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The rainy season has finally started properly and it is very wet in the savanna. All my things are in large plastic bags. It is too wet to press specimens outside and we leave everything in car until we get to the dry hotel. The local Masai people have given us information on Solanum setaceum, and helped us find Solanum arundo. It would be really good to find Solanum dennekense without driving much further west, but none of the local people know a plant marching its description.

 

There is a giant flying cockroach in my hotel room, about 4 cm long!

 

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The Masai with Eric and me, near a small clump of Solanum setaceum, in the savanna near the Kenyan border. They tell us it is called “endemelwa” in the Masai language.

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I have been working on many herbarium specimens of Solanum usambarense, but I was not sure whether it was the same species as Solanum anguivi or whether it was really different. Today we searched for Solanum usambarense and I was finally able to solve this problem. Both species were growing together in the forest understorey of a Prunus africana plantation heavily invaded by Solanum robustum. The two species were consistency different from each other even though they grew together, and I could confirm the things I observed in the herbarium: Solanum usambarense has more flowers, its pedicels are always recurved, and it is more hairy.

 

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Comparing Solanum anguivi and Solanum usambarense, which grew a few meters away from each other.

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Frank’s family who searched for Solanum in the West Usambara forest near their village. Frank is in the green shirt.

 

Frank phoned his family and asked them to search for Solanum around their home village in the West Usambaras before we arrived. Collecting was fast and successful once we knew where the plants were. In Frank’s village people speak the Shambaa language. When a boy becomes an adult up he builds his own house from wood and clay soil. Many people work on the local tea plantations. Tea plants in some plantations are 70 years old! Coffee was also grown here a few years ago, but after coffee prices fell they stopped growing it and that land is now bare. Making a profit from agriculture is difficult even when you have good land like here. People say that 20 years ago it was easier to make a living because the rains were predictable and people planted the crops at the right time; now it is impossible to predict when the rains will come so people are less willing to invest in agriculture.

 

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Market in Korogwe, selling Solanum villosum (green vegetable) and Solanum aethiopicum (yellow and red fruits)

 

Bomandini is the classic tropical beach paradise. We drove down a dirt track to look for Solanum usaramense, collected there 50 years ago. Soil here is different, with pieces of coral with red sand and clay, and the forest looks greener, which may be a good sign. I showed a photograph of a similar plant to local boys, and they recognised it! Solanum usaramense was a tangled mass of dry spiny branches, with tiny new shoot growths, and no fruits or flowers. I would have never found it myself. Catelephoni Joni says the flowers appear after the rain, but goats love this plant and they eat flowers and fruits straight away so there is nothing left.

 

After collecting Solanum usaramense we rested and looked around the beautiful beach. Looking forward to tomorrow, West Usambara Mountains!

 

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Catelephoni Joni holding Solanum usaramense – goats love it so no flowers or fruits are left.

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We spent all day searching dry coastal forests and beach thickets in the Pangani area, looking for Solanum usaramense. Everything in the costal forest is spiny, it is dry and hot, and it is difficult to move forward because of all the lianas. The only thing we found was cultivated aubergines (Solanum melongena). Frustrating. We came to Tanzania in March because it is the middle of the long wet season and everything should be in flower. Unfortunately this year the rains are late and everything is dry. I am worried that it is too dry for Solanum usaramense to have any flowers and fruits - if there is nothing except branches and small leaves it is almost impossible to recognise it among all the other vegetation. I wanted to give up and go to wetter upland forest tomorrow, but colleagues persuaded me to try again tomorrow.

 

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Dry coastal forest is spiny: Carissa edulis

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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!

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Today we searched for a new species in the Ruvu Forest (see picture with first blog entry). We had specific GPS coordinates, and we asked numerous local villagers about best roads and showed them the picture of the plant specimen. The Ruvu Forest is home to people who grow sesame and maize, and parts of the forest are often cleared for cultivation. We walked across many fields and small forest patches with local guides, but found nothing like the plant we were looking for. I am worried that this new species may have gone extinct before it was even given a name, because so much forest has been cleared in the 10 years since the only collection.

 

The next two days are daunting. We need to walk up two different mountains, walking for many hours in the heat, but it is so hot I feel a bit wobbly after walking on flat land today.

 

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Ruvu Forest. This is a plantation of sesame, not much forest is actually left.

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Margaritaria discoides on the hill behind Morogoro University

 

Today we drove from Dar es Salaam to a town called Morogoro, in the Uluguru Mountains. We arranged for official permission to collect in the Uluguru Nature Reserve and in the Ruvu forest for the next three days, and we had a little bit of time left before sunset to go plant hunting. Herbarium specimen records show that Solanum goetzei grows behind the Morogoro University. We drove there and walked around the forest but could not find Solanum goetzei or any other Solanum species. I have only seen this species pressed flat on a herbarium specimen, and it is difficult to imagine how it would look when it is growing wild.

 

The area was quite dry, maybe too dry for this species, but we do not know enough to be sure. A bit disappointed, really. But we saw really nice trees of Margaritaria discoides.

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Day trip to Zanzibar

Posted by mariavorontsova Mar 20, 2010
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Solanum campylacanthum, weed we found growing on a lawn
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Working in Dar es Salaam

Posted by mariavorontsova Mar 18, 2010

I arrived at the Julius Nyerere International airport in Dar es Salaam at 7.30 this morning. Frank Mbago from the Dar es Salaam University herbarium met me. Working with the collections all day after not much sleep on the flight is pretty exhausting.. We are back at the airport now waiting for Eric Tepe from the University of Utah, who will be coming plant hunting with us.

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View from my hotel room in Dar es Salaam

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Rare species out there

Posted by mariavorontsova Mar 17, 2010

I have been preparing for this trip for more than a year now and I am very excited! There are 29 species of spiny wild aubergines known in Tanzania, including 5 species that do not occur anywhere else. I also think there might be at least three new undescribed species, because I found a few herbarium specimens that did not match anything known to science. I have been working on Solanum subgenus Leptostemonum in Africa for almost three years now, at the Natural History Museum, and I am working towards a taxonomic treatment of the whole group.

 

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Unusual specimen from the Ruvu forest near Dar es Salaam – this could be a new species but we will need to find it in the forest before we can be sure!

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mariavorontsova

mariavorontsova

Member since: Mar 18, 2010

I'm Maria Vorontsova from the Botany Department. Join me as I head to Tanzania and Kenya to hunt for wild spiny aubergines. I'm looking forward to an interesting journey, some interesting company and some interesting finds.

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