often undertaken to fulfil the environmental impact assessment requirements  for new developments, can hope to come close to identifying all the species in a fynbos habitat – no matter how good the botanist might be.

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