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Pondoland Centre Endemics
Tuesday, 22 September, 2009 - 08:23

Dated and incomplete list by Tony Abbott (P O Box 111, Port Edward 4295)

The Pondoland Centre (van Wyk 1994), one of the Centres of Plant diversity of the Maputaland-Pondoland Region is tied to the Mzikaba Formation (Thomas et al. 1992).

Many Pondoland endemics are noted for their very narrow distribution along the coastal belt. In nearly all species distribution is clumped and confined to certain areas that appear to have no characteristics that are not shared by adjoining areas of similar topography and substrate. The large majority are almost certainly palaeoendemics.

The endemic woody plants largely occur in stream and river forests. They tend to be roughly confined to the lower 15 kilometres from the sea. The rivers exhibiting the greatest preponderance of endemics are, from the north, the Umzimkulwana, the Umtamvuna, the Mzamba, the Nyameni, the Mtentu, the Mzikaba, the Mkweni, the Lupatana, the Mlambomkulu, the Cutweni and the Mkosi.
Grassland endemics are concentrated in the same geographical area but with only three areas of conservation; the remaining grasslands are historically subject to heavy utilisation. The conserved areas are the Mkambati Nature Reserve, the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve (with little grassland) and the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve.

Out side the conserved areas, the grasslands are somewhat depauperate in species diversity due to heavy grazing but still retain the essential components of the veldtype. In particular, the grazing lands contain plenty of refugia from pressure, such as wetlands, which retain a diverse biota.

Preliminary survey in recent years has revealed many new species and given rise to the existence of the Pondoland Centre of Endemism. Much more research is required to complete a survey of this Centre and without doubt, further taxa await discovery.

With the narrow distribution of many species, it is clear that any large construction such as a major road could well affect the viability of such small populations.
Agathosma sp. is a small shrub up to 2½ metres of sandstone streams recently discovered in the KwaDlambu River inland of Mkambati Game Reserve
Apodytes abbottii Potgieter & Van Wyk is a shrub or small tree normally occurring scattered in rock outcrops, less often it is found in kloof forest margins. It is well distributed throughout the Pondoland Centre. It is often seen with trees such as Canthium vanwykii and Loxostylis alata.

Canthium vanywykii Tilney & Kok is a spreading shrub that is found in forest margins and bushclumps on rock outcrops. Its distribution is in lowland coastal forest around in southern KwaZulu-Natal and the northern Eastern Cape.

Cussonia sp. nov. a small slender tree growing in south west facing krans scrub forest from the Umtamvuna River, Mnyameni River, Mkambati River and Mlambomkulu River.
Colubrina nicholsonii Van Wyk & Schrire forms colonies of plants which have thick drooping stems. It often occurs on coastal stream banks but on Mt Sullivan it grows in greater numbers than elsewhere. Although flowering profusely, only a few fruits have been seen and no seedlings have ever been recorded; further survey of Mt Sullivan might reveal some regeneration. The type locality is the Daza River in Mkambati Game Reserve. It occurs from the south bank of the Umtamvuna River to Mount Sullivan. Recently located in Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve.

Cussonia sp nov A small tree up to 3 m. It occurs in forest along south and southwest facing kranses in cooler, shady conditions.  So far known from Waterfall Bluff, Mkambati River, Mnyameni River, Mzamba River and Umtamvuna River.

Cyphostemma rubroglandulosum Retief & Van Wyk is a creeper and has been recorded in forests of the Pondoland Centre from the coast to higher altitudes inland.

Dahlgrenodendron natalense J.J.M. v.d. Merwe & Van Wyk is a tall tree of the coastal lowland forests with a tendency to produce suckers. Although it fruits rarely, the seed is fertile and grows readily. However, so far no seedlings have been noted in the wild. It occurs from the Mzikaba River to the Umtamvuna River with several relictual occurrences as far north as Ngoye Forest although it has never been recollected there. A good stand grows on the south west flank of the Ozwatini Plateau lying to the west of Ndwedwe inland of Durban.
Erica sp. nov. A shrub normally found on cliffs, formerly included in Erica caffra.

