Emily is a Conservation Officer at Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), working on the Global Trees Campaign contributing to GlobalTreeSearch, redlisting, ex situ surveys and communications.
GTC, alongside the Island Conservation Society and biodiversity consultant Bruno Senterre, went in search of two Critically Endangered tree species known only from a single island in the Seychelles archipelago, Silhouette.
Silhouette is an island of two ridges, with cliffs, valleys and waterfalls like the one above. It is home to many interesting plant species including the threatened trees Trilepisium gymnandrum and Psychotria silhouettae. Over ten years ago these species were assessed as Critically Endangered; it was time for an update.
Although the island of Silhouette is less than 25 km2, the terrain is difficult, with large ravines and few trails. Many of the survey sites were very far from the nearest comfy bed, so over the two surveys the team spent several nights camping in the forest.
First up, Bosquéa (Trilepisium gymnandrum), a Critically Endangered tree that can grow to be very large. It was only known from five mature trees but the site had not been visited for several years. The team successfully located the five mature individuals and found that 200 juvenile trees were also growing. These juveniles will hopefully grow as large as this mature tree:
Psychotria silhouettae is another Critically Endangered species, with only six known individuals in 2007. Our survey team successfully located three subpopulations of the species, finding 38 adult trees and 19 saplings.
A botanist’s work is never over. The island is home to another Critically Endangered plant species, Seychelles Bizzie Lizzie (Impatiens gordonii). The survey team also looked for populations of this herb and found that only three of the eight subpopulations remain. The Seychelles Bizzie Lizzie also used to be found on other islands in the Seychelles, but now only remains on Silhouette.
Although the island is designated as a National Park, the very small remaining population size of each of these species means that they are at very high risk of extinction due to unforeseen events, such as storms.
As part of the project, the survey team were trained in data collection by Dr. Bruno Senterre. The data were used to create Species Action Plans and red list assessments to make sure the most up to date information about these species can be used by conservationists to ensure these species are not lost forever.
In our new interview series we meet some of the people working on or with the GTC to save the world’s most threatened trees from extinction. Our first interview is with Joachim Gratzfeld, Director of Regional Programmes at BGCI working on GTC projects across the world.
How did you get into tree conservation?
Perhaps the fundamental reason for my interest in nature, species and conservation lies in the wondrous and unique environment I was privileged to grow up in – the Valais, in southern Switzerland. Amidst an orchard of old pear, apple and apricot trees, I would spend hours as a boy on the sides of a stream, observing caddisfly larvae, swift pond skaters and gorgeous native crayfish, while the occasional woodchat shrike would scan the fruit trees’ bark for prey – all indicators of a superb unpolluted environment.
Before long during my childhood, the plant eureka moment came – delivered by the postman – in a magazine on interior design, lifestyle and gardening! Attached to a coffee advertisement was a small envelope containing two unroasted coffee beans and the strapline ‘Grow your own coffee!’ This was in the mid-70s and I had not seen fresh coffee seeds before, growing up in a provincial corner of Switzerland. However, this may have been the chief trigger of my lifelong fondness – not only for coffee – but for botany, identifying and growing plants, and conservation.
Whilst my upbringing greatly paved the way for my decision to study plant sciences, I was always looking for new, botanical challenges. At university, I found it in the green, cellular world of the mosses, researching their union with their host trees. Whilst trees are a key group at the heart of my scientific interest, I cannot help it, botany keeps sparking my curiosity in any type of plant, be it a tiny, ephemeral grass, or an ancient tree.
Joachim visiting our Magnolia omeiensis reinforcement project on Mount Emeishan, Sichuan, China. Credit: Jean-Christophe Vié
How do you contribute to the Global Trees Campaign (GTC)?
I oversee over 20 individual tree conservation initiatives across the world, notably in Southeast Asia and China, the Caucasus and Latin America, assisting our partners to deliver innovative conservation action. I work to expand our project portfolio, envisaging ideas for new conservation partnerships to save trees closest to extinction and mobilising resources to make them become a reality. What makes the GTC inspiring to me is its unique integration of in and ex situ conservation measures, working with a diverse range of partners and local stakeholders, and supporting their capacity to act on their own accord to prevent tree species going extinct.
Which conservation achievement are you most proud of?
Our recent review of our former projects has highlighted the value of the GTC. Ninety percent of our previous partners confirmed that they continued to be involved in conservation efforts related to the target species. As a conservation manager, this has been a very encouraging finding, demonstrating the positive impact of the GTC over the last decade. However, this is not to say that we can rest on our laurels, we are still losing tree species and the scaling-up of conservation efforts remains critically important.
