|A group of king penguins in a field of sea cabbage, Senecio candidans|
There is some lovely scenery associated with the coast which is open to the public, but much of the interior is uniformly covered in grassland and rock, and to casual observation does not appear to have much botanical potential. Falkland Islands Conservation have an office in Stanley, and staff there were both helpful and knowledgeable. Stanley also has a fine library stocked with books and papers concerning the natural history of the islands.
Although very similar, the species in the Falkland Islands are not the same species as those in Britain. This makes the possibility that I have heard brought forward that the relatives in the Falklands were brought there by man highly improbable. As in the case of the Canary Islands, there is a substantial introduced flora in the Falkland Islands of familiar species such as the common daisy Bellis perennis, creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens and common cat’sear Hypochaeris radicata, the latter of which is especially frequent in Stanley.
A visit to a fine piece of wetland close to Stanley Airport (from which domestic flights leave for remote parts of the islands) is especially instructive. There are three species present here that have absolutely no relationship with any member of the British flora, and these are the extraordinary saprophyte Arachnitis quetrihuensis which is a close relative of, or the same species as the South American Arachnitis uniflora. It is a weird species, and all I saw of it was one individual past its best. Similarly the diminutive species of the genus Gunnera, Gunnera magellanica has no related native European species. This species produces strawberry like fruits quite unlike those of the more familiar and gigantic Gunnera species of the Andes. Finally, there is a species that I was particularly anxious to see, Calceolaria fothergillii. I was assured that it would be relatively frequent, but it was well past flowering and in seed. All I was able to find of it was in rock cracks just above convenient head height for photography.
|Calceolaria fothergillii – unfortunately only found in seed|
|Arachnitis quetrihuensis – well past its best|
Experience of the floras of the Canary Islands and of the Falkland Islands has got me thinking, and I have not come up with any sensible conclusions. The presence of close relatives of the temperate flora of the British Isles in the Falkland Islands, and the virtual absence of members of abundant genera such as Gentianella, Euphrasia and Armeria in the Canary Islands, begs a considerable number of questions. The Falkland Islands situation cannot be explained by continental drift, and the slight evolution of members of familiar genera cannot be explained by the arrival by human means; the levels of evolution are too great, and the separation of the Falklands from continental land masses happened much too long ago for species to have evolved so slightly. It is interesting that the short study I have made of the endemic flora of the Galapagos Islands does not come up with similar problems to those I mention above. It might be very instructive to compare the genetic fingerprints of those species that have similar British and Falkland representatives
This will be the first of a short series of accounts of wildlife in the Falkland Islands. There will be more on the Flora and another full of appreciation of the wonderful, and endearingly charming bird inhabitants.