Plant story - a newly discovered species of Dioscorea has been collected and saved
This Dioscorea (yam) species is scarce because it has been over-collected for medicinal use. A newly discovered species of Dioscorea has now been collected and saved by the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership.
01 Jan 2010
Dioscorea strydomiana in the wild (Photo: J.P.H. Hurter)
New species discovered
During 1999, a sample of what was thought to be a Dioscorea species was brought to a local, community-driven, medicinal plant nursery by an old traditional healer. According to the healer, the plant has been extensively collected for its medicinal properties. After the plant was brought to the attention of Gerhard Strydom of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), it was taken to the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s (SANBI) Lowveld National Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit where Johan Hurter confirmed that it was an undescribed Dioscorea species.
Hardly any plants remaining
A subsequent visit to the plant’s locality in June 2000 revealed just how scarce a find this plant was. Based on information from local traditional healers, and after extensive exploration of the area, it was found to be limited to one population and restricted to a very small area. Due to the small distribution range and harvesting of plant material for medicinal purposes, it was already clear at the time that the long-term survival of this species was in doubt.
Since 2002, numerous visits have been made to the site where the species occurs and concerned parties of the MTPA, SANBI and the Mpumalanga Plant Specialist Group have monitored the current population and searched for possible new ones. Findings of the monitoring visits further confirmed the alarming rate at which this population is being devastated and that urgent measures are necessary to promote the sustainable use and conservation of this species.
Collected and stored for safe keeping
A collection of c. 3,000 seeds of the species was made in 2001 and are currently held at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank (MSB). Germination tests indicated that the viability of this collection was relatively low (c. 55%) and therefore an additional collection was made in May 2009, which was sent to the MSB to supplement the existing collection. A propagation protocol was developed for the species and the viability of both these collections will be monitored to determine the need for additional collections to be made for seed banking. During this process any problems with dormancy or seed behaviour will be studied by the Research Section at the MSB. The seed collections and all associated data are made available to conservation authorities and relevant botanical gardens to support future conservation activities (e.g. reintroduction, supplementation etc.) as and when appropriate. Further propagation trials were also carried out at two of SANBI’s National Botanical Gardens and ex situ collections of the species were established at these gardens.
New species named
Dioscorea strydomiana was formally described in 2010 and was named after the late Gerhard Strydom to commemorate the role he has played in the discovery of this species. Before its formal description it had been assessed according to the IUCN criteria as Critically Endangered (von Staden et al., 2005).
Wilkin, P., Burrows, J., Burrows, S., Muasya, A.M. & Van Wyk, E. 2010. A critically endangered new species of yam (Dioscorea strydomiana Wilkin, Dioscoreaceae) from Mpumalanga, South Africa. Kew Bulletin 65(3): 421–433.
von Staden, L., Victor, J.E., Raimondo, D. & Hurter, J.P.H. 2005. Dioscorea sp. nov. (Hurter 106 GLOW, PRU). National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2011.1. Accessed on 2011/08/18
Story by Erich van Wyk: National Co-ordinator: Millennium Seed Bank Project, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
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Without plants there could be no life on earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction. Too often when we hear these kind of statistics there is little that we can do as individuals, but thanks to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership and the Adopt a Seed, Save a Species campaign there is something that you can do to ensure the survival of a plant species.
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