Best story from the field.
The way to one’s heart is through one’s stomach, and working with a range of different cultures has provided manifold opportunities to immerse myself in local customs and food traditions: nibbling boiled sheep cheek, sipping a glass of warm donkey blood, or slurping seahorse soup. At the vegetarian end it is definitely a genuine delight, you get to try so many new flavours, from rubbery lung lichens or crispy Gnetum crackers over to juicy Aralia or Smilax shoots and chili con carne with Bauhinia buds. The list can be extended ad infinitum, without plants, definitely, there would not be any food before long.
Xanthorrhoea australis, a member of Joachim’s favourite tree genus
What is your favourite threatened tree?
Australia’s iconic and endemic grasstrees come to my mind. Very slow growing, on average 1-2 cm a year, the near 30 species in the genus Xanthorrhoea take several hundred years to produce branched trunks. Albeit under firm protection from human exploitation, pests and diseases could easily destroy entire populations with aged specimens and several species are considered threatened. I must admit, I was once the proud owner of a grasstree purchased for a small fortune at a rare-plants-fair in France – all legal – Xanthorrhoea glauca coming with a certificate of origin and an export permit. For a couple of years, my handsome specimen appeared to thrive, till the day when the leaves were gradually going yellow and, ultimately, the entire growth centre came off – my perhaps 100-150 year-old grasstree had gone! It felt and in fact it still does feel, like a bereavement.
What are easy things people can do to support tree conservation?
First and foremost, as is common knowledge, it is about caring for the environment; such as reducing one’s waste, using non-polluting means of transport, buying organically produced food, and so on. If you are privileged and have a garden and the space, and you may consider planting trees, think specifically of native species, adapted to the local climate! However, seek professional horticultural advice, best from your local botanic garden, to identify the right tree species for the right place.
Joachim visiting Acer yangbiense population in Yangbi, Yunnan, China. Credit: Jean-Christophe Vié
The final question – which tree product could you not live without?
A quintessential tree product in my life: the apricot without a doubt! My place of birth, the Valais, is a traditional producer of apricots. However, the region almost lost one of its best local varieties, the ‘Luizet’, the epitome of the apricot taste, when agricultural intensification in the early 80s made many local fruit tree varieties give way to economically more profitable and viable cultivars. Luckily, at the eleventh hour, Apricot conservationists realised the urgency and began to collect germplasm from farmers and other land owners, promoting again the propagation and cultivation of this succulent variety of apricot. Hopefully, one day, it will celebrate a full comeback. Meanwhile, in our old orchard, trees of Luizet continue to thrive, established by my father nearly half a century ago with grafts from an unusually large mother tree now long gone – that is conservation in action!
The Global Trees Campaign can now tell us! BGCI has been working for over two years, consulting over 500 published sources and liaising with experts all over the world to find the answer – 60,065 tree species. ‘GlobalTreeSearch’ is the first list of its kind, documenting all of the world’s known tree species and their country level distributions.
It may surprise you to learn that before today we didn’t know how many tree species there were in the world. A new paper ‘GlobalTreeSearch- the first complete global database of tree species and country distributions’, published today in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, highlights the fact that more than half of all tree species only occur in a single country. Of all the countries in the world, Brazil has the most tree species, with 8,715 species, followed by Colombia (5,776) and then Indonesia (5,142). Apart from the Arctic and the Antarctic (which have no trees whatsoever), the region with the fewest tree species is the Nearctic region of North America, with fewer than 1,400 species.
Kibale National Park
The database comprises of over 375,500 records, which took over two years to compile. Dr Paul Smith, BGCI’s Secretary General, explains “Although it seems extraordinary that it has taken us until 2017 to publish the first global, authoritative list of tree species, it is worth remembering that GlobalTreeSearch represents a huge scientific effort encompassing the discovery, collection and describing of tens of thousands of plant species. This is ‘big science’ involving the work of thousands of botanists over a period of centuries.”
BGCI’s main reason for undertaking the challenge of documenting the world’s tree diversity was to provide a tool for people trying to conserve rare and threatened tree species. GlobalTreeSearch will form the backbone of the Global Tree Assessment, an initiative to assess the conservation status of all the world’s tree species by 2020. This will allow the prioritisation of the tree species that are most in need of conservation action so we can ensure that no tree species is lost forever.
