Using Christmas to save Saint Lucia’s pencil cedars

Conservation Problem

Deforestation has eradicated the pencil cedar from Saint Lucia’s lowlands

Project goal

Restore the pencil cedar to Saint Lucia’s lowland forest, supported by a national scheme to grow the cedars as Christmas trees

 

Why this species?

Rising imperiously from the Caribbean Sea, Saint Lucia’s volcanic rock forms three iconic peaks rich in tropical forest. One of these peaks, Petit Piton (Saint Lucia’s smallest mountain), is home to the last remaining population in the world of the Critically Endangered pencil cedar (Juniperus barbadensis var. barbadensis).

Intensive deforestation of Saint Lucia’s lowlands, where this species used to occur in vast numbers, has decimated pencil cedar to only 63 individuals. Fifty of the 63 are growing in precarious, inaccessible locations on the cliffs.

In parallel to this environmental concern, Saint Lucia Forest Department has struggled to meet the island’s Christmas tree demand for several years. As such, they have resorted to using two alien species: an Acacia  and Cyprus lusitanica. However, these species are unsuited for heavy rainfall and are therefore susceptible to fungal infections. In contrast, the native pencil cedar is a relatively fast growing conifer that has strong potential to be grown as a Christmas tree to eventually replace the use of these exotic species.

The pencil cedar has been subject to very little conservation action to date, but with a little help this species could be returned to the island’s lowland forest and furthermore be used to develop a local, sustainable market for its cultivation.

Petite Piton at dawn. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

What are we doing about it?

Working with Saint Lucia Forest Department we aim to reintroduce the pencil cedar to Saint Lucia’s lowlands, thereby safeguarding the species from extinction. Our work to develop a sustainable cultivation of pencil cedars as Christmas trees will also expose the Saint Lucia community to simple, effective conservation measures while engaging their efforts and interest in the local tree species. The planting and selling of pencil cedars also has the potential to generate long-term financing for the Saint Lucia Forest Department to continue restoration and conservation efforts. To achieve this we are taking the following steps:

  1. Recruiting trained climbers to collect seeds from the 50 inaccessible pencil cedars. In order to preserve high genetic diversity, seeds need to be collected from as many remaining pencil cedars as possible. This diversity of seeds will join ongoing propagation trials.
  2. Establishing a genetically representative diversity of pencil cedars in Saint Lucia’s lowland forest.
  3. Generating public support for pencil cedar conservation through community involvement in restoring this species to the lowlands.
  4. Growing pencil cedars locally as Christmas trees. Following the festive period, Saint Lucia locals will be helped to plant the pencil cedars in their gardens and public areas to encourage recolonisation of the lowlands where this species is more secure.

Wild Pencil cedar fruits. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

Key achievements

Although our work on this species has only recently begun, we are already taking crucial steps towards our project goal.

For example, initial surveys of Saint Lucia identified the existence and location of the 63 remaining pencil cedars. As such, it has been possible to collect seeds from these trees for propagation trials.

Led by the Saint Lucia Forest Department, the propagation trials are underway in the Department’s nursery. They are helping us to understand the conditions that pencil cedar seeds require to germinate and grow successfully.

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact globaltrees@fauna-flora.org

Did you know?

Trees from the Dipterocarp family are the dominant species in Southeast Asia’s rainforests.  In some cases, they comprise up to 90% of the canopy layer.