The Race Goes on: News from the Flower People

As I mentioned yesterday, the first two botanists to join one our GG expeditions are Dr. Tom Daniels of CAS Botany Department and one of his graduate students, Rebecca Wenk. Both are specialists on a large family of tropical herbs called the Acanthaceae. Can’t give you a common name, sorry.
Dr. Tom and Rebecca among the Lagoa Azul baobabs, Sao Tome

Rebecca and Tom among the baobabs at Lagoa Azul. Weckerphoto

GGIII.
There is already a book on the flora of the islands written by a man named A.W. Exell many years ago but there are still many groups that are poorly known on Sao Tome and Principe, including Tom’s and Rebecca’s acanths, and there is always the possibility of finding something new. Although these data are old, it is estimated that the flowering plants of Sao Tome and Principe are between 8 and 14% endemic, found nowhere else in the world. The numbers are a range because it depends upon which island and plant family you are talking about, but the endemicity is high.
A fly visits one of Tom's Principe acanths

Brillantasia, Sao Tome. Weckerphoto, GGIII
Tom and Rebecca have been working side by side with the cugumelo team but have been pressing and drying their plants at the small herbarium at Bom Sucesso, which is at about 1000 meters on the island of Sao Tome. The herbarium and delightful botanical gardens of Bom Sucesso were first built with support by ECOFAC, but now run by a local NGO called Monte Pico; their specialty is the endemic orchids, and there are guides for tours of the gardens, as well as guides available for hikes up into the “real” primary vegetation above. Our old friend, Bastien Loulomb, has been an advisor to Bom Sucesso and Monte Pico for a long time and has been of consistent help to me on the GG II and GG III expeditions.
a guide, Dennis, Bastien, Bob, Rebecca, Brian, Tom

GGIII team at Bom Successo, Sao Tome. Weckerphoto GGIII
I have always teased my botanical colleagues about the funny hats they wear in the field, and the fact that they never seem to get dirty like us herpetologists. Well, funny hats are a given (see the photo) but Tom and Rebecca get just as dirty as the rest of us. So far they seem to have collected whole samples, tissue for DNA and for karyotyping of all of the known endemics of their group, but have also collected great samples of a lot of other peculiar things, including the world’s largest Begonia, B. ebaccata, which grows to nearly 10 meters on Sao Tome. All duplicates collected by our botanists will reside at Bom Sucesso in the Herbarium.
The worlds largest Begonia, B. ebaccata, endemic to Sao Tome

Begonia baccata, largest in the world – Lagoa Amelia, Sao TomeWeckerphoto, GGIII

Tom on the hunt

Tom at Bom Successo. Weckerphoto GGIII
A high point was when Rebecca finally found an example of her “questing beast,” a tiny little acanth growing along the side of track up Pico Papagaio on Principe. She let out a loud shriek and dove to the ground. I wish I could remember the name of the thing, but Tom and Rebecca are on there way back the US as I write. Apparently, she needed sequence data from this little plant critter in order to “root the tree” of her current MSc thesis (the scientists among you will understand). Here’s a photo of her with her discovery.
Rebecca finds her critter!! on Principe Island

Rebecca Wenk with her “questing beast.” Weckerphoto GGIII

Rebecca's critter (an acanth of course), Principe

Rebecca’s acanth crittter (Elytraria marginata).  Weckerphoto, GGIII

Finally, thanks to SCD a couple of weeks ago, we were offered a boat ride to the inaccessible southwest coast of Principe The southwest exposures of all of the islands in this chain, Bioko, Principe, Sao Tome and Annobon are inaccessible by land because they receive the brunt of the incoming weather, hence erosive force comes from the southwest. For the same reason the Portuguese were unable to cultivate these areas during their 500 years of colonization here and on each island these exposures are pretty much untouched by man. In one sense the trip was a near disaster; our small rubber dingy flipped and a lot of our equipment was compromised, most of it temporarily. But the mushroom guys were able to collect a bunch of stuff on a virtually untouched steep slope, and Tom and Rebecca were able to establish that the dominant plant group in the southwest of Principe is the Rubiaceae, members of the coffee family.
A Principe mellistome

A melastome from Sao Tome.  Weckerphoto GGIII
An acanth in the Contador Valley, Sao Tome

We are posting a bunch of images, mostly by Wes Eckerman, that are unlabeled. The reason for this is that in many cases we do not know yet what the stuff is. Stay tuned.
A fisherman in Lagoa Azul

Fisherman at Lagoa Azul. Weckerphoto GGIII

PARTNERS We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Research Investment Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement  (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/ and especially the generosity of three private individuals, George F. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom and Timothy M. Muller, for making GG III possible.
Next will be posting on my stuff, the creepy crawlies.

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12 thoughts on “The Race Goes on: News from the Flower People”

  1. Wow, this place is a gardener’s paradise. What exquisite flowers! The terrain there is equally fascinating as well, an explorer’s dream come true. Please be care on the cliffs and slippery rocks! Can’t wait to hear about these creepy crawlies, probably, many of them, found no where else. This is reminding me of Madagascar, more and more, with all it’s rich diversity. Thank you for such an enjoyable post!

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