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Mace Pagoda Mimetes stokoei

The case of the Mace Pagoda

This is a tale of woe! In short, it illustrates that when key information is kept too secret, things may go awry. You will not find this tale documented elsewhere: the participants have not disclosed the facts - the details have been pieced together from cryptic information on herbarium labels and curious anomalies in published accounts. Protea Atlas Logo

The Mace Pagoda - Mimetes stokoei was discovered by Thomas Stokoe in February 1922, who forgot exactly were he had found it. But the site was not unknown: on 4 July 1925 Stokoe bought some plants at the Adderley Street flower market. From the flower collector he was able to relocate the colony.

By 1966 the species was extinct.

The truth is that the locality of the Mace Pagoda was never known to more than a handful of people - not through any conspiracy, but simply because very few people, other than a few taxonomists and ecologists, were interested.

In the early 1960's Marie Vogts was looking for an experimental plot, in which to undertake her transplant experiments to test whether flowering seasons in Proteaceae were genetically fixed or environmentally determined. She chose a high valley near the Highlands plantation in the mountains above Kleinmond. The site was cleared, burned and a Protea orchard established. In the centre of the plot a little plant popped up which was obviously an unusual Pagoda. It died when high winds damaged the stem on a barrier contructed to protect the plant. Its remains were collected by Charlie Boucher for the last specimen of this species ever recorded.

Much has been written on the demise of the Mace Pagoda: readers are referred to John Rourke's article "Beyond redemption: the story of Mimetes stokoei" (Veld & Flora 62 [Dec. 76]: 12-16) for some splendid illustrations. Rourke (1984) gives the reasons for the Mace Pagoda's extinction: there were never more than about a dozen plants ever in existence; it flowered all year - which John considers might indicate that it was an erratic flowerer; and it was short-lived. However, all three were also features of the Marsh Rose when Charlie Boucher started his study in 1968. But the trampling and possible Phytophthora infection of the site during the establishment of the Protea orchard are curiously absent from all accounts.

It is the supreme irony that Marie Vogts was denied knowledge of the Mace Pagoda's home. The knowledge that she was unwittingly responsible for the extinction of one of the most spectacular of our Proteaceae is a yoke she has been made to carry because of the secretive attitudes humans feel for rare things. If ever there is a Patron Saint of the Proteaceae, it should be her: for 20 years she has atoned for a mistake she could never have anticipated. It is largely due to her efforts that the Proteaceae are so well known to laymen and horticulturalists alike.

Let this then be the lesson:

Whereas some secrecy may be required, too much secrecy may defeat its own purpose. We need sufficient people "in the know" to be the watchdogs of our flora, most especially the rarest species. There is no point in restricting such information to those who do not have the time to use it.

There are many species of plants threatened by afforestation, housing and agriculture. The more people "in the know" that can be involved in lobbying for their safety and in monitoring their status, the brighter their future will be.

When a plant or animal has not been seen for 50 years it is usually declared to be extinct! Can you think of a case in which you can say straight away that a species is extinct? Why is doing this very difficult with animals? Why can we not say that a plant is extinct even when we cannot see any plants anywhere?

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