A quest is a search for something important . . .

The search is just as important as the finding – Polypodium dictyopteris

A quest is never easy. There are always challenges and obstacles along the way. These challenges are necessary, because as the questors successfully overcome them, they build up knowledge, self-confidence and determination. Without these attributes, they would be unable to reach their goal. Thus in a quest, the search is just as important as the finding! Everyone should take on quests during their lives. Whether big or small, quests help to make us better than we were before, they can improve our thinking skills, teach us valuable things about ourselves and others, and help us grow into confident people.

Source: www.internal.schools.net.au

A scholar recently visited my Allan Cunningham Project. How do I know he is a scholar . . . well . . . anyone who is seeking information about the history of a plant collected in New Zealand in 1838 and can lay down a sentence like the request that follows must be a scholar . . .

When you go to the Sydney Herbarium (NSW), I will be most grateful if you will look for the sheet of the Allan Cunningham specimen of this species [Polypodium dictyopteris] for me, which might be filed under the genus Anarthropteris (Polypodiaceae) or might be filed as Loxogramme, and then perhaps as Loxogramme lanceolata or Loxogramme dictyopteris.

If you can make a request like that you would have to be a scholar, wouldn’t you agree!

Loxogramme dictyopteris - lance fern - New Zealand Photo by Dave Woodward
Loxogramme dictyopteris (lance fern) Photo copyright Dave Woodward
Whare-Ngārara, Lance Fern
Polypodium cunninghamii Hook.
Polypodium dictyopteris Mett.
Dictyopteris lanceolata J.Sm.
Anarthropteris lanceolata (Hook. f.) Pic.Serm.
The above is the name you will find in most current reference books. The present name has been current since August 2006.
Polypodium attenuatum sensu A.Rich.
Anarthropteris dictyopteris (Mett.) Copel.
Anarthropteris lanceolata (J.Sm.) L.B.Moore in Allan
Dictymia lanceolata J.Sm. ex Hook.f.

We never know where our journey will take us and you never know who you will meet along the way. A scholar to me is like Justin Timberlake is to a pop star fan. Well not quite but nearly. Silly I know but it’s fun. Before we go any further, I must tell you that I’m not really a person who is interested in botany in a serious way. It’s more the idea of it that gets me. I’m interested in the “how” of it and the “why” of it. The idea of someone quietly focusing on a plant captures my imagination. Life is so hectic with little time to rest, some people live their lives studying plants, how interesting. Plants are so quiet and so very beautiful, as nature is.

One of the joys of writing non-fiction is the research, the serendipity of discovery. It would have been nice to report that I found a specimen of Polypodium dictyopteris (also known as Loxogramme dictyopteris) collected by Allan Cunningham in 1838 only months before his death and it would have been nice to say he discovered the plant on such and such a day in such and such a place. Unfortunately my opportunity for 15 seconds of fame has flitted in and flitted out of my life, like a butterfly. Never daunted, it will remain on my list of challenges and one day I will be able to reply to the request in the affirmative because I am on a quest. A quest to tell Allan Cunningham’s story.

Here’s a little snippet from Robert Heward’s Biographical Sketch of Allan Cunningham’s where he quotes from Allan’s journal, the botanist voice reaches out from the past to tell us about the plants he found in 1826 including Polypodium:

Cowa-cowa (possibly Kawakawa River) Early September 1826 New Zealand:  In these woods, teeming with humidity, cryptogamous plants abound. I gathered a few Mosses, and some Ferns of the genera Polypodium, Aspidium, Asplenium, Davallia, (Loxsoma, R. Br.), Doodia, and Pteris, some of the first genus adhered to trees, but among the parasites (Astelia?) I could not perceive any of that most interesting tribe Orchideae. That genus of Proteacea, Knightia, I remarked a mere shrub, but nevertheless putting forth flower-buds. On the margin of these woods, just beyond the reach of the flood-tide, I perceived Myoporum laetum, Lepidium oleraceum, and a branching tree thirty feet high, with ternate and quinate leaves (Vitex littoralis, A. Cunn).  In penetrating these woods, I met with much impediment from the arundinaceous supple rambling stems of a Smilax (Ripogonum parviflorum), a single species of scandent Rubus, (R. cissoides, A. Cunn.,) with quinated narrow leaves, and the wiry stem of a species of Lygodium (L. articulatum,) without fructification.

Extract from Robert Heward’s Biographical Sketch of the Late Allan cunningham

The challenges set for my quest don’t include finding a sword embedded in a rock so I can slay the dragon. Thank goodness for that! I’ve been given a challenge with a minor obstacle . . . time.

As time goes by and the various challenges are met and obstacles overcome, somewhere somehow, while I’m looking for something else, Polypodium dictyopteris (Loxogramme dictyopteris) will suddenly appear and it will make me smile.