Eugenia erythrophylla Strey is medium to tall forest tree which occurs in coastal lowland forests particularly in small tongues of kloof forest. Its distribution is small in throughout the Pondoland Centre.
Eugenia simii Duemmer is a small shrub that grows on coastal stream and river beds and banks. Its associates are Gymnosporia bachmannii and Syzygium pondoense. It occurs in southern KwaZulu-Natal and northern Pondoland.
Eugenia umtamvunensis Van Wyk is a rare, small tree or shrub of very narrow distribution around the KwaZulu-Natal Eastern Cape border. It grows on kloof and krans forest margins near the coast. It ranges from the Mtentu River to the Umtamvuna River.

Eugenia verdoorniae Van Wyk grows more often as a shrub than a small tree. This narrow leafed plant grows on coastal kloof and krans forest margins confined to the area from southern KwaZulu-Natal and Pondoland north of Fraser’s Gorge.

Eugenia sp. nov. A is a slender small tree occurring in dry forest. It has a scattered distribution in KwaZulu-Natal.

Eugenia sp. nov. B is a small robust tree occurring on sandstone kranses and dry forest in the lower half of KwaZulu-Natal.

Eugenia sp. nov. C is a medium tall forest tree marked by its flush of new leaf in reds, pinks and greens. It occurs in coastal lowland forest in southern KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape.

Grewia pondoensis Burret is very close to Grewia occidentalis but differs in its thick glossy leaves and its lax habit. Another species of coastal lowland forests in southern KwaZulu-Natal and northern Eastern Cape.

Gymnosporia bachmannii Loes.  is a small shrub seldom growing more than one metre tall. It only grows in rocky stream and riverbeds in coastal KwaZulu-Natal/Eastern Cape border area.

Gymnosporia vanwykii R.H. Archer is a rare geoxylic suffrutex of the grassland which occurs along the southern KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape coast.
Indigofera braamtonyi ined. Schrire resembles I. natalensis but has a very limited distribution with an strange outlier at Ngoye Forest.

Indigofera jucunda Schrire grows along many of the sandstone streams. This shrub is very popular in gardens with its long lasting pink flower spikes.

Ipomoea sp. nov. is a tiny geophyte seen only twice, once in Mkmabati Nature Reserve and once on the Mnyameni River. It grows in the shallow Selaginella fern beds on flat rocks gardens.

Jubaeaopsis caffra Becc. This palm is renowned world wide for its strange occurrence on the northern banks of only the Mzikaba and Mtentu Rivers at the coast. It has been widely cultivated by palm growers.

Leucadendron pondoense Van Wyk is a fire escape tree up to six metres tall that grows in streambeds above the coast ranging from Nyameni River in the north to Mlambomkulu River in the south. In this range it occurs in last five or six kilometres from the sea. There seems to be no reason why this plant does not occur in the streams outside this range but still within the Pondoland Centre.

Lydenburgia  abbottii (A.E. Van Wyk & Prins) Y. Steenkamp, A.E. Van Wyk & Prins. is a tall forest tree of upwards of 30 metres which occurs in coastal kloof forests. It is the most rare tree in South Africa. In steep land it grows with a single erect stem while in flatter places it may have several stems. From known records, it occurs from Amphitheatre in the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve to the Mzamba River, a total range of only 10 kilometres. It flowers profusely and the seeds are quite viable. This is the most closely confined distribution of the endemic woody plants of the Pondoland Centre and development could easily destroy the viability of the population. The total population is estimated to be between 200 and 400 specimens.
Manilkara nicholsonii Van Wyk is a medium tree of coastal lowland forests in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape border. It occurs as a scattered member of both mesic and dryer forests. It has an extremely low fruit set as a gall-forming insect attacks the flowers.
Maytenus abbottii Van Wyk is a small colonial tree that favours the moister places including stream banks in coastal lowland forest. A small distribution around the KwaZulu-Natal/Eastern Cape border.

Maytenus oleosa Van Wyk & Archer is a rare, small riverine tree of limited coastal distribution around the KwaZulu-Natal/Eastern Cape border. It used to be included in M. undata but its clearly defined habit and habitat marked it out.

Ochna sp. nov.  is well distributed along sandstone streams in lowland coastal forest and has been included in O. natalitia.