To find out more about the world’s 60,065 tree species, GlobalTreeSearch is now available on BGCI’s website. The scientific paper is available here.
A team of botanists from three continents set out in search of Karomia gigas, a Critically Endangered tree with fewer than 20 remaining individuals estimated to be surviving in the wild. Emily Beech describes the trials and tribulations in the search for the seed.
In October 2016, GTC led a survey trip to look for Karomia gigas, a tree now found only in southeast Tanzania.
An expert team, including representatives from Missouri Botanical Garden, the Tanzania Forest Service, the Tanzania Tree Seed Agency and Tanzania Coastal Forest Botanic Garden
History of the tree
Karomia gigas was previously known from a single individual tree in Kenya, which was cut down in the late 1970’s. Another individual was then identified in Tanzania in 1993, but when this specimen could no longer be found, it was feared that the species had become extinct.
However in 2012, a previously unknown population was discovered in Tanzania by botanists from the University of Dar es Salaam, 28 km away from the site of the 1993 specimen. Therefore, although not extinct, Karomia gigas is still only known from fewer than 20 trees and clearly required urgent action to increase the population.
A rocky start
As with many a botanising trips, the expedition got off to a rocky start. The known trees are located several kilometres from the main road, along a difficult, dusty, weaving track through Miombo woodland. The first day was sadly cut short when one of our vehicles got stuck in deep ruts in the track and with rumours that there were leopards in the area, we were pleased to get the vehicle moving again just before sunset.
If at first you don’t succeed…
The group returned to the forest early the next morning, navigating carefully along the same track, reaching as far as the car could go without getting stuck again. We had enlisted the help of Mr. Salim Jangwa, a member of the nearest village, whose knowledge of the forest was invaluable to help us locate the trees we were looking for. He led us for over an hour on foot winding through dry, hot, coastal forest. After months of drought, the forest was almost silent, with few signs of wildlife, birds or insects. The dominant vegetation was small, leafless trees, with the odd flash of colour from the bright red native Hibiscus and coral red Erythrina flowers through the open forest.
And then at last, we spotted our first Karomia tree. Towering over the other vegetation in the forest, the tree rose straight upwards from the forest floor with a patchy grey/yellow bark. We found six individual trees of Karomia gigas, all with similar impressive trunks. Herbarium specimens collected in the past at the same time of year as our survey, had suggested the trees would have seed available at the time of the trip. Although we did find seed, the seeds were not fresh and therefore unlikely to be viable. There were no signs of natural regeneration. A sample of seeds was however taken to the Tanzania Tree Seed Agency (TTSA) for viability testing.
During our mission we appointed Mr. Jangwa as a tree surveyor. He will monitor the trees twice a month to report when flowers and seed are present. GTC has managed to raise further funds for a seed collecting trip, so when we are informed that fresh seed is available, a trained team can go out to collect these rare and valuable seeds. Funding has also been secured to survey the only other known population of Karomia gigas, which is estimated to consist of nine trees. The survey will take place alongside seed collection at the first site in the hope that seed will also be available for collection from the second population.
The aim of the seed collection is to establish a genetically representative seed collection at TTSA and coastal botanic gardens in Tanzania. A local propagation programme will be initiated to enable restoration at the current site. These efforts represent hope for the future of this Critically Endangered tree which, with no current formal protection in place despite high deforestation rates in the region, is at great risk of being lost forever.
The expedition was funded by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
A version of this article previously featured in BGCI’s BG journal, published in January 2017
GTC doesn’t just do practical tree conservation; before we can start protecting, or encouraging our partners to do so, we need to find out which trees need our help. To that end, the whitebeam (Sorbus) experts of Europe recently convened in Zagreb, Croatia to review draft red list assessments produced by the GTC. Over 190 assessments were agreed upon over the four-day workshop.
Sorbus experts discuss some herbarium specimens in a variety of languages. Credit: Malin Rivers/BGCI
The task at hand
When confronted with the task of red listing the trees and shrubs of Europe, we were unsure where to start. So following the expression ‘bigger is better’, we started with one of the largest groups on our list of European trees: the Sorbus genus. Part of the Rosaceae family, Sorbus in English are commonly known as whitebeams, rowans or service trees. It is a genus of deciduous trees and shrubs found across the temperate regions of the world.
After delving into the taxonomy of the Sorbus genus in Europe, it was clear that there were far more species than we first anticipated. Our final list grew and grew until we had 190 species to assess – and all in just 2 months.
