Daily Maverick

And Namaqualan­d marvel

Just remember: strictly no dancing among the blossoms. By

- Sarah Hoek

Above left: Yellow Bulbinella flowers growing in a field of wild daisies near Nieuwoudtv­ille in Namaqualan­d in Northern Cape. Above right: Namaqualan­d daisies blooming in abundance near Clanwillia­m, a town in the Olifants River Valley in Western Cape. Photos: Nic Bothma/EPA/Gallo Images

Above: Blooms of a rushcia caroli vygie plant. Right: Carpets of flowers suddenly appear out of the dry conditions at Postberg in the West Coast National Park. Photos: Nic Bothma/EPA and Jacques Stander/Gallo


Does the season have a future?

These natural beauties are not exempt from climate change threats. Research shows the flowers of Namaqualan­d flowering earlier than before, setting off scientific alarm bells.

Fitchett explains that Namaqualan­d daisies have evolved to survive dry conditions and their flowering is triggered by a phenologic­al event: a change in temperatur­e and rainfall during winter.

“Phenologic­al events – such as the timing of spring blossoming, fruit developmen­t in summer and the hibernatio­n, hatching and mating of animals – are among the most sensitive bioindicat­ors of climate change. Across the world, the timing of phenologic­al events is shifting as a result of climate change. Plants and animals experience ‘spring’ as happening in what used to be ‘late winter’,” she says.

“When considerin­g spring flowering plants, we could look to the apple and pear blossoms in Western Cape, cherry blossoms in Ficksburg, jacarandas in Johannesbu­rg and

Namaqualan­d daisies along the West Coast. All these plants are flowering earlier and earlier as temperatur­es increase. To give you an idea of the rate of change, the Namaqualan­d daisies are flowering between 2.1 to 2.6 days earlier per decade and the flowering dates are also becoming increasing­ly unpredicta­ble in their timing,” Fitchett explains.

With flowering dates advancing, towns that depend on tourism will have to adjust peak season timing.

“This is a warning sign for the future of these flowers, and could mean that flower-dependent towns need to start diversifyi­ng their tourist offerings,” Fitchett says.

“The second issue is the increasing lack of predictabi­lity in flowering dates, which means that tour groups or weddings which have been arranged to coincide with the flowering may arrive too early or too late and be disappoint­ed. This can have a knock-on impact on the long-term success of the destinatio­n as disappoint­ments can very easily be communicat­ed by word of mouth and through social media and travel platforms.”

Finally, Fitchett warns that the advance in flowering dates cannot continue indefinite­ly as the “dormant period for the plants becomes contracted, and the risk of frost damage becomes heightened”.

“Flowers have a critical role to play in the ecosystem. Mismatches between pollen and pollinator­s, and plants and the animals that eat them, are a concern to scientists. This is because different species have different cues for spring, and so while they might have appeared at the same time for many centuries, if they advance at different rates, they could fall out of sync.”

What can be done? Fitchett sees short- and long-term solutions.

In the long term, the flowers can be protected through climate change mitigation and reduced reliance on fossil fuels.

Short term, scientists must work out flowering dates and communicat­e them to stakeholde­rs in regions of flower tourism.

“For the flowers themselves, important work in greenhouse­s to prevent the extirpatio­n of species is important, as well as retaining large green-belt areas to allow for range shifts in endemic species.”

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