A beautiful plant species discovered in a conservation area on the Agulhas Plain – that had the botanical experts bemused – has been confirmed to be a new fynbos species. And it’s officially been named: Cyrtanthus novus-annus (Latin for Nuwejaars).
The pretty pink and white flowered plants have only been found in two locations – both on the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA) in the Overberg, close to the most southerly tip of Africa.
With fewer than 250 plants in total, covering an area of less than 5km², it’s likely that the new Cyrtanthus will be classified as Endangered on the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Red List once assessed.
According to Cyrtanthus expert Dr Dee Snijman: “The species epithet honours the recent restoration of biodiversity in the Nuwejaars Wetlands area.”
This conservation area covers 47 000 hectares and includes Critically Endangered fynbos and irreplaceable wetlands and rivers crisscrossing the landscape. The farmers who are members of the NWSMA have appointed a team of conservationists to help restore and manage these land and waterscapes.
A new sister for the Bredasdorp Lily:
In a botanical twist, the Cyrtanthus novus-annus is seen as a sister species to the Critically Endangered Cyrtanthus guthrieae (the Bredasdorp Lily), given their resemblance and their reasonably close proximity to each other. The Bredasdorp Lily only occurs on the mountains above the Overberg town. There’s only one other example of a sister pair in the Amaryllidaceae family in the Western Cape, near Wellington.
This most unexpected discovery took place in 2019, when during an exploratory NWSMA trip, a small population of soft pink and white flowering plants were spotted. A series of events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, put the discovery on hold. But in late 2021, the NWSMA conservation team came across another flowering population.
The experts are called in:
With the help of the Botanical Society of South Africa’s Rupert Koopman, the experts were brought in to undertake a complete assessment earlier this year, including Dr Snijman and Dr John Manning. Snijman has just released her scientific paper, A new species of Cyrtanthus (Amaryllidaceae: Cyrtantheae) from the Agulhas Plain, Western Cape, South Africa. She says in the paper: “The unexpected discovery in 2019 of a small population of Cyrtanthus on the Agulhas Plain that could not be matched with any known taxon prompted the description of one further species.”
According to Koopman, “This is a great story which highlights how special the Overberg is in terms of plant diversity. And in fact how special the fynbos biome is in general, considering that we are still picking up new species even in areas that are well known.”
The new species occurs on low, open vegetation, which includes elements of both Central Rûens Shale Renosterveld and Elim Ferricrete Fynbos. Both of these are Critically Endangered.
Koopman adds: “It also shows the importance of the integration of the botanical community. This species went from the Nuwejaars conservation team, through a series of botanical experts, I acted as a courier to SANBI’s taxonomist to ultimately describe the species. This outcome – that the species is now formally described and can be assessed to receive a red list status – is essential.”
A unique conservation model:
NWSMA Project Manager Ross Kettles says the discovery highlights the importance of understanding and protecting natural landscapes, also on private land.
“This ‘Nuwejaars Lily’ would never have been recognised as a new species, were it not for the conservation work taking place here in partnership with our farmer-members. This model is unique: farmers continue to farm, but at the same time we can’t lose what’s left of our biodiversity here. Farmers here have therefore made the ultimate commitment to this protection, signing title deed restrictions to protect our natural world in perpetuity,” says Kettles.
Kettles adds, “Aside from our landowners, this would also not have been possible without those incredible funders who see the value of this biodiversity-rich area, and the importance of this model. That includes the Mapula Trust, Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, WWF South Africa, the National Lotteries Commission and the Overberg District Municipality.”
- For more information: nuwejaars.com