Phylica natalensis Pillans is an extremely rare subshrub known only from the area around Port Edward. It forms small clumps in grassland. The largest known population occurs in the vicinity of the Red Desert.

Pseudosalacia streyi Codd is a tree that grows within close proximity of streams and occurs in pure stands. There is a single group that grows high up under the cliff above a gorge where it seems that the moisture regime is similar to stream margins. A rare plant that occurs in groups isolated from each other. It occurs in coastal lowland forests around the KwaZulu-Natal/Eastern Cape border.

Pseudoscolopia polyantha Gilg is a small shrub of coastal lowland forest that occurs along forest margins in colonies. Although mainly confined to the Pondoland Centre, there are outlying populations on the Great Noodsberg and at Porterville in the Western Cape. A remarkable distribution.

Putterlickia retrospinosa Van Wyk & Mostert is a spiny creeper of forest and forest margins. It occurs coastal lowland forest around the KwaZulu-Natal/Eastern Cape border throughout the Pondoland Centre.

Raspalia trigyna (Schltr.) Duemmer, the only species in the family Bruniaceae to occur outside the winter rainfall area, has had a very chequered career in recent times. It is the most rare shrub of the summer rainfall region of South Africa. From 1965 it was known from a single specimen in the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve until that plant died in 1988. That year a survey was conducted to search for other wild plants and resulted in the discovery of a single plant at Magwa Falls. This plant was successfully propagated and five clones were planted in the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve of which four survive and are healthy. Another five clones were handed to the then Transkei Department of Agriculture but recent investigations have failed to reveal their whereabouts. 1n 1995, a further wild specimen was discovered in the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve and efforts are currently under way to cross breed this and the clones - so far unsuccessfully. In 2001, a tiny breeding colony was found in Pondoland; this amazing discovery serves to emphasize the vulnerability due to the minute 40 square metre colony.

Rinorea domatiosa Van Wyk is a small tree that occurs in colonies in lowland coastal forest. It is very closely allied to Rinorea angustifolia (Thouars) Baill. but does not grow together with it.

Rhus acocksii Moffett is a slender spiny creeper of coastal lowland forest margins of the Pondoland Centre.
Rhynchocalyx lawsonioides Oliv. is a small tree of coastal lowland forests which grows in colonies on kranses and along streams. Its range is southern KwaZulu-Natal and northern Eastern Cape.

Syzygium pondoense Engl. is an attractive robust shrub of stream and river banks and beds. It occurs in southern KwaZulu-Natal and south to the Mlambomkulu River in Eastern Cape on sandstone streams close to the coast.