Before the workshop, GTC drafted red list assessments for every species. To do this, we assembled information from scientific literature, floras and books to find information on the distribution, population size, trends and threats to these species. Using all of this information, we made preliminary conservation assessments of all the European Sorbus species. This method of categorising allows conservationists to prioritise species most in need of conservation action.
Four nights in Zagreb
In early June, eight Sorbus experts from across Europe gathered in Zagreb, Croatia for an intense four day workshop to review of all 190 draft assessments. These experts spend much of their time in the field, often finding and describing new species of Sorbus and know everything there is to know about these species. Their collective brains contain the most up to date information on Sorbus population numbers and local threats, so they are the best-placed people to determine the current state of each species and their distributions.
Not only did the workshop allow us to make sure we had the most accurate information for our red list assessments, many of these experts had collaborated over email on the very papers we had used to compile our red list assessments but they had never met face to face. So this was a great opportunity for the group to network and discuss the most pressing issues facing their genus.
Wild Sorbus aria (Least Concern), found in the hills above Zagreb, Croatia. Credit: Emily Beech/BGCI
Four days of Sorbus talk ended with 190 complete Sorbus red list conservation assessments, covering the entire European region. The complete red list assessments for European Sorbus species will be available on our website in early 2017 – so watch this space.
To celebrate, we headed into the hills above Zagreb in search of wild Sorbus. We were not disappointed. We found several Sorbus aria trees (one of Europe’s more widespread species) as well as many other interesting European plant species.
Where do we go from here?
After weeks of immersion in the world of Sorbus, the workshop was over. However for conservationists working on threatened Sorbus species, this is just the start.
Once we have identified the threatened species, conservation action planning comes into play. This may be at the government level, influencing policy, or at the local level, informing the choices that are made on the ground to improve the conservation status of a species and protect it from extinction.
Our workshop identified that almost 75% of European Sorbus are threatened with extinction. This high number of threatened species most likely reflects a change across Europe in farming and woodland practices. Previously woods would have been coppiced and grazed, creating gaps in the canopy for light-loving Sorbus. As these practices are slowly being abandoned throughout the continent and forests are left to regenerate, Sorbus species are confined to the woodland edges or rocky outcrops where other species cannot grow.
Not everybody considers Sorbus species as a high priority for conservation action because they can evolve quickly and readily form new species. However, conservation action for Sorbus – involving creating space in the canopy by selectively removing commoner species – can be achieved on a relatively low budget giving Sorbus the chance to flourish in tandem with forest regeneration.
Moreover, if the revival of such management can be targeted to priority sites – e.g. areas containing range restricted Sorbus – it could also serve to bring the rarest and most threatened Sorbus back from the brink of extinction. The hope is these assessments will inspire both national policy makers and local conservation practitioners to take action to keep the amazing Sorbus diversity alive and well.
Now to red list the other trees and shrubs of Europe. The GTC team will next dedicate our time to red listing a further 300 unevaluated trees and shrubs of Europe to identify which other trees are in need of conservation action.
Red List assessments and distribution maps for European Sorbus species are currently being finalised and will be available on the IUCN Red List website in early 2017, and the resulting publication ‘European Red List of the trees and shrubs of Europe’ will be published later that year.
This work is part of IUCN’s EU LIFE project, for which GTC is assessing the trees and shrubs of the pan European region. The project is also funding the red listing of a number of other groups including saproxylic beetles, molluscs, mosses and ferns, all contributing to the European Red List.
This work contributes directly to the ‘Global Tree Assessment’, an initiative run by BGCI and the IUCN/SCC Global Trees Specialist Group to assess all the world’s trees by 2020.
For more information about GTC’s contribution to red listing efforts, click here.
Sorbus experts of Europe gather in Zagreb to agree on European Red List assessments. Credit: Per Salvesen
Last summer, five UK dendrologists embarked on a three-week expedition to the Pacific north-west coast of the USA, travelling 4000 miles, securing seed for tree species’ futures.
Representatives from GTC partners the Forestry Commission’s Bedgebury National Pinetum and Oxford University Botanic Gardens Harcourt Arboretum, along with the Forestry Commission’s Westonbirt National Arboretum, visited three states (Washington State, Oregon and California) last summer in search of seeds from highly threatened trees to incorporate into ex situ collections both in the US and back in the UK.
