Megan finds holy grail of moss
JULATTEN resident and James Cook University undergraduate student Megan Grixti has made a discovery that may solve a 150-year mystery.
Ms Grixti, who is in her second year of her science degree, discovered a population of Sorapilla papuana, an extremely rare moss growing on a single tree in the rainforest near Mount Lewis, west of Mossman.
Ms Grixti was part of an expedition with botanists from James Cook University, University of Melbourne and the Australian Tropical Herbarium when she spotted something interesting growing on the trunk of a tree about 30 metres away.
‘‘The expedition was somewhat of a search for the ‘moss holy grail’ - I had previously heard of Sorapilla papuana and its rarity so I was very excited to be invited along on such an important mission,’’ she said.
‘‘We had all seen a previously collected specimen that was being held at the Melbourne Herbarium, however the specimen was so old that we didn’t even know what colour it was. All we knew was that we were looking for a moss that didn’t really look like a moss and more like a liverwort.
‘‘I spotted a single tree about 30m away that was covered in trailing moss. It was in a spot where the little bit of light that was coming through caught the raindrops on the moss and almost illuminated it.
‘‘It was definitely like finding the moss ‘holy grail’ as it was only on this single shining tree. When [moss expert] Mrs Cairns was able to confirm for me that it was indeed Sorapilla papuana I was shocked and elated.
‘‘It was enough for me just to be invited along, but to be the one to actually find the moss was just incredible - it was really wonderful to be able to help make the expedition a success.
‘‘I’d like to think that my late grandfather Lewis had a guiding hand in helping me to spot the Sorapilla papuana on Mt Lewis.
‘‘I live in Julatten so it’s lovely that I’ve found the moss so close to me - the Mt Lewis area is one that has always been very special to me.’’
Megan’s moss comes from a family with an intriguing history.
The only other Sorapilla species, Sorapilla sprucei, was discovered in 1857 in the headwaters of the Amazon in Ecuador by explorer-botanist Richard Spruce, but has never been found again and at that time it had no known relatives.
In 1892 Sorapilla papuana was discovered in the Owen Stanley Range, Papua New Guinea. It was later found in Australia in 1936 by the Cairns naturalist Dr Hugo Flecker. A team from the University of Melbourne and the University of California is working on sequencing DNA from the newly discovered population. If they are successful, the position of Sorapilla in the plant kingdom will be revealed.