Hidden treasures on the campus

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The common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) 

When you think about a quest for rare plant species, you might imagine high-spirited adventurers travelling to the ends of the earths on a hunt for tropical flowers hidden in the depths of the jungle. Who might have imagined that rare plants are often hiding right underneath your nose, waiting to be discovered?

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A spotted longhorn (Rutpela maculata) on common spotted orchid

Last week, the Global Change Ecology center from the University of Antwerp organised an excursion for such easily overlooked botanical treasures. Destination of the expedition as down-to-earth as can be: the university campus itself.

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Discovering the orchid meadow at the campus

Guided by a fascinatingly well-informed local botanist, we took off on a lunch walk towards the hidden botanical hotspots on our campus. And these hotspots were all more unexpected than the others: an overgrown pond, a forgotten corner next to a building, or even right in the middle of the parking lot.

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Discovering botanical treasures in the middle of the parking lot

Yet these extraordinary ordinary destinations made the harvest of this short scientific mission even more impressive: beautiful orchids, rare ferns and horsetails, and even an obscure tiny patch between two stones that listened to the name ‘hairy rupturewort’.  For several of these species, only a few populations can be found throughout Flanders.

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Hairy rupturewort (Herniaria hirsuta), easily overlooked, yet one of the botanical stars of the university campus

This surprising lunchtime walk serves as an example that even a green patch this close to home can host significant natural value. Just a few steps out of the office, and a whole botanical paradise enfolds. Yet at the same time it should be a reminder that we should not give up on this local nature too easily, no matter how disturbed and disrupted it might look. An ecologically inspired management plan for the green areas on the campus – or anywhere in the city for that matter – can play a crucial role here.

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Black spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum) in an ignored ditch on the parking lot.

So please, do not just think of your local patches of nature as economical opportunities, and give them the ecological care they deserve. Our botanical treasures thank you.

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Rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) sprouting in a concrete trail

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