In Gordon Homer’s role as project manager of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area for Peace Parks, he comes across all manner of fascinating things. Today, driving just outside Livingstone, his sharp eyes come across what looks like a very unassuming clump of grass. Gordon’s expert knowledge of life in the bush brings fresh eyes to this object, which most of us would probably overlook.
The knot of contorted seeds comes from a type of grass called Heteropogon contortus, its name derived from the Greek words heteros, meaning ‘different’ and pogon, meaning ‘beard’. It is the word contortus, meaning ‘tangled’ or ‘twisted’, that gives a clue to the plant’s unusual behaviour. Like most grass species, the seeds of Heteropogon concortus are dispersed by wind. What is fascinating about this grass, however, is the way in which its seeds embed themselves into the ground, so that they can start to grow. It is the arrival of the rains, the water landing on the dry seed, that makes the sharp pointed tip of the seed begin a contorted dance. This twisting movement drills the seed down into the soil ready for germination.
In an extraordinary example of adaptive behaviour, this ‘clump of grass’ shows just how marvellous nature is at working with its environment, not against it. It requires a minimal amount of water to begin its dance. In fact, it has also adapted to thrive in areas of lower fertility, so here in the savannah grasslands it thrives. As it fixes its own nitrogen and does not require much water, it is also a very useful foraging grass.
This deep knowledge and love of the environment is endemic to those who work for Peace Parks Foundation. It is also a secret ingredient of successful conservation, for it is only by gaining a profound understanding of the environment, its flora, fauna and landscape, that every element can be taken into consideration in order to rejuvenate and protect it in a sustainable fashion for future generations.