The Bastard Gumwood (Commidendrum rotundifolium) is endemic to St Helena, a small island in the South Atlantic. This volcanic island has 45 reported endemic plant species, however all of them are rare and threatened and at least 8 are thought to already be extinct. Conservation efforts have been trying to save the Bastard Gumwood from extinction and the future is now looking brighter for this tree species.
By the end of the 19th Century, the Bastard Gumwood was thought to be extinct until an individual tree was rediscovered in 1982 on a remote cliff. This tree was then destroyed by a gale in 1986 and the species was assessed as Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List.
Since this assessment, another single wild individual tree has been discovered, which grows out from a crack in a cliff with a drop of over 50m below it. There is also one remaining mature cultivated individual.
The Bastard Gumwood and the now extinct Helena Ebony Tree (Trochetiopsis melanoxylon) are dryland species. These species once formed dry forests which covered the mid-altitude zone of the island. When the British colonized the island in 1600 these forests were cleared for timber and plantations. Remaining trees were threatened from overgrazing by introduced mammals such as pigs and goats as well as competition from highly invasive plant species.
Conservation projects on the island are working to establish a self sustaining population of the Bastard Gumwood. The tree is enclosed in a cage of netting to prevent cross pollination by insects from its sister species the False Gumwood (Commidendrum spurium).
To produce fertile seeds from which to grow new seedlings the tree must be self pollinated and this must be done by hand. Small paintbrushes are used to collect pollen grains and spread them from one flower to another. However this is made more difficult by the fact the tree has mechanisms in place to prevent self pollination. Only 1 in 10,000 pollen grains have the genetic mutation which will allow self-pollination to occur.
Over the past 4 years almost 500 saplings have successfully been grown, the first of these saplings are now maturing and beginning to flower. These young trees are planted away from other gumwoods and are able to be pollinated naturally by insects. The success in planting new saplings and increasing the number of ex situ individuals as well as the discovery of a mature individual in the wild means the future of the Bastard Gumwood is looking much more hopeful.
Bastard Gumwood tree seedlings will also be planted alongside other dryland species in a protected area to try to restore dry forest communities.