Endangered plant found at Tokai Park
Cape Town - A new endangered plant species has been discovered in Tokai Park that has only been found six times before, at two localities.
The species is known as sedge, the Hidden Veldrush (Schoenus inconspicuus), which is listed as critically endangered.
Researchers from UCT first noticed the existence of the Hidden Veldrush plant in November last year. The plant is known from fewer than 10 plants on the planet.
Researcher Doug Euston-Brown said she found one plant during a species survey last year and showed it to another researcher. New species were discussed between them and this unique species was interesting material. On further searching, a total of three species were found.
The species closely resembles a common grass, the Cape Wire Grass (Tenaxia stricta). The leaf sheath of the two species is what differentiates them. The Hidden Veldrush also prefers deep and dry sands.
Collectively the team, which included Tammy Elliott and Muthama Muasya, said: “As with other threatened species, the Hidden Veldrush’s future is complicated. It appears that this species especially needs fire.”
They were, however, unsure whether the plant coppices survive fire or are killed by fire, which could be likely.
“Its rarity may suggest that this is a species that likes open spaces such as grazed areas and might not compete well with coppicing species such as the Cape Wire Grass. However, veldrushes are often eaten and don’t fare well in heavily grazed areas.
“But studies on its regeneration ecology will need to wait for the next fire, and in the meantime we have to plan for its future,” they said.
Only one very small population of plants has emerged to date at Tokai Park. The Hidden Veldrush is also very close to extinction. It was presumed to have been relatively widespread and common within the Bergvliet-Tokai area. As more old plantation blocks are restored to fynbos, it is hoped that a few more plants may emerge as the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos recovers.
SANParks and SANBI-Kirstenbosch are developing a back-up plan to propagate plants should some unforeseen disaster befall this last population.
This population was chosen as the type locality for its description. However, inspection of records from iNaturalist revealed that the population was recorded last year in June during the Friends of Tokai Park volunteer vegetation surveys, but was identified only to family level at that time.
The identification and naming of the Schoenus (genus of sedges) was a challenge that eased through sustained research over the last five years. This led to the discovery and description of 20 species new to science that mostly grow in fynbos.