The team saw forest ravaged by wildfires, the effects of which had been exacerbated by extensive drought. They drove through an area of 300,000 hectares of devastated forest that has yet to regenerate. Climate change is likely to intensify this threat and increase the risk of extinction of all the species in the region. Trees like the White Bark Pine (Pinus albicaulis EN) are threatened not only by wildfires but also by pests and diseases. Increases in temperature provide conditions for increased pest outbreaks. Models suggest that in 70 years’ time, with continued warming, the White Bark Pine could be reduced to just 3% of its current distribution.
Post wildfire. Credit: Luke Wallace/Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum
A tall task
With this in mind, there was a lot of work to be done! Four thousand miles were travelled across the West Coast to collect seeds from nearly 90 different trees and shrubs including conifers, oaks, dogwoods, maples and walnuts. Various threatened tree seeds were collected including Sequoia sempervirens (EN), Pinus albicaulis (EN) and Juglans californica (VU), some of which involved some impressive climbing skills to reach seeds highest in the canopy.
Climbing to giddy heights for tree conservation. Credit: Luke Wallace/Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum
The night time offered no respite from the intense work regime. Seeds needed to be removed from cones, cleaned, dried and securely stored following collection to ensure they arrived in the UK in top condition, and free from pests and disease. This was done every night in various campsites and hotel rooms along the way.
On their journey, the team encountered some of the world’s threatened trees, as well as the tallest (coast redwoods) and the oldest (bristlecone pines), all in their natural environments, which provided invaluable insight into how to grow and conserve them. Meticulous records were taken of the trees’ habitat including exact locations, aspect, soil type and condition of the habitat which may be useful in the future for restoration programmes.
The bristlecone pine, one of the oldest trees on Earth. Credit Luke Wallace/Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum
Securing species’ futures
As the aftermath of recent fires demonstrated at the outset of the journey, seed collecting trips such as these are vital to protect the world’s most threatened trees. As well as adding to UK living collections, collections were made for the Millennium Seed Bank. These seed collections preserve seeds over the long-term; a sort of ‘insurance’ policy which can be used to restore populations in the future. Safeguarding these species in ex situ collections may prove important in the future with increasing threats to the wild populations from climate change, deforestation and drought.
Although not all the seeds collected on this trip came from threatened species, circumstances can change quickly and with added climate pressures, it is sensible to have back-ups in the form of ex situ collections. The seeds collected on this trip are already back in the UK where they are now starting to germinate, providing a lifeline for some of the world’s most threatened tree species.
The trip has also contributed to a new outdoor photography trail at Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest from 24 March until September 2016. The trail highlights their internationally important contribution to conserving rare and endangered conifers whilst showcasing the importance of the US seed collection trip through a series of large scale photographs. To find out more about this exhibition, please see Bedgebury’s website or Facebook page.
It is hoped that the team can build on the success of this expedition and plan further fieldwork with the US Forest Service.
The expedition team want to express their thanks to the US Forestry Service Geneticist, Andrew Bower and Matt Lobdell, Curator at The Morton Arboretum, who assisted the team for the first two weeks of their trip, providing some excellent on-the-ground knowledge to speed up the collection process. In Southern California, the team worked with Evan Meyer, seed conservation program manager at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.
The Forestry Commission’s Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest and Oxford University Botanic Gardens Harcourt Arboretum are Global Trees Campaign project partners.
It is that time of the year again! Once again we celebrate some of the world’s most threatened trees as described by those who love them. This year we have asked project partners as well as Global Tree Specialist Group (GTSG) members to pick their #OneTreeLove.
Follow your heart
Daudet Andriafidison, Biologist, Conservation & Community Manager Madagasikara Voakajy, Madagascar
I love fruit bats, and fruit bats love baobabs – especially feeding on their flower. Hence, I too love baobabs. With their strange and gigantic forms, I like all six species of baobab in Madagascar. My favourites are the two species pollinated by the two fruit bat species, Grandidier’s baobab and Diego’s baobab. Baobabs have very long lives; a tree in southern Madagascar is estimated to be over 1,000 years old. They survive in difficult environments in the west and north of Madagascar; enduring rain, heat, and fire. In western Madagascar, baobabs are also called ‘Renala’, which means mother of the forest. I am convinced they really do play this maternal role, not only for the forest but also for people, as they provide refreshing and nutritious fruits, their leaves and bark can be used in medicine and the poorest people rely on bark for building their houses. The different forms of exploitation of the baobab trees might not be sustainable in the long term, nonetheless, these trees are striving to survive within their environment. One of my fondest memories of working in western Madagascar was watching the sunset over the world-famous Baobab Avenue.