Tephrosia pondoensis (Codd) Schrire is a small slender tree or shrub that occurs in forest margins. Its occurrence is very limited and there are many seemingly identical forest margins where it does not appear.
Tricalysia africana (Sim) Robbrecht a rare small tree of lowland forest near Magwa Falls.
Anthospermum streyi Puff
Aristea platycaulis Bak.
Bulbine sp. nov.
Calopsis paniculata (Rottb.) Desv.
Cassytha pondoensis Engl.
Carissa sp. nov.
Crassula streyi Tölken
Craterostigma sp nov
Delosperma edwardsiae L. Bol.
Delosperma grantiae L. Bol.
Delosperma pallidum L. Bol.
Delosperma stenandrum L. Bol.
Delosperma sp. nov.
Erica abbottii Oliver
Erica sp. nov.
Eriosema umtamvunensis Stirton
Eriosemopsis subanisophylla Robyns
Euryops leiocarpus (DC.) B. Nord.
Helichrysum pannosum DC.
Helichrysum populifolium DC.
Indigofera gogosa ined. Schrire
I. herrstreyi ined. Schrire
I. pondoense ined. Schrire
I. rubroglandulosa Germish.
Ipomoea sp. nov.
Kniphofia drepanophylla Bak.
Lampranthus sp. nov.
Leucadendrom spissifolium (Salisb. Ex Knight) Williams subsp. natalense (Thode & Gilg) Williams
Leucadendron spissifolium (Salisb. ex Knight) Williams subsp. oribinum Williams
Leucospermum innovans Rourke
Lopholaena dregeana DC.
Phylica natalensis Pillans
Plectranthus ernstii Codd
Plectranthus hilliardiae Codd
Plectranthus oertendahlii Th. Fr. Jr.
Plectranthus oribiensis Codd
Polygala esterae Chod.
Psoralea abbottii Stirton
Sencio glanduloso-lanosus Thell.
Senecio medley-woodii Hutch.
Streptocarpus porphyrostachys Hilliard
Streptocarpus primulifolius Gand. subsp formosus Hilliard & Burtt
Streptocarpus trabeculatus Hilliard
Streptocarpus sp. nov. Bellsteadt
Syncolostemon ramulosus E. Mey. Ex Benth.
Tephrosia bachmannii Harms
Turraea streyi F. White & Styles
Watsonia bachmannii L. Bol.
Watsonia mtamvunae Goldb.
Watsonia pondoensis Goldb.
This list clearly shows the need for further research of the biota of the Pondoland Centre.
Alepidea stellata Weim.
Aspalathus gerradii H. Bol.
Aspidoglossum uncinatum (N.E. Br.) Kupicha
Atalaya natalensis R.A. Dyer
Berkheya sp. nov.
Brachystelma australe  R.A. Dyer
Brachystelma kerzneri
Brachystelma tenellum R.A. Dyer
Centella graminifolia Adamson
Chironia albiflora Hilliard
Cineraria sp. nov.
Clutia sp. nov
Crassula obovata  Haw. var. dregeana (Harv.) Tölken
Eriosema latifolium (Benth. Ex Harv.) Stirton
Euphorbia ericoides Lam.
Ficus bizanae Hutch.& Burtt Davy
Gnidia triplinervis Meisn.
Heliophila subulata  Burch. ex  DC. [form]
Hernia hystrix (Hook. f.) N.E. Br. subsp. parvula Leach
Hypoxis beyrichii
Impatiens flanaganii Hemsl.
Kniphofia coddiana Cufod.
Lotonis bachmannii Dümmer
Lotononis holosericea. (E. Mey.) B-E van Wyk
Lotononis viminea (E. Mey.) B-E van Wyk
Memecylon bachmannii Engl.
Monsonia natalensis Knuth
Orbea speciosa Leach
Peperomia rotundifolia (L.) H.B.K.
Peucedanum natalense (Sond.) Engl.
Phyllanthus sp. nov.
Plectranthus praetermissus Codd
Plectranthus reflexus van Jaarsveld & Edwards
Podranea ricassoliana (Tanf.) Sprague
Relhania  pungens  L'Hérit. subsp. angustifolia (DC.) Bremer
Schizoglossum atropurpureum  E. Mey. subsp. virens (E. Mey.) Kupicha
Selago lepidioides Rolphe
Senecio erubescens Ait. var. incisus DC.
Siphonoglossa sp. nov.
Streptocarpus johannis Britten
Streptocarpus modestum Britten
Struthiola pondoensis Gilg.ex C.H. Wright
Tetraria sp. nov.
Utricularia sandersonii Oliv. [rare habitat]
Wahlenbergia sp. nov.
Watsonia inclinata Goldbl. [centred in Pondoland Centre]
Zaluzianskya angustifolia. Hilliard & Burtt

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The Story of the Pondoland Ghostbush (Raspalia trigyna)
Tuesday, 22 May, 2007 - 11:53

THE GHOST OF THE PONDOLAND CENTRE Around the turn of the century, this attractive shrub was mentioned by Thomas R. Sim in the 1900 “Agricultural Journal of the Cape of Good Hope” 16:21-42, 104-114. He states that it was “abundant along streams above the (Magwa) falls”. Later on, he records it in his “Forests and Forest Flora of the Cape Colony” published in 1906. It was only known from the Mzikaba Formation, a sandstone outcropping with which the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism (PC) (Van Wyk 1994) is congruent. This is a very small centre of 18,800 hectares located across the provincial boundary between the Eastern Cape (formerly known as the Transkei) and KwaZulu-Natal and lies along the coastline stretching no more than 15 or so kilometres inland with a maximum altitude of about 400 to 500 metres.

