Psoralea vanberkelae: The discovery of a new rock-dwelling pea on the south coast

14 October 2014

Psoralea vanberkelae 3 - Nicky van Berkel

A tremendous contribution to science by an ordinary person doing volunteer work has re-ignited interest in conservation amongst other citizen scientists who have been reminded that the potential to discover new species in this country of ours is always there.

Nicky van Berkel, a Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) volunteer based in the Garden Route, known as the Outramps, was the discoverer of the beautiful Psoralea vanberkelae, as one can deduce from its name.

The story of this species takes us back to 2011 when Nicky first observed a flowerless legume with “interesting” leaves that she had never seen before.

Interesting leaves

“I first saw the plants while on a Mountain Club trip (MCSA) to the Rooikrans Private Nature Reserve [now the Fynbos Private Nature Reserve] in August 2011. Like I do with everything, I took photos. The plant was not in flower, but the leaves looked interesting,” said Van Berkel adding that she posted the images on iSpot – SANBI’s citizen science website – not thinking that it could be a new species.

The following year, 2012, she returned to the site with the Outramps CREW and the plant was in flower. Pictures were taken again and posted on iSpot. These pictures along with the previous set caught the eye of legume expert Prof. Charles Stirton who advised that this might be an undescribed Psoralea species. 

Psoralea vanberkelae 1 - Nicky van Berkel

In 2014 Prof. Stirton, Prof Mathama Muasya and their PhD student Abubakar Bello from the University of Cape Town’s botany department went to the field and observed the species growing quite abundantly on quartzitic substrate.

Star of the show

Here the effectiveness of iSpot, the value it is adding to our biodiversity conservation efforts as well as its speed in assisting knowledge exchanges are illustrated as Prof. Stirton resides in England most of the year and only makes one annual trip to South Africa.

At the annual Cape Floral Kingdom Expo (28–31 August 2014) in Bredasdorp Psoralea vanberkelae was the star of the show, receiving attention usually reserved for charismatic animal species such as rhinoceros and elephants. A lot of excitement was elicited by this discovery, from farmers to florists just wanting to see the species. Many of those attending the event asked eagerly about it.

 “I hope that the this discovery will make others realise that there are still new species to be found and that great care must be taken before habitats are destroyed in the name of progress. I hope that it will help people realise that it is important to conserve our natural vegetation as who knows what is still to be discovered,” said van Berkel.

Psoralea vanberkelae 4 - Nicky van Berkel

For more information please contact:

Dewidine van der Colff

Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW)

Tel +27 21 799 8751

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