The bat-pollinated Grandidier’s baobab. Credit: Daudet Andriafidison/Madagasikara Voakajy.
Lucas Moraes, GTSG member and part of the Red Listing Team of the Brazilian Centre for Flora Conservation.
During my time working in the Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden, I became aware of a very sad story about a tree whose living individuals were solely known from a few specimens within the botanic garden. The species, commonly known as “Guarajuba”, was considered to be extinct in the wild because of intense harvesting (its wood has superb quality) and was last known from a collection dating back to 1942. That is, until we received information that, possibly, there still were a few individuals in the wild! As soon as we heard, we headed to the region. After talking with some locals, we discovered a huge flowering individual in the garden of an elderly man, a moment that showed that not all hope is lost for this beautiful species. That is, currently, the only mature individual of the species known occurring in the wild.
The only mature individual left in the wild? Credit: Lucas Moraes.
One tree among the forest
Pablo Hoffman, Executive Director, Sociedade Chauá.
I can’t say that it was an easy task to choose, among so many beautiful trees within the Araucária Forest in the south of Brazil, but yes I have my favourite: Ocotea odorifera, the Sassafrás. When I get into the forest, I can almost feel this beautiful tree far away, even surrounded by the 350 tree species of this region. The deep green leaves are beautifully spiralled, providing a refreshing shadow below the trees. The leaves, bark and wood contain high quantities of safrole, which smells very good and makes the experience of seeing a Sassafrás even more enjoyable. Finding a Sassafrás is always a good sign, a tree like this only grows in very well conserved forest fragments. It is also very good to know that when you find one individual, then you probably will find many of them in the surroundings – the Sassafrás occurs naturally in groups. As always, the overexploitation for timber and biomass was a critical issue in leading the species to become Vulnerable. Today all the greatness of Sassafrás is quickly disappearing. Soon it will be an endless unrequited love for something that doesn’t exist anymore. Read how we are working to save this species.
The sumptuous Sassafrás. Credit: Pablo Hoffman/Sociedade Chauá
Ben Jones, Curator, University of Oxford Harcourt Arboretum
Although I had seen Hagenia abyssinica (Kosso) planted in various collections or hotel gardens across Ethiopia, it wasn’t until I saw this magnificent tree in its natural range that I could truly appreciate it. Traveling through the Bale mountains, we drove across the Sanetti plateau and down into Harena Forest. This forest is a magical place and the Afromontane Juniper-Hagenia forests of the Bale Mountains represent a forest type unique to Ethiopia. Endemic species of fauna are also associated with this forest type, including the endangered Mountain Nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni) and many bird species, highlighting the value of this ecosystem for biodiversity conservation. On my first visit, the clouds were very low, and as we descended into the forest, this magnificent tree started to emerge. Huge panicles of pinkish-red flowers graced its canopy and the compound leaves themselves in almost equal measure of 60cm or more. Not for the fainthearted, the leaves from Kosso are used in a local spirit called Araqé, which certainly provides a warm glow on those cool nights in the mountains!
The colourful Kosso. Credit: Kirsty Shaw/BGCI
What is your #OneTreeLove? Share your memories with us on our Twitter page (@globaltrees). If you need some help deciding, take our quiz to be paired with your #OneTreeLove.
To find out more about our projects to save threatened trees, visit the GTC project pages here.
At this time of year people all over the world bring Christmas trees into their homes to welcome in the festive spirit. But did you know that 34% of conifers are at risk of becoming extinct in their natural environment due to things such as habitat loss?
Over the next 12 days, the Global Trees Campaign, supported by the Forestry Commission’s Bedgebury National Pinetum, will showcase a conifer a day to highlight some of the collaborative global conservation efforts that are being made to protect some of the world’s most threatened conifers this Christmas. #12TreesXmas
The most common trees in our living rooms are the Norway Spruce (Picea abies), Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) and the Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmanniana) which are not threatened with extinction, but many of their wild relatives are.
Worldwide, there are over 200 species of conifer that are threatened with extinction in the wild. Many of them (81%) can be found in botanic gardens and arboreta (collectively known as ex situ collections), giving them some added protection against immediate extinction in the wild. We will be highlighting the important conservation work of the Global Trees Campaign, and organisations such as Bedgebury National Pinetum and the Forestry Commission in protecting some of these increasingly rare and endangered trees from extinction.
