When small details matter

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The Streptocarpus denticulatus is a small plant with a single leaf that produces pretty, purple-pink flowers. First recorded and collected in 1914 by the pioneering naturalist George Thorncroft, its original location and collection was recorded as the ‘Mountains near Barberton’, as early naturalists paid little attention to exact locations and had few points of reference in vast, unexplored areas.

Barberton lies in the De Kaap Valley of Mpumalanga, against the Makhonjwa Mountains. A large part of this mountain range is a Unesco World Heritage Site due to its unique geology dating back 3.6 billion years. ‘Mountains near Barberton’ could simply mean anywhere in this floristically rich area.

The exact location of plant discoveries matters as it pinpoints the original collection to which the scientific name is attached. It also gives an understanding of the range and habitat in which a plant occurs. However, even though this vulnerable plant’s original location has disappeared off the radar, the species was not lost.

Streptocarpus denticulatus flowering amongst the rocks in Mountainlands Nature Reserve. Photo: Delia Oosthuizen

Plants were discovered in a restrictive range north-west of Barberton towards Belfast in subsequent years.
However, since it was first collected in 1914, nobody had seen the plant in the Makhonjwa Mountains. That is until 2012, when Nico Oosthuizen of Mountainlands Nature Reserve stumbled across a streptocarpus leaf while exploring a ridge in the reserve, 5km east of Barberton in the Makhonjwa Mountains.

A botanist was of the opinion that it might be Streptocarpus denticulatus, making it a significant discovery.
The Mountainlands locality was visited again in 2018 and more leaves were photographed. The plants were finally photographed in bloom in 2019 and a specimen collected for the Mountainlands Nature
Reserve herbarium.

The plants seem to prefer a specific, north-facing habitat and grow mostly in shaded rocky crevices. They share the same area as other specials such as the world’s smallest aloe, Aloe albida (Near Threatened) and a plant named after George Thorncroft, Thorncroftia thorncroftii (Vulnerable).

Whether this population of Streptocarpus denticulatus in Mountainlands is the long-lost species of George Thorncroft’s time is difficult to tell. But if it is, then this South African endemic species is protected in a proclaimed nature reserve within the Barberton Makhonjwa World Heritage Site.

Written by Delia Oosthuizen
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