Saturday, 30 December 2017

Alsophila Dregei

I have never seen 2 grown men so excited over 2 plants since well the Joel Stransky’s drop kick ending the 1995 Rugby World Cup. I too got into the spirit and danced a little gig.

Let me start from the beginning, since we have moved here after falling in love with the spectacular views from our deck, I have been sending Andrew, the chief Horticulturist at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens just downstream from us, photos of plants found in the gorge and along the rocky edges. He has also been quick to rattle off the biological species names back to me which have been very helpful especially since I am keen to discover the extremely endangered orchids here.

Some time I go I sent him a photo of a tree fern down in the gorge that I found but after looking at my photo he responded rather flatly that it was a Cyathea Australis from Australia. He explained to me that the indigenous Alsophila Dregei is locally extinct and has last been seen here on the Witwatersrand in the early 1900s. That was until today.

Last week a naturalist posted a photo of 2 tree ferns that was taken in our gorge onto an international website suggesting that they were Alsophila Dregei. The debut started if it really was the Dregei and not the Australis. So Andrew armed with the co-ordinates found that the sighting was only a few 100m from where I live. So started the expedition down into the gorge to confirm the sighting.

Andrew along with Tony an ecologist specialising in the Roodepoort and Krugersdorp Ridge system met me at my home and we hiked down into the gorge. Andreas, chairman of the Roodekrans Community Watch, and his wife Suzanne, joined us as they hiked in from a different direction. The first tree ferns we found was the Australis species but then we found the 2 tree ferns in question and like I said early, I never saw 2 men so excited as it was a positive identification of 2 Alsophila Dregei of about 10 years old each. Extensive photos were taken of nearly everything of the fern, even a sample frond was taken to be assessed in a lab.

Andrew gave us an in situ botany lesson on the differences of the Australis to the Dregei as we felt the differences with our hands. Now I can too tell the difference and will be now looking out for more Dregei in the area.

A plant thought to be locally extinct has been rediscovered.

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