Collecting Picea omorika in Bosnia. Credit: Tom Christian/RBGE
Conifers are the oldest living trees on earth, appearing in the fossil records as far back as 300 million years ago so we don’t want to lose them now. So, spare a thought for the threatened ‘Christmas trees’ this festive season.
Head over to Twitter and follow the #12TreesXmas hashtag so you don’t miss a story.
which conifer’s seeds have their own winter festival?
which conifer’s leaves change shape when it reaches 100 years old?
which conifer is the White House’s favourite choice of Christmas tree?
The world/s oldest tree is a conifer – Pinus longaeva. Credit: Dan Luscombe/Bedgebury National Pinetum
Seeds of Vietnamese golden cypress plants have been successfully grown for the first time at Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, providing hope for the dwindling population in the mountains of northern Vietnam.
For the first time ever, plants of the Endangered Vietnamese golden cypress have been successfully grown from seeds, at Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, managed by Forestry Commission England. All the current ex situ collections worldwide have been grown from cuttings of trees in the wild, making them clones. These seed raised plants hold more genetic diversity, something which is key to the recovery of species with dwindling populations. It is hoped these plants can be transported back to Vietnam within the next two years and used to directly increase the wild population.
The Vietnamese golden cypress or Xanthocyparis vietnamensis is the most recently discovered conifer, found in low numbers in northern Vietnam in 1999. The tree is found in severely fragmented populations in the wild and is confined to the top of mountain ridges, making it susceptible to climate change. It is thought this species was originally more widespread, with selective timber extraction the biggest cause of its decline. Additional surveys in China in 2014, supported by the Global Trees Campaign, found 17 new individuals of this species: 15 adult trees and 2 seedlings. This indicates that the trees are capable of regeneration in the wild. This discovery brings the total number of known trees in China to 18. In addition to this, a
Additional surveys in China in 2014, supported by the Global Trees Campaign, found 17 new individuals of this species: 15 adult trees and 2 seedlings. This indicates that the trees are capable of regeneration in the wild. This discovery brings the total number of known trees in China to 18. In addition to this, a GTC survey found 15 mature trees in Vietnam, 70km away from the original population of between 500 and 1000 individuals. Despite finding these individuals, the population remains critically low and requires further support from ex situ collections.
The successful propagation of this species from seed has been a long time in the making. It was back in 2008 when members of Bedgebury National Pinetum were invited by the Global Trees Campaign to visit a nursery in northern Vietnam, with the idea of collaborating on the GTC project, which was looking to work with experts in conifer propagation.
Bedgebury Pinetum’s Dan Luscombe explained how the project unravelled. After visiting the nursery in Vietnam, the Vietnamese partners had the difficult job of collecting seeds from tree in the wild before sending them to the UK.
X-ray of Xanthocyparis vietnamensis seed Credit: Dan Luscombe
One of the biggest challenges faced by the team at Bedgebury was how little material was available to work with. As populations are so low, only a small number of seeds could be collected and of these, x-rays showed the seed quality was fairly poor with low viability, making it essential that no seed was wasted. With this tall order, the staff at Bedgebury began propagation trials for these seeds to find out which soils, pots, humidity and water regimes best suited these trees.
The seeds germinated late in the year which is unusual for conifers, and with the fear that the seedlings would not survive the winter, they were transferred to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Wakehurst to over winter in their glasshouses under grow lights. When they made it back to Bedgebury, growing them on in the nursery proved relatively straightforward and survival rates were high.
This May the seedlings were finally big enough to be planted out in the pinetum at Bedgebury. Somewhat surprisingly these trees have so far had no problems with the temperatures of England, despite being a little chillier than its native Vietnam. Dan notes that sensors in the Pinetum have recorded temperatures as low as -15°C, however, the cutting raised trees already planted out here have survived unharmed, suggesting the seed raised plants will also survive this winter.
Vietnamese golden cypress (Xanthocyparis vietnamensis) seedlings. Credit: Dan Luscombe
Dan highlighted the importance of sharing best practice for seed storage and propagation of these threatened species. Without the sharing of expertise and plant materials, projects such as this one are unable to get off the ground. The results of the propagation trials will be shared with the Vietnamese partners with the hope that more extensive propagation can begin in
The results of the propagation trials will be shared with the Vietnamese partners with the hope that more extensive propagation can begin in country. Because of the difficult nature of propagating threatened tree species, Dan stressed the importance of botanic gardens like Bedgebury building and maintaining close links with seed banks, making sure these species are protected in case they are lost in their natural environments.
