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The wild spiny aubergine hunt

3 Posts tagged with the specimens tag


Preparing to leave after our stay at the Hilton. David is tying the presses to the car roof so the specimens can dry in the sun.


I am worried our specimens are not drying fast enough. The plant dryer has been running at nights but this is not good enough to dry everything in the rainy season. All the cardboards and presses we brought are full of specimens, and if they do not dry in the next few days they might start becoming mouldy. Today looked like it might be sunny and David tied the presses to the roof of the car so the air would blow through the holes in the sides of the cardboard, drying out the plants between the cardboard. It was a nice day on the road, stopping every now and again to see what is growing nearby. Frank has done a lot of ethnobotanical work in Tanzania and knows what is safe to eat. We have been trying a few new plant species every day. Most of them are sour or strange-tasting. Today’s Cordia sinensis is my favourite so far, it has a sweet and refreshing taste.



Cordia sinensis is an important food source for the hunter gatherer bushmen living in western Tanzania. We tried the berries and they are really sweet.



The endemic Solanum thomsonii differs from the closely related Solanum aculeastrum by its numerous small orange fruits.


As soon as we drive out of Mbeya town and turned around a corner, the rare endemic Solanum thomsonii was everywhere, growing all down the road. It often grows mixed together with the closely related Solanum aculeastrum, and there seem to be some plants intermediate between the two species. We spent most of the day observing these and making collections. It is difficult to concentrate because as soon as we start work more and more children come running from all directions! They are friendly and want to talk to us, but after many hours I get tired – do not think I would make a very good school teacher!



Eric preparing specimens of Solanum thomsonii. We usually arrive at a hotel late at night and press the plants we collected after dinner; it is usually dark and we have to work by torchlight.


Disappointing day today. We were hoping to collect in the mount Kilimanjaro Catchment Forest Reserve, outside the boundaries of the Kilimanjaro National Park. My research permit does not cover collecting in National Parks – to do that I should have applied for a different permit several months ago. We drove all the way to Kilimanjaro and found out that the boundaries of the National Park have been moved to include the lower forests, in order to give better protection to all the ecosystems, as the rules regarding National Parks are a much stricter. We returned to Arusha and spent some time processing our earlier collections. All the plants pressed between newspapers need to become completely dry, and we brought a special plant dryer with us to do this.



Plant dryer built by Frank. Jelly fuel is burned in a small stove underneath the box, and hot air rises through the newspapers containing specimens. Everything is covered in a blanket to keep the heat inside. David is standing next to the dryer; he has to add more fuel every 3 hours at night.