1 Tahrcountry Musings: Race to Save One of the Rarest Plant Species in the World

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Race to Save One of the Rarest Plant Species in the World

Scientists are working overtime to save one of the rarest plant species in the world. This is the Bastard Gumwood tree (Commidendrum rotundifolium) found on the tiny South Atlantic island of St Helena. The tree is dying.

To keep the Bastard Gumwood in existence, it has to be pollinated so that it will produce a fertile seed which in turn will grow new seedlings. This is not an easy task.

The tree is under netting to prevent insects cross-pollinating with its near neighbour, the False Gumwood. Because there are no other individuals in existence, the tree must self-pollinate, which is not happening.

Every day, botanist Phil Lambdon from Kew Gardens and his team uses small paint brushes to collect pollen grains, which they spread from one flower to another. But pollination is not happening. Scientists are flummoxed by the tree’s refusal to pollinate itself.

According to Dr Lambdon only around 1 in 10,000 pollen grains have the small genetic mutation which will allow self-pollination to take place. Scientists are keeping their fingers crossed. The only way of knowing whether the seeds produced are fertile is to plant them.

The scientists hope that these efforts will be more successful than with the St Helena Olive, which was also only found here, but which went extinct in 2003

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