We parked the bakkie and set off in different directions to explore, my route taking me to a low ridge of Table Mountain Sandstone. Very soon I was amazed to see a most exquisite Lachenalia at my feet - a fairly large flower with a wonderful blend of pink and ivory with green dots on the tips of the petals. I called to Rhoda who was some distance away. Her reaction was
instantaneous - Lachenalia sargeantii! She told me about this enigmatic plant that had been found near Bredasdorp in 1971 and not seen in flower again since then.
We immediately set about taking photographs for the record, taking a GPS reading at the site and collecting a specimen for pressing and lodgement at the Compton Herbarium. What concerned us however was that the greater part of the rocky ridge had been destroyed by bulldozers quarrying for metal for the road and that part the population of this rare species had possibly
already been destroyed. There was a high probability that the quarry would be extended. We had immediately to advise the Lachenalia expert, Graham Duncan at Kirstenbosch and submit a report to Tilla Raimondo at the Rare and Endangered Plant unit at the Botanical Research Institute who could take steps to protect the area against further degradation.
However, the first task would be to determine the extent of the population and my intuition led me to a high ridge about 400 meters above us. Near the top of the ridge I began seeing numerous specimens of Lachenalia sargeantii. Extensive exploration of the high ridge eventually revealed the habitat preferences of this hitherto poorly known species. Plants were concentrated on the northern aspect of the ridge just below the summit and were most numerous in protected cracks and fissures between large rocks. There were none whatsoever to be found on the southern aspect, where strong winds buffet the southern slopes of these mountains. Most mature specimens had many offsets and it was clear that propagation was not only by seed after the rare flowering intervals stimulated by fire, but probably more importantly by vegetative reproduction.
We phoned Graham Duncan that evening. He was sceptical - was it not
perhaps Lachenalia montana, a similar and well known species in the district which flowered at this time of the year? We offered to E-mail him a picture, which elicited an immediate positive response. He phoned back within
minutes. Yes, its was clearly the elusive L. sargeantii. He had never seen it in flower and he would come out the very next day to see it. We took him to the site on Tuesday 26 October and spent most of the day on a thorough survey of the population. At the conclusion of the visit Graham said to us "This day has been the highlight of my Lachenalia career" - a clear indication of the importance of the discovery of a second population of this precious plant.
An account of the discovery of this second population was published under the title 'Out of the Ashes' in the June 2005 edition of Veld and Flora, the
organ of the Botanical Society of South Africa.
Not long after news of the re-discovery of Lachenalia sargaentii, we received the following communication from Robert Scott who is now Grounds Officer at Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Robert wrote - I was most interested to read in the June edition of
Veld and Flora the article 'Out of the Ashes' about the flowering of
I am indeed the same Robert Scott who discovered the Lachenalia in
November 1970. Although Miss Barker indicated at the time that it may have been a new species, I left S.A. soon after my discovery, unaware of later
developments. Some years later I wrote to Percy Sargeant enquiring about the outcome. He replied confirming the details and indicating that it had been named after him. He also sent a copy of notes relating to the identification and a photo of the actual site in 1970. I recall being asked at the time what possessed me to go to such an apparently inhospitable place - youthful exuberance.
Even after 35 years I still have the most vivid memories of my time in South Africa. While the scenery was spectacular, the brilliance and diversity of the flora was my lasting impression. I travelled extensively in the Republic, as well as Zimbabwe and Malawi (mostly by hitch hiking) including several magic days in Namaqualand where the wild flowers were at their best after the rains. My introduction to Percy Sargeant was through his daughter who gave me a lift while I was hitch hiking in Zimbabwe. Although I was only three months in the Cape working for the Local Parks Department, I spent many weekends, mostly on my own but often with Percy Sergeant and his wife, wandering the countryside and photographing the flora. One very minor correction to the article, I photographed L. sargeantii flowering in situ,
collected the flower head and gave it to Mr Sargeant specifically to have it identified. There was other material including a flower of a Gladiolus sp also thought to be a new species but later proved to be one which was collected many years before, by Dr H. Bolus, in the same locality at the same time of year.
I left South Africa in December 1970 after 18 months, spending six months in the UK before returning to New Zealand. Following seven years with Waikato University in Hamilton, I was appointed Grounds Officer at Otago University in Dunedin, a position I still hold.
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