This elusive plant with the scientific name of Raspalia trigyna was named for a Professor of Botany in Paris, F. V. Raspail. It was originally described as Berardia, another genus in the family Bruniaceae. This family is nearly endemic to the Cape confined to the winter rainfall region – but with this one exception in the summer rainfall area. 

It was known earlier from only four collections: Dr. Sutherland, the Surveyor-General of Natal, collected one but gave no locality; another was found at Murchison near Port Shepstone by the renowned curator of Durban Botanic Garden, John Medley Wood; one was found at Mkweni River by William Tyson when teaching in Kokstad and the fourth was that mentioned above, by T. R. Sim. All these records are from the late 1800s or early 1900s. This gave a total distribution of about 80 km. Since that time, it lapsed into obscurity.

In 1962, the well-known amateur botanist and conservationist, Mr. Hugh Nicholson retired to St. Michael’s-on-sea on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. His retirement interests included the creation of an arboretum on the grounds around his home “Skyline” and the exploration of the vegetation of the surrounding area. One of his early Thursday botanical walks took him to the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve (UNR) and there he found, to his surprise, a single unidentifiable plant growing on a stream bank. It was a shrub standing about a metre and half high and covered with a mass of tiny white flowers. This was sent off to Mr. R G Strey at the Natal Herbarium who identified it as the elusive Pondoland ghostbush. It was in good health growing in very moist conditions on the bank of a small stream where fire was unlikely to invade with any force. With its identification, the strange history was revealed and since then, Mr. Nicholson always encouraged his group of enthusiasts to keep watch for another specimen. The mass of tiny white flowers which makes the plant stand out and so easy to spot but when it is not flower it becomes one of those obscure small fine leaved plants which grow along the sandstone streams.

The UNR plant was apparently the sole surviving known specimen of this species and in the ‘80s, it started to fail. It declined from a healthy one and a half metre shrub to a single remaining 30 cm shoot and finally in 1987, it was clear that it was beyond recovery. Dr Hannes de Lange of the Endangered Plant Laboratory at Kirstenbosch came up to collect material to try and propagate but the amount he dared remove from the ailing plant was so tiny that all attempts at propagation had failed. In November 1987 our Umtamvuna plant finally gave up the ghost and the species, so far as was known, was thought to be extinct.

Prof. Braam Van Wyk of the Department of Botany of Pretoria University is the authority on the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism which arose from his research over the years and resulted in the publication of a number of new species. The PC is well known for its suite of endemic woody plants as well as grassland endemics. In July of 1988, Braam had just completed the publication of his Field Guide to the Flowers of Witswatersrand and Pretoria and he was ripe for an excursion. It was clear that we had to undertake a field trip to try and find another plant or plants to perpetuate the species.

A group was made up of interested and knowledgeable people and we set of on this search to the Transkei. This extensive exploration covered the coastal area starting from Mazeppa Bay in the south looking into every stream we came across as we headed north. To everyone’s great pleasure and excitement, our search was eventually successful with discovery of a fine two metre specimen by one of us (Trevor Streever) near Magwa Falls. Nevertheless, it was still only a single specimen. Therefore, in one year it had changed from a KwaZulu-Natal endemic known from a single specimen to and Eastern Cape one. Our floral “rhino” had charged back to life but with an even more tenuous hold on life than the rhino. 

An urgent message was sent to Dr. Hannes de Lange of the Kirstenbosch Endangered Plant Laboratory. He came and collected cuttings from the plant and after much trial and error such as attempts to graft cuttings onto other Cape species of Raspalia, sufficient cuttings took successfully and plants were raised which allowed the establishment of small populations in both the U N R and the Mkambati Game Reserve. Naturally, all these plants were clones of the Magwa plant. The Magwa plant survived for some years before it too faded and died in 1995 leaving us with the belief that the species might well be extinct in the wild.

