From the cycad project to succulent heaven and molecular mania
Just to prevent people from getting the impression that all I do is driving through the rolling hills as I have not told much about my work lately, I will do so now.
I finished my three weeks with the cycads, during which I participated in some very educational pollen testing. This was a very interesting project, the procedure of which I described in detail in the previous entry, and probably bored the heck out of most of you. If you do know me you understand, me getting so exited about these little things under the microscope, and to see all the different species and pollen dating back to 2000. My biggest frustration was that we could not eliminate the fungal growth in the samples, and I had a déjà vu going back to when I lived in New Orleans. I take on rats and roaches and even snakes any time over mold. Seems the ultimate lost battle to fight! In terms of our testing, I could think of quite a few ways to improve sterility in the test setups, but I also have to admit that it was fun to see all the different mycelium, hyphae and fruiting bodies growing (Horror!! – will I end up becoming C.DeW.?).
Then I ascended to succulent heaven! And I did not even have to die first!
I started working with Ernst van Jaarsveld who has been employed by the South African National Bio-diversity Institute (SANBI) since 1974 and is currently the curator of the Kirstenbosch Conservatory. Ernst wrote quite a few books on succulents and dessert plants, amongst these ‘Waterwise Gardening’, ‘Cotyledon & Tylecodon’, ‘Succulents of South Africa’, ‘Gasterias of South Africa’ and ‘Vygies- Gems of the Veld’. He is working on cliff dwelling plants right now, and writing about his findings. And he is a very friendly and super gracious person, very positive and helpful with me, eagerly sharing his knowledge even when asked ignorant questions.Just to be around this very well working conservatory, build in the spirit of design following function, which I also find visually very pleasing, is a privilege. And the working collection in the covered, but on the sides open houses…your eyes would fall out if you could see the diversity of crassulas, mesums, gasterias, aloes, euphorbs, welwitchias…it is a GOOD thing I can’t bring anything back, because I would have to rent a whole container and fill it with those beauties. Instead I took about 500 pictures, 495 more then I would ever be able to upload onto this site
I don’t think this is just a momentary fancy, I can get really enthusiastic about succulents, and I am going to work again with Ernst and maybe in some other places with them (I am trying to hook up a week of work in the Nieuwoudtville and Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden, both belonging to SANBI like Kirstenbosch).
And then, for the last week I have been emerged in DNA. I have been working with Lucas Chauke, a molecular scientist, and we went out into the field with Mark from the Nature Conservancy, to collect leaf samples of Leucadenron levisanus, a very threatened member of the protea family. It only occurs around Cape Town, and the extreme pace and scale of development brought it close to extinction.