A beautiful plant species discovered on the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA) – that had the botanical experts bemused – has been confirmed to be a new fynbos species. And it has now been named too: It’s a Cyrtanthus novus-annus (Latin for Nuwejaars), and has locally been called the Nuwejaars Lily.
The pretty pink and white flowered plants have only been found in two locations – both on the NWSMA.
With fewer than 250 plants in total, covering an area of less than 5km², it’s likely that the new
Cyrtanthus will be classified as Endangered on the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Red List once assessed. According to Cyrtanthus expert Dr Dee Snijman, who described the new species, “The species epithet honours the recent restoration of biodiversity in the Nuwejaars Wetlands area.” The NWSMA covers an area of 47 000 hectares, with Critically Endangered Fynbos and irreplaceable wetlands and rivers crisscrossing the landscape. The farmers who are members of the NWSMA have appointed a team of conservationists to help restore and manage these land- and waterscapes.
A new sister for the Bredasdorp lily
In a botanical twist, the Cyrtanthus novus-annus is seen as a sister species to the Critically Endangered Cyrtanthus guthrieae (the Bredasdorp Lily), given their resemblance and their reasonably close proximity to each other. The Bredasdorp Lily only occurs on the mountains above the town, with a population also of around 250 plants. There’s only one other example of a sister pair in the Amaryllidaceae family in the Western Cape, near Wellington.
This most unexpected discovery took place in 2019, when during an exploratory NWSMA trip, a small population of soft pink and white flowering plants were spotted. Farmer and NWSMA member Liohan Giliomee, on whose property it was first seen, didn’t recognise the species. Neither did environmental educator Sharon Brink, nor NWSMA staff member Liesbet Willemse.
A series of events, including Covid and the subsequent lockdowns, put the discovery on hold. But in late 2021, NWSMA Conservation Managers Erica Brink and Eugéne Hahndiek came across another flowering population.
The experts are called in
With the help of the horticulturist Geoff Nichols and the Botanical Society of South Africa’s Rupert Koopman, the experts were brought in to undertake a complete assessment earlier this year, including Dr Snijman and Dr John Manning. Snijman has just released her scientific paper, “A new species of Cyrtanthus (Amaryllidaceae: Cyrtantheae) from the Agulhas Plain, Western Cape, South Africa”. She says in the paper, “The unexpected discovery in 2019 of a small population of Cyrtanthus on the Agulhas Plain that could not be matched with any known taxon prompted the description of one further species.”
According to Koopman, “This is a great story which highlights how special the Overberg is in terms of plant diversity. And in fact how special the fynbos biome is in general, considering that we are still picking up new species even in areas that are well known.”
The new species occurs on low, open vegetation, which includes elements of both Central Rûens Shale Renosterveld and Elim Ferricrete Fynbos. Both of these are Critically Endangered.
A unique conservation model
NWSMA Project Manager Ross Kettles says the discovery highlights the importance of understanding and protecting natural landscapes, also on private land. “This ‘Nuwejaars Lily’ would never have been recognised as a new species, were it not for the conservation work taking place here in partnership with our farmer-members. This model is unique: farmers continue to farm, but at the same time we can’t lose what’s left of our biodiversity here. Farmers here have therefore made the ultimate commitment to this protection, signing title deed restrictions to protect our natural world in perpetuity.”
Kettles says, “Aside from our landowners, this would also not have been possible without those incredible funders who see the value of this biodiversity-rich area, and the importance of this model. That includes the Mapula Trust, Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, WWF South Africa, the National Lotteries Commission and the Overberg District Municipality.”