Words Rebekah Funk, pics Patrick Lane
It’s been nearly 10 years since CapeNature field ranger Jacques van Rooi stumbled upon an unidentified orchid on the slopes of the Cederberg’s highest peak. Ever since, this rare gem has remained shy and secretive.
When Jacques van Rooi found about 40 flowers of an unnamed species of disa near the summit of Sneeuberg in the Cederberg in November 2004, he caused quite a stir in botany circles. The fourth generation of conservationists in his Algeria-born family tree, Jacques has made the arduous 1 800-metre climb in search of the flower with beetroot-red leaves three more times, once in 2009, then again in 2012 and 2013. While the elusive bud of the since-named Disa linderiana has yet to resurface on Sneeuberg, other CapeNature rangers have found the same species on the neighbouring Sneeukop, at a similar elevation.
The absence of the red disa on the steep slopes of the Sneeuberg is likely due to weather and timing, says Jacques. “If they’ve finished flowering, you’ll never see the plant. The orchid is underground so it’ll die and then come up the next year again.” He thinks his team may need to make the trek more often to catch the plant in bloom. “We need to be looking from the last week in October until the end of November. I also think that if you really want to monitor your plant, you must do it every year.”
The orchid is not the only discovery CapeNature staff have made recently. Every year they are rediscovering species not seen for decades, says Jacques. These exceptional finds fuel his passion for preserving the biodiversity of the Cederberg Wilderness Area from its biggest threats: forest fires, alien plant introduction and the often-harsh impact of tourists.
A protected wilderness reserve since 1973, the Cederberg is one of South Africa’s least-disturbed natural wonders. The 71 000 hectare reserve and surrounding conservancies are a treasure for those who seek sustainable tourism options with a minimal environmental footprint. The Cederberg Wilderness Area stretches from the Middelberg Pass in Citrusdal to north of Pakhuis Pass at Clanwilliam. It’s rife with rock art, fossils, otherworldly rock formations and wildlife such as klipspringers, duiker, rock dassies, honey badgers and the Cape mountain leopard, to name but a few.
The Cederberg is popular with those seeking peace and quiet, world-class rock climbing or a relatively accessible weekend away from Cape Town. Due to the increase in interest in the region, CapeNature has carefully implemented measures to monitor the number of visitors to any given area. “We lower the numbers if we see there’s an impact, or we close the area for a certain time,” says Jacques.
Source: Wild Magazine