As far as you can go – up on Diana’s Peaks

Vince arranged that I should go up and see the work being conducted on the peaks.  This entailed the commissioning of teams to clear the flax followed by others who went in to weed or plant the propagated specimens.  Marj and I hopped in a Land Rover and Vince drove us back towards my house, but we stopped on the roadside where a track steeply rose into the flax.  Clouds whisked around a few hundred feet both above us and in the valleys below, which gave the peaks a claustrophobic air.  Drizzle penetrated every part of me and the ground was sodden. But the walk up the track intrigued me.  The flax might be invasive but it had covered the ground in a rich vegetative cover over 3m high in places.  Vince pointed out that it was not a complete monoculture and started to teach me about the other invasive weeds which had come along with it; not just the fuchsias and the arum lilies.  Also he found stands of more endemic plants.  One of my favourites was the Large Jellico.  Reminding me somewhat of the hogweeds in the UK, these grow large cylindrical fluorescent green stems then sprout horizontal leaves, sometimes with small white flowers on the top.  There were not many stands of them but where they grew they could be dominant.  There were delicate little lobelias, another St Helena endemic, an ephemeral annual plant that quickly colonises areas where the flax had been cleared or any other sunny niche it could find.

Vince pointed out an area of recently cleared flax, a parcel of land of less than a hectare had been cut, the dead flax leaves were still there awaiting removal.  Vince explained how they had to be careful of how and when they cleared the land.  If it was not carefully managed a lot of invasive weeds would quickly come back in.  But Rebecca had also said they had had some surprises in cleared land.  Along with the endemic annuals and herbaceous plants whose seeds and tubers finally got a chance to grow into plants in the new light, a few seedling of trees had emerged.  Once detected on the regular monitoring visits they were marked and fiercely guarded against being shaded out by faster growing invasives.

I got to see examples of the black cabbage, he cabbage and she cabbage.  It took me a few visits to sort them out but all three had their aspects of beauty.  The black cabbage is a gorgeous tree and many of the specimens hung out from the slope over the tracks we were walking on as if showing off to anyone who would give them a glance.  A dense heavily lined trunk was topped by branches bending this way and that to an even and surprisingly neat canopy of clusters of waxy leaves that resembled a fully open cabbage.  Funnily enough the bunch of white flowers which would be atop the leaf layer looked suspiciously like a small  cauliflower.  The He and She cabbage are completely different sorts of plant, a narrow stem branching out into large leaves – could almost be mistaken for a herbaceous plant.  The she cabbage in particular is a beautiful mix of dark red stems with pointed luminous green leaves.  It has the ability to warm and cheer you even on the wettest greyest day on the Peaks.

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