Collecting Moringa in the field has been exciting, satisfying and sometimes terrifying. This page presents some images of my field trips.
Thank you National Geographic Society, National Science Foundation, and Andrew Mellon Foundation for making this fieldwork possible!
Aerial collecting trips in northeast Africa
Some Moringa localities are so remote that the most feasible way to reach them is by small airplane. When I first saw the planes I would be flying in, I thought it was funny that the tails all had lots of dents and there were many junked airplanes in the area (Images 1 and 2). Then I found out why there were so many dented airplanes: landing in remote places is hard on them. Image 3: South Island of Lake Turkana, Kenya; 4: landing on a dirt road near the Galana River in southeastern Kenya; 5: brake line broken as a result of landing on a dirt road near the Galana River; 6: flying at a spire of the Samburu Hills in northwestern Kenya; 7: brushing same spire. Over the time of my field work, we knocked various lights off of one plane (before it was finally destroyed by an impact with a termite mound on takeoff) and lost various parts of the other plane (e.g. note the lack of a brake caliper in photo 5.).
I found skimming past mountaintops and flying in the smoke, clouds, and dark unnerving. But the rewards were enormous: seeing thousands of flamingos ringing a seasonal lake in northwestern Kenya (8), spectacular formations like the steep spires of the Samburu Hills (seen from a safer and more relaxing distance in 9), and the incredible solitude of remote places, like the South Island of Lake Turkana (10) or a vast field of heliotrope near Mt Baio, a mountain not seen by botanists in 30 years (11).
[Click on any of the images below to see a larger image.]
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.
Collecting in Somali country
The heartland of Moringa diversity is in northeast Africa, where the countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia meet Locals call the place where the countries meet "border point one" and is shown in image 12. Somalia is to the right of the dirt road, Kenya to the left, and Ethiopia beyond the Dawa River, which is visible as a green strip in the distance. This area is also part of the heartland of Somali culture. This area has always fascinated me, both for its biology and for its unique culture. I found the local people to be wonderfully hospitable, sometimes almost to excess. Often the first time I came to a village I was invited to feast on goat or camel and drink spiced tea with local authorities (13 in Mandera and 14 in Yabicho). Rural Somalis know the local flora intimately, so discussions with them proved to be invaluable in locating previously undocumented populations of Moringa (image 15). I also found the reputation for the area being dangerous to be justified in certain regions, particularly on the Kenya-Somalia border, where it was necessary to travel with soldiers (image 16).
Image 17 shows me preparing dried, pressed herbarium specimens of Moringa longituba. I had planned my trips to correspond with Moringa fruiting times, since I need seedlings for developmental studies. El Niño conditions disrupted flowering and fruiting, so I often had to resort to digging the very deep tubers (18). To get seeds, I got some colored pencils and made and circulated a flyer offering a reward for seeds sent to my collaborators at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) (image 19). Image 20 shows a view of the headquarters of KEFRI outside of Nairobi, and image 21 shows KEFRI collaborator Joseph Machua explaining the virtues of Moringa oleifera (sprig in his left hand) to Sahara Mohammed of Mandera, Kenya. If you're curious (warning: this is gross), click here to see the disgusting, unidentified lesions I got along the Kenya-Ethiopia border. I got 40 of them over 6 weeks, blood poisoning a couple of times, and lots of fevers. It scared me at first, but I never found out what it was. Any ideas?
12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21.
Collecting in India
The Flora of the Tamilnadu Carnatic project, directed by F. Mathew of Tiruchirapalli, is a model of a well-done flora. It was a privilege to collect with his assistant Perianayagam, shown in the center of image 22. Image 23 shows an Ambassador, our field vehicle, with my clipper poles and Perianayagam's local equivalent, a toroti.