Another successful treasure hunt with CREW: The rediscovery of Polhillia ignota

Written by: Ismail Ebrahim (CREW) & Catherine Clulow (BotSoc)

So it’s Heritage month and ‘Proudly South African’ is a slogan we are all familiar with. It is a slogan for our rainbow nation and we epitomise it with our multiracial and multicultural society. Living in a beautifully diverse country full of potential and wonders it’s difficult not to boast. South Africa is recognised for its uniqueness, assortment of ethnic and cultural backgrounds and distinct wildlife and astounding biodiversity.

Be proud of your natural heritage this Heritage month, spread the word about it and take action to protect it.

South Africa supports a vast biodiversity of over 20 456 plant species, making it the only country in the world with its own plant Kingdom.

As South Africans, we are responsible for safeguarding our magnificent ecosystems and species rich environments for our future generations as well as the rest of the world to enjoy and be bewildered by.

Who are CREW?

CREW are the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers. Their work forms part of the SANBI Threatened Plant Species Programme and are also a close partner of BotSoc.

In 2003, CREW was born through the initiation of inclusion of a ‘citizen science’ programme to enhance botanical research with the then National Botanical Institute (NBI), now known as the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).  Through the magic of Citizen Science CREW uses volunteers from the general public to contribute to research and monitoring. CREW prides itself on the monitoring and evaluation of South Africa’s threatened plants and with the assistance of citizen scientists has been able to make great strides in the IUCN red listing assessments in terms of the country’s diverse plant families.

CREW’s work is important in determining which plant species need to be prioritised for conservation purposes. They operate across the country and are continually looking for volunteers to assist them. You need not be a specialist botanist but just a passion for plants and a basic plant identification skills are all that is needed to get involved. Is this something that appeals to you? Get in touch! (See contact at the bottom of this blog).

Many of the plants found by CREW have not been seen in years, so finding them is extremely exciting. We have recent news from the CREW team that a thought-to-be-extinct plant has been found! YIPPEE!

Another successful treasure hunt with CREW: The rediscovery of Polhillia ignota.

Polhillia ignota © Ismail Ebrahim

The Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme has rediscovered another long lost species. Polhilla ignota was known from only two collections made in 1909 and 1928 in the Porterville and Saldanha areas respectively.

This species was discovered in April 2016 on Marasmodes Day, which is an annual botanical event run by the CREW programme to find populations of species belonging to the Marasmodes genus (a small highly threatened genus of plants in the Asteraceae family). At this time the plants were not in flower and we required flowers to confirm the identification of the species. On the 9th of September CREW staff and a group of volunteers went to collect flowering material of the species.

The plants are found on farm Goede Hoop near Eendekuil. The area has been largely transformed but there are a few remnants of natural veld that has not been ploughed because they are too steep or rocky. Only 13 plants were recorded on this site. Specimens collected were taken to the Compton Herbarium and confirmed by Dr Stephen Boatwright.

This is an extremely exciting discovery as this species was thought to be extinct at the historical localities. Many searches for this species have been conducted in the Saldanha and Porterville with no success. This new population is a significant range extension for the species and this means that the status will change from Extinct to Critically Endangered. We also found new populations of Diplosoma retroversum and Cheiridopsis rostrata, which are two very rare vygies which occur at the same site.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank the CREW funders: SANBI, BotSoc and the Mapula Trust for supporting the programme; Dr Stephen Boatwright for confirming the identification; Marius Wheeler from Cape Nature for liaising with the landowner; and CREW volunteers Brian Du Preez, Richard Adcock, Chris Browne, Sediqa Khatieb and Patrick Fraser for helping to find and monitor the population.

Want to get in on the action?

If you are interested in joining CREW, please contact Suvarna Parbhoo (KZN) or Ismail Ebrahim (Western Cape) and they can put you in contact with your nearest CREW group(s). Become a member of the Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) and share your passion of plants and their conservation, read more about BotSoc membership here.

Happy Heritage Month! Proudly South African today and always!




Published by


The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) are an NGO conserving and educating about biodiversity for over 100 years.

One thought on “Another successful treasure hunt with CREW: The rediscovery of Polhillia ignota”

  1. What are our laws about verges and wildflowers? We used to live in Porterville and the wheat farmers would plough and spray herbicide on the verges. September wildflower season – time to mow the verges flat!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s