Welcome to the Balsam Blog, home in the internet world of the Falkland Islands Protected Areas Project.

I'll be using this blog to let people know what I've been up to and to share bits of useful information I pick up along the way. My project is subtitled 'Co-operative management of biological diversity', so that means you. The project will need your knowledge, concerns and hopes for the future to drive it along, so do contribute.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Rare plant rediscovered after 100 years!

Have you seen this plant?

Richard Lewis has and he kindly sent me his press release. If you find it, or any other interesting plant, drop me a line and I'll send you a plant recording sheet.

"A botanist working in conjunction with both Falklands Conservation and Kew Gardens has rediscovered a rare plant last seen in the Falklands over a century ago. Falklands Conservation is now working in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Falkland Islands Government and local volunteers to help conserve this rare and vulnerable species in the Falklands.

In 1909, the industrious and highly knowledgeable amateur naturalist Eleanor Vallentin recorded a pretty little plant with white flowers growing along the coast ‘In the vicinity of Darwin Harbour’. Specimens of this plant were sent to Kew, where experts confirmed that this was indeed the Magellanic Saxifrage (Saxifraga magellanica). For the next 100 years, Eleanor Vallentin was the only person known to have seen this plant growing wild in the Falklands and by the year 2000 it was assumed to have gone extinct in the Islands, perhaps due to erosion of its fragile coastal habitat or maybe due to grazing.

Richard Lewis, who is in the middle of a 5 month fieldtrip to the Falklands, is mainly studying invasive plants, but is also interested in researching the rare and threatened native and endemic species. He was collecting samples in an area close to Goose Green, when he unexpectedly stumbled across a small patch of the Magellanic Saxifrage in full flower. ‘I was completely speechless when I first saw it.’ Richard commented, ‘It was a lovely sunny day and I was pleased to have collected the samples I was looking for when I decided to take a quick stroll along the coast before heading back for dinner. Suddenly there it was on a low cliff, this plant we thought was locally extinct in the Falklands. I was shocked and overjoyed, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.’ Richard set about collecting data and samples, before heading back to Darwin. ‘I made sure I collected detailed information about the plants – I found a total of 15 plants in flower and several smaller plants, in one rocky crevice there were some tiny seedlings, the information I collected will help us understand the habitat needs of the plant as well as allowing us to monitor any future increase or decline in plant numbers. I also collected DNA samples and there were some old seedheads from last year, so I was able to collect some seeds. Unfortunately it was late in the day and I was due on the Ferry the next day, so I couldn’t stop to search the coast nearby for any more plants that may be there.’ The DNA samples will be kept at Kew, where any researchers studying this species will be able to use them, which may eventually help us to understand more about the plants in the Falklands and how they relate to similar plants in Patagonia. The seeds will be sent to the Millenium Seed Bank at Kew, where they  will be carefully dried and frozen, allowing them to remaining viable for decades or even centuries and can be used by researchers or possibly for restoration work - replanting in suitable habitats in the Falklands.

Rebecca Upson, Falkland Conservation’s Plant Conservation Officer commented ‘It is very exciting to see that this plant is still growing in the Falklands after all this time. Although this species is more common in Patagonia it appears to have always been rare in the Falklands. Given the available evidence it seems likely that this is a native species and we shall be working to conserve the plants, and hope that some of our dedicated volunteers will be able to find more plants growing nearby. Thanks to our links with the Native Plants Nursery at Stanley Growers, we hope to eventually grow some seeds in Stanley so more people can see and appreciate this beautiful plant.’

This is the latest in a series of exciting discoveries in the Falklands by botanists working with Kew Gardens and Falklands Conservation. Two years ago Richard Lewis and Rebecca Upson refound the Comb-fern (Schizaea fistulosa), last seen in the Falklands in the early 1800s, whilst last year Rebecca Upson found Darwin’s Filmy Fern (Hymenophyllum darwinii) – the first time this species has been recorded from the Falklands. Other recent new records for the Falklands include Banks’ Sedge (Carex banksii) and Waterwort (Elatine triandra)."

More information on plant conservation in the Falklands is available on the Falklands Conservation and Kew’s Online Herbarium and blog:

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