Winning bidder to name new iris

[Image]Proceeds from the auction of the rare
plant will be used to protect it, and other
endangered plant species in the area.
(Image: WWF-SA)
Dr Amy Goldblatt
Table Mountain Fund
+27 21 762 8525
Bina Genovese
Strauss & Co
+27 21 683 6560

SA marks Year of Biodiversity
Protea hotspot under scrutiny
New biosphere reserve for SA
Mount Mabu yields hidden bounty
An infusion of innovation

Janine Erasmus

The World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa is auctioning the naming rights to a newly discovered South African iris, and will give the proceeds to its Table Mountain Fund (TMF), which supports conservation projects on Table Mountain and in the Western Cape province.

Bidders have the chance to join the likes of science luminaries, royalty and famous explorers, who have had new species of living organisms named after them – or they may name the plant after their partner, their old maths teacher, or even a beloved pet.

Auctioneers Strauss & Co are coordinating the online auction, which is open now and will close in March 2011. The initiative will close in grand style with a posh dinner, where guests will have one last chance to top the highest bid.

Besides the naming rights, the winning bidder will also receive the rare and endangered plant’s original botanical illustration, created by up-and-coming botanical artist Lisa Strachan.

The delicate pale blue iris was discovered near the small west coast village of Jacobsbaai, but the spring-flowering plant is said to be already threatened with extinction.

South Africa’s west coast is known for the wealth of botanical species which make their home here, but in recent years the growing popularity of the tranquil area has seen a number urban developments springing up.

Because these natural troves are not officially protected, developments can wreak havoc on plant life and in cases where the specimen grows over a small range, a single building project may wipe out an entire species.

In a short video to promote the auction, Jacobsbaai resident Koos Claasens commented that a few years ago he and a PhD student, whom he was helping, counted 91 distinct species in a 100 square metre piece of ground.

“And this was at the end of October, when many of the annual plants had already died back,” he said.

Claasens, who has been familiar with the blue iris since 1995 but didn’t know it was a new species, said it only grows where the ground is wet.

Protecting the natural heritage

Based at the world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town, the TMF was established to provide a sustainable source of funding for conservation in the area, and has supported more than 120 projects to date.

The goal of the organisation’s Fynbos Land Protection Campaign is to protect and restore the Cape fynbos while accommodating people and animals.

Fynbos is the unique natural vegetation that covers areas of the Western Cape and forms a substantial part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. This Unesco World Heritage Site is the smallest of the earth’s six floral kingdoms, but it is the richest, with about 6 200 of its 9 000 species of plants growing nowhere else.

Table Mountain alone supports around 2 200 plant species, which is more than the whole of the UK.

Like many other ecologically important spots around the world, this area is under threat and 1 736 of its fynbos species are in danger of extinction. The fynbos protection campaign aims not only to save these plants, but also improve land management, provide jobs, boost public interest in conservation, and help establish sustainable businesses that focus on biodiversity.

The campaign plans to link the protected areas to form a network and, with the help of experts, has identified 28 suitable areas or corridors in the Western Cape, which together enclose much of the endangered ecosystems and species. Six of these are deemed in urgent need of conservation action, which will be based on land acquisition and stewardship agreements.