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Researchers conduct first rooting of critically endangered tree known for its medicinal properties

Application of hormone (plant growth regulator). | Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Application of hormone (plant growth regulator). | Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Published Jun 22, 2022

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Cape Town - A trio of researchers, supported by their institutions, have conducted the first-ever successful rooting of the critically endangered South African Mutavhatsindi (Yellow Peeling Plain) tree, which has been under extreme threat due to harmful harvesting of its mature tree parts for medicinal purposes.

This work was done by South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) conservation horticulturist and tree expert Mpendulo Gabayi from the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, KZN National Botanical Garden horticulturist Mpho Mathalauga, and Millennium Seed Bank Partnership seed collector Ntsakisi Masia from the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden.

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Gabayi said the harmful harvesting of mature tree parts was severely threatening the Mutavhatsindi, scientifically known as Brackenridgea Zanguebarica, and inevitably resulted in the poor regeneration of the new generations of its trees.

“Mutavhatsindi is highly sought after for its medicinal bark and roots, and traditional healers use the yellow dye to treat wounds, worms, aching hands, swollen ankles, and amenorrhea.

“Due to its severe rarity and limited occurrence, the tree is currently categorised as Critically Endangered on the Red List of South African Plants,” Gabayi said.

This was a problem as none of the trees had been successfully propagated before and they only existed in a small 110-hectare sub-population in Mutavhantsindi Nature Reserve.

“Missouri Botanical Garden and the University of Venda in the Limpopo province, together with the SANBI team, collaborated to save this highly endangered tree species,” Gabayi said.

The very first rooted Mutavhatsindi through Dyna ball and sphagnum moss. | Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

This project was supported by numerous institutions that teamed up to create a long-term project that would eventually save and preserve the South African gene pool through in-situ (conservation done in the natural ecosystem) and ex-situ (conservation in man-made ecosystems).

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The saplings of these propagated trees would be used to establish ex-situ collections and more propagation research trials at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden.

The researchers said the overall success of this project contributed to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation which aimed to make 20% of threatened plant species available for recovery programmes, and at least 75% available in the country of origin.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) executive secretary Hamdallah Zedan said: “Working through a unique partnership of international and national organisations, parties, other governments, NGOs, and the CBD developed a Global Strategy for Plant Conservation which was adopted at the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties.”

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