Morawetz Orobanchaceae Research Updates

Jeffery Morawetz, RSABG postdoctoral fellow, recently returned from a trip to Africa. He offers us this glimpse into his travels and research findings.

 

I recently returned from a month-long field trip to Katanga Province in the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which was funded by my National Geographic Society grant. My colleague on my National Science Foundation grant, Christopher Randle (Sam Houston State University), came with me. We met up with our colleague Edouard Ilunga (Ph.D. student, University of Lubumbashi), and he accompanied us for the entire time. We had many adventures together, and traveled widely throughout southern Katanga, from the frontier town of Dilolo in the west (bordering Angola) to Kundelungu National Park in the east (which boasts Africa’s tallest waterfall, Lofoi falls, at 347 meters). Most areas where we worked were either damp to inundated grasslands (called dambos, or dilungus), or miombo woodland, which is dominated by species of the legume tree Brachystegia (a common habitat type found in southern Africa).

Our goal was to collect the rare and endemic parasitic members of the family Orobanchaceae, and we were quite successful. We found the monotypic (meaning it is a genus with only a single species) Micrargeriella aphylla, and in a locality where it was not previously known (Kundelungu National Park). We also collected Gerardiina angolensis, which I’ve been hunting in eastern and southern Africa for years (unsuccessfully until now). Additionally, we collected two Central African endemic species of Melasma, a genus I studied for my dissertation (M. brevipedicellatum, M calycinum). I didn’t believe that one of the species really existed, as its description is not very different from its close relative, but sure enough, when we found them in the field, they are quite distinct. And they were very striking with their bright orange flowers, something only rarely mentioned in the literature. We were also able to collect species of the genera Buchnera, Sopubia and Striga.

In addition to all the great plants, we also ate some really great food called mbuzi michopo (roasted goat). It’s similar to the mbuzi choma of East Africa, but often cooked with onions and chopped kwanga (manioc/cassava). The starchy staple in Katanga is corn-based and called foufou (similar to ugali of East Africa, or nshima of Zambia), though it is different from the West African foufou typically made of cassava.

Most everyone in Congo speaks the national language, French (a hold-over from the Belgian colonial period). In Katanga, people also speak the regional language, Swahili. I was surprised to find that Congolese Swahili is quite different from East African Swahili. Notably, there is much French (and other Congolese regional languages, such as Lingala) woven in, and some word usage and pronunciation has been changed. While I could understand their Swahili, many Congolese had difficulty understanding my East African Swahili.

I will be going back to work with Edouard again in March. I look forward to more plant hunting in such a wonderful country and eating more mbuzi michopo.

Read more about his trip to DRC check out his travel blog here.

Read more about Morawetz' research at RSABG here.