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Friday, 8 June 2012

Unusual plant discovered in Karoo

A rare root plant discovered in the Eastern Cape’s Samara Game Reserve appears to be the first of its kind in the world to be identified.
Respected botanist professor Jan Vlok came across the plant during a visit to the Graaff-Reinet park at the weekend. The plant resembles a root parasite found in the Eastern Cape but bears striking difference to it, leading scientists to believe he might have stumbled upon a hitherto undiscovered plant species.

Vlok told of finding the plant – which he describes now as “peculiar” – with the help of NMMU’s  Professor Graham kerley. “After Graham saw the plant, and I thought it special, we looked around the area for a while, but could find no more plants like that.” Vlok’s personal policy on collecting specimens limits him to taking samples only if there are more of the same plant nearby, so as not to eliminate rare specimens by accident. “Therefore we did not collect any material of the plant as it is clearly very rare.”

Vlok described the specimen as “an unusual root parasite, sporting no green leaves and with a series of rather dainty yellow flowers” which protrude through the ground. “The hidden underground stem of this plant sucks its energy from a Karoo Gold shrub [rhigozum obovatum], and, when climatic conditions are perfect, suddenly produces a mass of flowers above ground,” Vlok said. The as yet unnamed plant is closely related to alectra orobanchioides – common root parasites found in areas around the Eastern Cape, in areas stretching towards North Africa, and in India. “We will need more specimens to investigate the critical scientific characters before it can finally be declared a new species,” he said. Vlok, a botanist with more than 30 years’ experience, has made several discoveries of this sort before, with a number of plants being named after him. Samara manager Marnus Ochse was happy about the discovery. “These finds are the fruits of good, solid conservation. “We put a lot of effort into protecting this land, and that’s what results in discoveries like this one.”

Duncan Reyneke

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