So matters remained for some years with all of us on the lookout for other plants. At last, on one of Mr. Nicholson’s regular Thursday walks on the Western Heights in August 1995, while the rest of the group relaxed after lunch, one of his apprentices, Jo Arkell, wandered off and returned with a branchlet. This was presented to “Mr. Nic” who, after some consideration, was happy to declare it Raspalia trigyna. This exciting find was located down a stream about 20 metres off the normal path which “Mr. Nic” had walked over the years! Once more Dr de Lange came up from Kirstenbosch to take further cuttings and to assess the possibilities for cross-pollination. He examined the flowers under the microscope and found that them to be self-incompatible but the globe on his microscope blew before checking the cross pollination potential but he felt that the chances of crossing between the new plant and the clones were not good. He cross-pollinated both ways between the two groups of plants but subsequently we never found any seed.

Years went by before another excitement occurred with the discovery of a plant in Mkambati Nature Reserve by manager, Dirk Prinsloo, a plant enthusiast, in May 1999. This small plant was wedged into some rocks in the bed of a stream and its broken look testifies to its struggles to survive the yearly floodwaters. As with all the plants seen, it was in a position where fire would be unlikely to penetrate.

The latest stage of the history of this unusual plant came in May 2001 when Simon Woodley, a keen indigenous plant nurseryman, together with a friend, Matt Williams, found a tiny population south of the Msikaba River. With great excitement, on closer inspection, it proved to be a functioning breeding population. This remarkable discovery seems to underline the vulnerability of the species as the site is a mere 20 metres long by 2 metres up a stream bank. It is on a steep bank facing south west situated at the base of a wetland giving year round cool moist conditions. Many of the plants in the PC which have an affinity with the Cape winter rainfall region survive on these cooler slopes. The population consists of 12 larger plants up to 1.2 metres tall with around a dozen smaller ones but the important point was the presence of a good number of seedlings of different sizes. The preferred habitat for the seedlings is under the overhanging bank is cool shady conditions. The locality of this remarkable colony is not available to the public.

A very small seedling was sent immediately to Braam van Wyk who confirmed that it was definitely a Raspalia trigyna. Seed was collected from the plants and this proved to be fertile. The recovery plan for Raspalia trigyna allows Simon Woodley of Indigiflora Nursery to propagate the plant with the long-term objective of establishing more populations in the wild and making plants available for gardeners. The first seedlings will be planted to create ex-situ breeding colonies to ensure availability of seed stocks as the breeding colony is not protected or conserved in anyway. One will be in the UNR and the other at Mkambati Nature Reserve.

Perhaps, one day you may so lucky as to have a Raspalia trigyna growing in your garden!

Tony Abbott December 2003

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Transkei gladiolus
Friday, 13 April, 2007 - 17:49

Gladioli are popular garden plants that have been cultivated in Europe for more than 250 years and are renowned for their striking, colourful flowers.

Interestingly, these common European garden plants were cultivated from hybrids of wild gladioli native to South Africa.

Gladiolus oppositiflorus, or the Transkei gladiolus, with its large, showy flowers is an important species in the breeding history of a number of Gladiolus hybrids...

Gladiolus oppositiflorus is a representative from the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism (PCE), located in a small area between the Mzimvubu River, near Port St Johns, and the Umtamvuna River, near Port Edward, within the region known as the Transkei Wild Coast. This is an area of great natural beauty, and many rare and unusual species are found here.

Because a high number of species are concentrated in such a small area of only about 180 000 hectares, the Pondoland Centre of Endemism is acknowledged by international conservation organizations such as the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), as one of 235 world-wide centres of plant diversity.

Another international organization, Conservation International, included the Pondoland Centre among only 25 global hot spot sites (see CI hotspots ), in need of special conservation efforts. However, locally, very little is being done to conserve the Pondoland floral riches.

Only a few small nature reserves exist within the area, and although negotiations have been going on for years, no national park to conserve the Pondoland Centre has been established to date.

Meanwhile the Pondoland Centre faces severe threats from dune mineral mining, overgrazing, illegal holiday cottage developments and a proposed toll road connecting Durban and East London which could dissect the most sensitive areas of the Centre containing more than 200 endemic or near-endemic plant species.

Distribution and Habitat 
Gladiolus oppositiflorus is endemic to the summer rainfall regions of the Eastern Cape north of East London to southern KwaZulu-Natal, from the coast to as far inland as the Lesotho border. It is found in rocky areas in open grassland, often among rocks along streams.

See for more information.

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