The Last Stand to Save the Bastard Gumwood Tree.


Images from BBC News

Spare a thought for the bastard gumwood tree (commidendrum rotundifolium). It's the last of a dying breed, and one of the rarest plant species in the world. It is grown on the tiny island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic. But not for long, unless botanists succeed in their efforts to pollinate it.

Right now the last one is encased in a cage of netting because it has to pollinate itself. No cross-pollination from related species will do the trick. Botanists from Kew Gardens in England are frantically using little paint brushes to collect pollen grains, which they spread from one flower to another.


The botanist visiting from Kew Gardens who is in charge of the effort said that "Only around 1 in 10,000 pollen grains have the small genetic mutation which will allow self-pollination to take place. It's like a needle in a haystack. The work is painstaking and very slow."

According to the BBC News report, the only way of knowing whether the seeds produced are fertile is to plant them.

As for the bastard part of the name, that's a mystery. It is thought that a botanist visiting in the 1800's was simply recording the name adopted by the locals.

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St. Helena is a very remote island, off the coast of Africa, with a population of only 7,600. It is administered by the UK government and is a neglected outpost of the Empire. There is no airport, it can only be reached by ship, which is how supplies arrive. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there in 1815, until he died in 1821.

Due to its remote location and lack of population, it has 49 species of flora that are found there and nowhere else in the world. It has 13 species of ferns that are unique to the island as well. The natural habitat of the island was destroyed with the arrival of the British in 1600. They cut down all the trees and new non-indigenous species were introduced. Until the 1960's goats grazed unimpeded and managed to eat all the vegetation.

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