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The wild spiny aubergine hunt

6 Posts tagged with the africa tag
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Back to town, paperwork awaits. We have to sign the final Material Transfer Agreement to allow me to take our specimens out of Tanzania tomorrow. This is not my favourite part, I would much rather be back in the cloud forest. Sorting collections, using the herbarium to identify what we collected, making sure everything is fully dry, and separating the collections into the set that will stay at the University of Dar es Salaam and other sets to go to the Natural History Museum London and the University of Utah. It has been an amazing trip!

 

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My boots have just dried out from Ruvu forest, but they didnt stay dry for long. Another drenched soaking wet day today.

 

We climbed up Chensema in the rain inside a cloud, and tried to find our target species in the cloud forest at 2100 m elevation. The dripping wet grass and shrubs made it difficult to move forward, the paths were narrow, and everything was washed out and slippery. Steep paths up to the forest were the worst.

 

Usually the paths are raised and narrow, just wide enough for one foot. When the rain starts it is impossible to step without slipping. I was worried about going down that path and falling.

 

We were several hours away from a road and getting help would have been difficult. Eventually we gave up and returned early. The cloud forest just is not passable in this weather, and we had been wet and tired for many hours.

 

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Inside a cloud in the Uluguru cloud forest – it is not possible to see anything very much and it is difficult to move forward in this vegetation.

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We got soaked to the skin and carried on walking through rice fields for many hours. I put my belongings in plastic bags, inside other plastic bags, but the papers and my notebook still got wet. It was a warm and pleasant temperature but everything was totally drenched, and my boots were full of water all day, and we didnt have any food. We were back in Ruvu Forest, making another attempt to find the new Solanum species that may be extinct. We reached the place where it was originally collected in 2001. This turned out to be a dense thicket of spiny lianas climbing over strange-shaped limestone rocks, the only place unsuitable for cultivation and so not cleared for farming. I spent a while climbing inside it looking for the Solanum. It wasnt there, but I found a stinging liana instead, and I now have large red welts all over my arms - would be interesting to know what species it was. We got lost in the mixed mosaic cultivation of rice, maize, and sesame, in spite of walking with several local guides. Our car got stuck in the mud and had to be pushed out by numerous local villagers. I was very relieved when we were back on the tarmac road. All the streams swelled during the day and if we could not get out of there, we would have had to spend the night in the forest and order a tractor to pull us out tomorrow.

 

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Eric and I are soaked to the skin, trying to shelter from the rain in a small farmer’s hut. The roof was leaking and the rain showed no sign of stopping, so we had to carry on going.

 

pic2-rainy-season-road.jpgFinally back on the main road! These roads become completely impassable when the rainy season starts properly, and we were lucky to get out of there without getting seriously stuck.

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Dry savanna. Our car is parked by the side of the road.

 

We drove for almost 15 hours today, from Korogwe in the north to Mbeya in the south. Spectacular landscapes. It was cold and wet, then dry and hot, then gradually colder again as the elevation increased heading south. We almost got seriously stuck between Korogwe and Morogoro because a lorry turned over blocking the road so no vehicle could pass. This is the only tarmac road connecting the north and the centre of Tanzania and so much traffic was building up on both sides of the accident the emergency services could not get through. Local villagers were charging money for letting cars drive around the blockage through their village, and we managed get around and avoid getting stuck.

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Mostly recovering from yesterday. My legs hurt, my arms hurt, my appetite is coming back.. Because of yesterday’s success we decided to move north earlier, so the day was spent driving up to Tanga. Solanum dasyphyllum is planted by farmers near their houses to keep away the ants in this area – you cant find out this kind of information by looking at specimens in a museum!

 

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Farm where Solanum dasyphyllum is planted to keep away ants. Colleagues Frank Mbago and Eric Tepe are at the front of the picture.

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Me pressing a specimen of the Uluguru Mountain endemic Solanum inaequiradians

 

Today was very intense! We found Solanum dasyphyllum (growing in mountains all over Africa, with large and wide spiny leaves), Solanum stipitatostellatum (Tanzanian endemic with many curved spines, sterile), Solanum inaequiradians (Uluguru endemic never discovered on this mountain before, with long thread-like calyx lobes), Solanum schliebenii (very rare endemic with bizzare floppy bristles on the stem, we were hunting for it all day), and Solanum aethiopicum (the Scarlett Eggplant, commonly cultivated for food). We walked from 9pm to 7pm in 35 degrees C, up a steep slope, and I dont feel so great now. There are no roads up to the Tegetero forest and local villagers go up a narrow steep trail for many hours carrying bananas to the market. I fell down a slippery slope in the forest, and rolled downhill for about 5 metres, luckily it was soft and all I have is a few cuts. I would like to write more but I am too tired.

 

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Tegetero forest: we walked all the way up here!