Me­gan finds holy grail of moss

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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