Renosterveld is one of the world’s most species diverse Mediterranean type shrublands. It is also one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. At the southernmost tip of Africa, the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust is working hard to conserve what remains of this Critically Endangered habitat, of which only 5% now remains. Most has been lost due to conversion to agricultural lands, becoming a monoculture of crops such as wheat and canola.
The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) based at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is one of the world’s largest plant conservation initiatives. Their aim is to bank seeds from 25% of the world’s plants by 2020 in collaboration with a network of local partners from around the world. Seeds are dried and stored at -20°C to facilitate long term preservation.
Staff from MSB have this last week begun collecting in the Renosterveld of the Overberg in order to bank seed from some of the region’s most rare and threatened species. The team have gotten off to a flying start, with numerous new collections made.
The most exciting of these is Polhillia curtisiae. This beautiful shrub from the Pea Family (Fabaceae) was discovered to be new to Science only in 2013. It is Critically Endangered and known only from the Eastern Overberg where just 80 plants remain. To have seed from this species conserved ex-situ provides a little extra assurance of its survival into the future.