New Species of Orchid Discovered by CapeNature Field Ranger
Jacques with the new orchid, Disa linderiana
It all started in November 2004 when Jacques and two of his colleagues, Jonah Zimri and Nicolaas Hanekom, did a survey on the upper slopes of Sneeuberg, the highest mountain in the Cederberg. This area is home to the endemic snow protea, (Protea cryophyla) and the indigenous Cedar (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis). They collected and photographed various plants - one of which was an orchid. This orchid puzzled all who were asked about its identity.
A few months ago, photographs of various plants were sent to Tessa Oliver (from the University of the Western Cape - Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology) for identification, including the unidentified orchid. Being unable to pinpoint what it was, she forwarded it to several orchid specialists who were also unable to identify it with any certainty.
There was much correspondence between Cape Town and the Cederberg and as the flowering time approached, Jacques and his colleagues climbed up the mountain again on Tuesday 14 November, to the same place they had seen the orchid before. They managed to photograph some more plants which were emailed to the botanists. They suspected that it was an unnamed species of Disa.
On Monday 20 November, a group consisting of Dr Ted Oliver, Benny Bytebier, William Liltved, Tessa Oliver, Jane Sakwa Makokha and Jacques, ascended the mountain to look for the new orchid. After an arduous climb to altitudes in excess of 1800m, just below the Sneeuberg summit, they found what they were looking for - a population of 35-40 orchids.
The group was convinced that it was a new species. Strangely enough, most species in this group of disas flower only in the first year after fire, yet this area last burned in 1998. Even more strange, the leaves of this new species are almost beetroot red, a feature sometimes seen in disas that flower soon after a fire.
This new species is now being described by the botanists as Disa linderiana in honour of Prof. Peter Linder, formerly of UCT but now in Zurich, Switzerland. Prof. Linder has produced many scientific papers on orchids in general and the genus Disa in particular.
Jacques van Rooi, 35, has worked for CapeNature since 1991, in the Cederberg Wilderness Area. Conservation runs in his family as his father had also previously worked for CapeNature and grew up on the Cederberg reserve. "It was incredibly exciting and an honour for me to be part of this discovery" van Rooi enthused.
He lives in Algeria, Cederberg with his wife and two sons. His keen eye and attentiveness on the job has helped add another plant species to the already magnificent biodiversity of the Cape Floral Region.
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