ISSN 1188-603X

No. 149 November 8, Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2


From: Rene Vaillancourt (

[Several people forwarded me a Reuter article "Australian Shrub Could be Oldest Life" and asked me to post it on BEN. I found that this newspaper article was based on a presentation given by Dr. Rene Vaillancourt et al. (1996) at the Proteaceae Symposium in Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Vaillancourt kindly sent me the following note for posting on BEN. - AC]

A team of scientist working at the Plant Science Department, University of Tasmania and Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Environment and Land Management, Tasmania (Jasmyn Lynch, Jayne Balmer, Dr. Greg Jordan, Dr. Jocelyne Cambecedes, Richard Barnes, and Dr. Rene Vaillancourt) have discovered the oldest living plant individual known to date.

Lomatia tasmanica (common name King's Holly), which is a member of the Proteaceae family, is known by only one population which is located in the World Heritage area of Southwest Tasmania, Australia. It grows along creek gullies in remnant rain-forest.

An isozyme analysis found that it possessed zero genetic diversity (all living plants of the species are exactly the same). On the other hand, a closely related species (Lomatia tinctoria) which also propagates vegetatively had a normal level of genetic diversity. Chromosome counts revealed that Lomatia tasmanica had a triploid chromosome number and this genetic information explains the observations that L. tasmanica appears to be sterile (it flowers but never forms mature fruits), and shows little morphological variability. This evidence strongly suggests that the entire species is a single clone that propagates vegetatively.

The L. tasmanica clone (spanning 1.2 km) is the second longest in the world after the box-huckleberry clone (Gaylussacia brachycera) in North America (Pennsylvania) which is reported to be 2 km in length. A clone of this size must be very old. Indeed, under the cold climate of Southwest Tasmania, vegetative propagation is likely to be very slow.

Fortunately, fossil leaf fragments, identical to living L. tasmanica were found in a fossil deposit 8.5 km of the extant population. These permit a more precise age estimate. These fossils have a 14C age of 43,600 years. The oldest reported plant clone is the box-huckleberry which was aged at 13,000 years (Wherry 1972). The oldest living tree is believed to be a bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) in Arizona which has been dated using dendrochronology at 4,700 years. Lomatia tasmanica appears to be the oldest living plant individual known to date.

A manuscript that details all the analysis has been submitted to the Australian Journal of Botany.

Literature cited and further reading:

Cook, R. E. (1983).
Clonal plant populations. American Scientist 71, 244-253.
Vaillancourt, R.E., G. Jordan, J. Cambacedes and A. J. J. Lynch. 1996.
Is Lomatia tasmanica a 43,000 year old clone? Presented at the Royal Botanical Gardens Commemorative Conference, Proteaceae Symposium, Sept. 29-Oct. 5. Melbourne, Vic.
Wherry, E. T. (1972).
Box-huckleberry as the oldest living protoplasm. Castanea 37, 94-95.


From: Sylvia Duran Sharnoff ( on

Many people have been having trouble getting through to Colin Eades' fax number at the Canadian Museum of Nature. There seems to have been something wrong with the phone line. As of today, Tuesday, Nov. 5, there is a working number: (613) 364-4022

Irwin Brodo's meeting with Colin Eades has been postponed until Nov. 18, so there is more time to get messages to Eades. Please keep more coming!


Coe, Sophie D. & Michael D. Coe. 1996.
THE TRUE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE. Thames & Hudson, Inc., New York. 280 p. ISBN 0-500-01693-3 [hard cover] Price US$27.50

Dr. Sophie Dobzhansky Coe (daughter of the well-known geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky) started to work on this history of chocolate and cacao in about 1988, spent numerous hours in various libraries, and collected a lot of original material. After her death of cancer in May 1994, her husband Prof. Michael Coe, an anthropologist specializing in Mesoamerican research, finished the book and prepared it for publication. Following a thread of Cacao Tree through history you will learn about Maya and Aztec culture, go through the Spanish conquest of Central America, and explore the chocolate conquest of Europe. This book is a work of love, not only the love of chocolate, but primarily the love of history, life, and of a deceased spouse. Even if you don't like chocolate, this book is a feast. I could not find any mention of Carob, although the authors listed other substances (such as ground bricks) as cacao substitutes. Address of the publisher: Thames and Hudson, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110.

Brayshaw, T.C. 1996.
TREES AND SHRUBS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA. Royal British Columbia Museum Handbook. University of British Columbia Press & Royal B.C. Museum, Vancouver - Victoria. 374 p. ISBN 0-7748-0564-1 [soft cover] Price CND $24.95

This book deals with about 300 species of trees and shrubs both native and escaped from cultivation that occur in British Columbia. All the species are illustrated with author's own excellent line drawings of branches (or whole plants) with leaves, flowers and fruits. Important identification characters are also illustrated in detail, and this, together with good (indented) keys helps to reliably identify the plants. There are 76 plates of plants together with 3 plates explaining morphological terms. The arrangement of plants on plates, however, dictated the order of genera within families and the order of species within genera.

Descriptions of closely related species are sometime far apart, if their illustrations fell to two different plates (e.g., Vaccinium ovalifolium and V. alaskaense). Once you know this, you can get through the book faster, but it took me a while before I understood the strange sequence (neither alphabetic, nor phylogenetic). You can order the book directly from the UBC Press (phone 604-822-3259, Fax 1-800-668-0821, e-mail, and of course, in Victoria, you can get it from the Royal B.C. Museum gift shop or from The Field-Naturalist.

Cannings, R. & S. Cannings. 1996.
BRITISH COLUMBIA: A NATURAL HISTORY. Graystone Books, Vancouver. 310 p. ISBN 1-55054-497-7 [hard cover] Price CND$45.00

Some time ago I admired a book on natural history of Alberta and I wished British Columbia would have a similar treatment. Richard and Syd Cannings came with this fine summary. The first chapters deal with geology, oceanography, glaciation, and post-glacial history of the Province, and establish a framework for description of its major ecological regions. The book is richly illustrated with great photographs and line drawings, the text is well balanced (you will recognize, but forget that the Cannings brothers are zoologists!) and the general text is accompanied with numerous "boxes" describing and illustrating various interesting special aspects of our natural history. Address of the publisher: Graystone Books, Division of Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1615 Venables Street, Vancouver, B.C. V5L 2H1

Davis, Wade. 1996.
ONE RIVER: EXPLORATIONS AND DISCOVERIES IN THE AMAZON RAIN FOREST. Simon & Schuster, New York. 537 p. ISBN 0-684-80886-2 [hard cover] Price US$27.50

This book is a fascinating account of ethnobotanical studies done in South America by Prof. Richard E. Schultes and his students (namely the late Tim Plowman). ONLY IN VICTORIA: Wade Davis will talk here on November 25, in the Crystal Garden at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($5.00 or no charge if you buy a book) in the Munro Books and possibly some other bookstores.

Adams, Scott. 1996.
THE DILBERT PRINCIPLE. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. New York. 336 p. ISBN 0-88730-787-6 [hard cover] Price $20.00

Scott Adams is the creator of "Dilbert" - a cartoon serial that is syndicated in many North American newspapers and highly valued for its true reflections of corporate America. Compared with the Parkinson's Law or Peter Principle, Adams does not try to find how the corporations and similar systems work; he is a passive observer of modern management processes, such as downsizing, rightsizing, flattening, and creating quality teams. He does not analyze their functions, but only shows the reader what is the accepted norm in the modern management (or managerial?) practices. It's not without interest that shortly after the publication of "Dilbert Principle" the Government of British Columbia launched its Blitz reorganization in order to get even closer to the norms described in the book.

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