1982 – North Africa Expedition


1982 – North Africa Expedition

In September 1982, Rob Nicholson set off for the Atlas and Rif mountains of Morocco. He was studying biogeography and disjunct populations, and was interested in the coniferous populations which were pushed into Africa during the ice age and continued to survive only on the mountains in the northernmost reaches of the continent. Care was taken to collect seeds from trees which were growing at the highest elevations. Nicholson speculated that these plants would be the most likely to withstand Boston winters.

Juniperus thurifera (Spanish juniper), Rosa sicula (Mediterranean rose), and Rosa canina (dog rose), were collected in the Atlas Mountains, just south of Marrakech. Cedrus atlantica (Atlas cedar), and Digitalis purpurea var. mauretanica (Purple foxglove) were collected on mount Tidiquin (near Ketama), which was accessed on motorcycles with the guidance of some local boys. He collected seed in the mountains near Chefchaouen, including Abies pinsapo var. marocana (Moroccan fir), which was one of the trip’s target species. A number of other collections including the Abies pinsapo var. tazaotana (Tazaotan fir) were found on Mt. Tazaot. Much of the trip was done by bus, where passengers were being searched for kif, a cannabis product. Luckily, Nicholson was able to explain his plant materials to the officials despite a language barrier.

An admirable specimen (1435-82*A) of Moroccan fir (Abies pinsapo) grew in the Arboretum from September 1993 until its unfortunate demise due to disease 20 years later. Rhizosphaera needle cast and stem blight from Sirococcus were first observed on the plant in 2014. It was cut down to the ground in 2015, with hopes that the stump would resprout. Unfortunately, it did not.

Additional Resources

Nicholson, Robert G. “Collecting Rare Conifers in North Africa.” Arnoldia 46:1 1986. [pdf]

Port, Kyle. “An African Fir Grows in Boston”. Arnoldia 66:3 1986. [pdf]