Rare African Plant Gets A Boost

The reappearance of the silver tree (Leucadendron argeteum) to the slopes of the Tokai Arboretum is so exciting. A member of the family Proteaceae, this beautifully bizarre plant was once common around Cape Town, South Africa. Sadly, their populations have declined by 74%. The cause of this decline is not surprising - deforestation, urbanization, fire sequestration, disease, and invasive species have all taken their toll on this species. With this recent discovery, however, there may be hope yet.

The plants were discovered by a team of volunteers while they were clearing the land of invasive tree cover. The seedlings were small but this species grows fast, up to 500 mm per year. A seedling today can quickly become a mature tree in only a few years. The key to their resurgence are their seeds. Silver tree seeds will not germinate under a closed canopy. Instead, they lie and wait in the soil for decades until fire clears the area of competing vegetation. Without fire, no new trees were growing in to replace dying adults. Hence the situation was looking bleak. 

The discovery of juvenile trees is worth celebrating. After a century of functioning as a pine plantation, this area just might be recovering some of its lost diversity. This species is not out of the woods yet. Experts estimate that it could take another 100 years of seed sowing and proper land management before this area can bolster a thriving silver tree population. Still, it stands as an important reminder that there is hope. Even the most degraded patches of land can hold on to their legacies. There are countless other species out there that, like the silver tree, are teetering on the edge of extinction just waiting for a dedicated group of experts and volunteers to invest time and energy.

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Further Reading: [1]