Rathu Mihiriya

Polyspora gardneri

Family: Theaceae

Natural Range: Sri Lanka

IUCN Conservation Status

Critically Endangered (CR)

Polyspora gardneri is a Critically Endangered species of Theaceae, previously known as Gordonia speciosa. This species is at high risk of extinction, being found in just one location which holds fewer than one hundred individual trees. This species used to be common in forests above Ramboda, Sri Lanka but has undergone severe population declines. It is predicted that continued hazards put the species at risk of a further decline of 25% which would leave only 75 trees in the wild! This species is restricted to Sri Lankan mountain tops at altitudes exceeding 1,270 m asl.

The greatest threat to the species is habitat loss. Much of P. gardneri’s native habitat has been cleared to make room for tea plantations and now the remaining forest fragments are becoming encroached by unplanned urbanisation and tourist influx. Tourists pose a two-fold threat to the habitat; their numbers disturb the natural environment and their occurrence has also caused tourist resorts to be developed. Although these accommodate the new flow of visitors it further restricts the space for this beautiful, endemic species.

Polyspora gardneri . Photo Credit- A. Gunathilake

Polyspora gardneri . Photo Credit- A. Gunathilake

The Peak Wilderness area above the Moray Estate is a proposed ‘Gene Sanctury’ for the species but lacks protective area status. Luckily the species is under propagation and held in ex situ collections at the Halgolla Estate in Sabaragamuwa.

Unfortunately, P. gardneri is not the only threatened endemic Theaceae species in Sri Lanka. Three other Polyspora species (P. ceylanica, P. dassanayakei and P. elliptica) are also at risk due to historical habitat decline which has left the species with small populations and restricted ranges. These species also experience an additional threat from climate change which is causing temperatures of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka to rise and is predicted to have drastic consequences on the Polyspora populations here (Gunathilake 2015). Read The Red List of Theaceae to find out more about these species.

References:

Gunathilake, L.A.A.H. 2015. Evolution of Polyspora (= Gordonia; Theaceae) in Sri Lanka. University of Miami.

Did you know?

Over 1,100 trees are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List – likely to go extinct unless urgent action is taken now to save them