Thought for the Future

but if ihey do not harmonize, the plant will be correspondingly weakened

Concern over declining populations of wild plants is no recent phenomenon. Although the animal kingdom gets the lion's—or should I say tiger's?—share of public sympathy, the fate of animals does after all, depend on the survival of plants. But whereas no one can resist the cry of a suffering animal, a plant dies quietly and unnoticed.

Flora in retreat As early as the 1930s uneasiness was being expressed in books and journals about the fact that some species of succulents were no longer as easy to find in their native habitats as they had been, and it was pointed out that a few, illustrated in early literature, had never been reported since. The classic case concerns a wonderful folio volume of hand-coloured plates of Stapelieae painted in Africa and published in 1796. The author was Francis Masson, the first botanist sent out by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to collect specimensat the Cape. Masson did his job well. He not only introduced alive many succulents still beloved of collectors—no mean feat in those days of long, slow sea voyages and hazardous travel—but also described and illustrated 41 Stapelieae, all but five of which were new to science.

But by 1900 nearly half of Masson's plants were unknown in either cultivation or habitat, and return visits to the areas where they were first found revealed no further specimens in what had become urban or cultivated land. Unlike many stories of lost plants, however, this one has a happy ending: through the intensive field studies of Harry Hall and other great students of South African botany, "Masson's Lost Stapelieae" have been rediscovered one by one, often at some distance from their original locale. With possibly a single exception, all are known to exist alive somewhere today.

Although this testifies to the extraordinary persistence and resilience of species in nature, we must not take chances or play down the dangers to other plants. What happened in South Africa is happening now in most of the homelands of succulents. In East Africa the destruction of natural habitats by overgrazing and other factors is even more widespread and thorough. Once again the Stapelieae are among the early victims, partly because they are extremely to grazing animals, partly because the seedlings are dependent on shade plants in order to become established. Of the three species shown in 7.2 - part of a private collection in 1963 -one is now thought to be extinct, another is possibly so, and only the third is still to be found locally in the wild. All three are difficult to cultivate and continual watchfulness from specialist growers failed to guarantee their survival.

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