Euphorbia clivicola – a Ridiculously Endangered Succulent
Willem says: 'The Phyto-Philes are for plant lovers of every size and shape, colour and flavour. As with my Colours of Wildlife column, I'll be featuring one species per article, illustrated with sketches, paintings, and/or photos. Over time I hope to be showcasing the amazing diversity of weird and wonderful plants that occur in South Africa, while also from time to time looking at the flora of other countries. While featuring many spectacular species, I'll not be neglecting the smaller, more humble kinds that are nevertheless fascinating in their own right.'
Conserving this species ought not to be too difficult, if there's a will. Conserving the last bit of hills remaining and keeping the growth of trees and grass and the rubbish on them in check ought not to present particular problems. In addition, the population can be boosted by plants grown on the outside. This species can be grown from seeds, which can be harvested from the wild plants. It can also be grown from cuttings. I have managed to do so using a plant that had been uprooted during some of the housing developments; it seems to be working well so far. If there are a hundred people in Polokwane who each manage to grow twenty specimens, we have an additional 2 000 outside of the wild population itself; we can replant them periodically to augment the wild ones. But the effort must be organized and coordinated. A great risk of even informing the people of Polokwane about this very rare species is that some of them, wanting specimens, will go up into the hills and remove wild plants. Being a neat, charming, small euphorbia it will be sought after. But a large and well organized cultivation effort will be able to supply plants to collectors in addition to the ones intended to be planted back into the wild. The collectors could furthermore help safeguard the species by caring for the plants in their collections. But again the project must be carefully coordinated. There are at the moment perhaps already a large number of Euphorbia clivicola plants in people's private collections – the species has been collected since having been discovered – but what would help a lot is if as many outside specimens as possible were known about, improving the chances of them being cared for and also possibly bringing them into the cultivation effort, contributing to the overall genetic base of the species.
I am still not sure just what to do; I love these little plants a lot, and going up to see them is something that really brings joy to me, so I am very worried about just how precarious their existence is right now. I will try and contact some local institutions … perhaps there is already some conservation effort going. I heard at the University of the North that there was a project of growing them from tissue cultures. I might email them and some others and find out what's happening and if maybe I could make a contribution. But the bottom line is that I don't want us to lose these plants. As I've said, these, and the groenewaldii's, are the only local small, shrubby euphorbias (and the groenewaldii's are not in great shape either … I might soon write about them also) and so very informative, potentially, to nature lovers in Polokwane. To find others, one must travel some dozens of kilometres/miles to Sekukuneland, where quite a number of small euphorbias (again, very different from the clivicolas and groenewaldii's) can be found. I hope to be writing more soon about Sekukuneland and its unique plants as well. For the present, Euphorbia clivicola still exists and is a major component of the fascinating and very poorly known flora that is unique to the city of Polokwane and its environs.