Ntombifikile Phaliso is passionate about nature and biodiversity.
Working for the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Phaliso, 30, is situated in the biosystematics division, where she spends her days researching the Aizoaceae plant family.
This group includes mesembs, the beloved water-wise plants South Africans often refer to as vygies. There are around 1 800 species of these succulents, which are largely endemic to southern Africa.
As with all indigenous plants, it is vital that they are protected because of the essential role they play in the ecosystem, says Phaliso.
“If we do not protect these species, the effects would show in various ways Phaliso champions.
For example, we would lose much of the colour that people love so much in the Karoo, along the Garden Route, because mesembs are responsible for many of these vibrant flowers.
“We also risk the complete loss of species and populations through the illegal collection and sale of mesembs,” she explains.
Complete extinction of the Aizoaceae family is one of Phaliso’s greatest concerns because of the medicinal, food and cultural value of these plants.
Phaliso, who grew up in Johannesburg, says SANBI is mandated to safeguard the biodiversity of South Africa
Phaliso champions and the research undertaken by her team feeds directly into that mandate.
“Research done by scientists in the biosystematics division provides the baseline data which forms the basis of SANBI’s research activities.
Our collections are an invaluable source of information which must be kept current and accurate for all our end users.”
Important things about the Aizoaceae family According to Phaliso, there is little information available on many of the mesembs. Some have remained unstudied since their discovery.
What is known, however, is that over 1 000 of the species within the Aizoaceae family are either under threat or vulnerable to threat. “
Aizoaceae species form part of the indigenous cultures of South Africa as food or medicinal plants but also because of the natural beauty that are typical of mesembs.
“These plants are highly sought after horticulturally which has led to illegal trade and cultivation.
This could result in the extinction of some species which would directly affect the biodiversity of this country.”
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