With plans to transport the plants back to Vietnam there is hope for this species. Whether they are planted within the tree’s current range or in the nearby ex situ planting site, they will hopefully, in conjunction with ongoing work to protect its natural habitat, contribute to getting Vietnamese golden cypress ‘out of the woods’ and lower its risk of extinction.
Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest in the High Weald of Kent is home to the National Conifer Collection, and is recognised as one of the most complete collections of conifers on one site anywhere in the world, containing over 12,000 tree specimens growing across 320 acres including rare, endangered and historically important specimens. The Pinetum contains some 91 vulnerable or critically endangered species and five NCCPG National Collections (yew, juniper, thuja, Lawson cypress and Leyland cypress) as well as some of the oldest and largest examples of conifers in Britain.
This weekend millions of Christians worldwide will be celebrating Palm Sunday and using thousands of palm leaves in the process.
“Palm Tree in the Sun” by Wildcat Dunny – Flickr: Palm Tree. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
But what is a palm?
Palms are genetically more closely related to grasses than an oak tree.
Palms are a group of plants with around 2585 species found across the world.
Palms can be classified in both the Arecaceae and Palmae families interchangeably.
The only continent that doesn’t have any palms is Antarctica.
What is the state of the world’s palms?
20% of the world’s palms are currently listed on the IUCN Red List with 106 assessed as Critically Endangered and 96 Endangered.
82% of Madagascar’s endemic palms are considered threatened by the IUCN.
Among the threats to these palms: habitat destruction, overexploitation and fire.
Euterpe precatoria. Dr. William J. Baker, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew/Palmweb
What are palms used for?
50 million tons of palm oil is produced every year. Palm oil is found in lipstick, shampoo and foods such as margarine and ice-cream. Often tropical forest is cleared to make way for oil palm plantations.
Palms are the source of many commercial products such as building materials, wine, oils and waxes as well as foods such as dates and coconuts.
Palms are often grown ornamentally worldwide, although they can be very expensive to buy. In the US there have even been problems with ‘palm rustling’, people stealing palm trees worth $20,000 each from the side of the road (read more here)
Palm leaves symbolise victory in Christianity and palms were used by the Romans to reward the winners of games and those that returned from war.
Some of our favourite threatened palms
The loneliest palm
One of the world’s most threatened palms is Hyophorbe amaricaulis. Only one individual survives in the Curepipe Botanic Gardens on Mauritius where it has lived for over 50 years. It fruits and flowers every year but it never produces viable seeds as its male and female flowers open out of sync.
The tallest palm
The Quindío wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense) is a Critically Endangered endemic palm of Colombia. Every year thousands of its leaves were used as part of the Palm Sunday celebrations. A ban was introduced to prevent this overexploitation of the tree and protect the species from extinction.
Edit: Updated on 28/03/2015. Arecaceae and Palmae family names can be used interchangeably. Palms are genetically closely related to grasses, however they are not classified as giant grasses as suggested by some sources.
Whilst looking through a new account of Sapotaceae for the Flora of Thailand I came across the mysterious Madhuca klackenbergii. What first drew my attention to it was that it had been collected in 1966 from North Eastern Thailand but was only described as a new species in 1998.
During a visit to the area in 2014 with researchers from the forest herbarium Bangkok (BKF) we spent a day looking for this species across the original collection locality and surrounding areas but reluctantly came to the conclusion that it had probably become extinct due to land use changes. From the dried herbarium specimen the species looks quite unremarkable- but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I for one would have loved to have seen the living tree in flower and fruit. Unfortunately it now looks likely that no one will ever have the chance to see, smell or study its beauty ever again!
I love ebonies but there is one in particular which springs to mind! Seeing the only confirmed individual of Diospyros hemiteles was rather emotional, especially considering that the species was named “hemiteles”, or “half fulfilled”. This is because there were originally two trees known at the type locality of Cabinet in Mauritius, but the male individual died in 1954. This left a very lonely female individual that still survives today, the large tree with the dark bark behind the leaves in the photograph above. The female tree has been without its mate for 60 years now. How’s that for a Valentine’s day story of lost love!
Although the above stories highlight the sad fate of many species, it is not all doom and gloom for the threatened trees of the world. The Global Trees Campaign is working with our partners around the world to prevent the extinction of the world’s rarest trees with great success as can be seen below.
Sara Oldfield, Co-chair of the IUCN/SSC Global Tree Specialist Group
One of my favourite trees is the Mpingo or African blackwood, Dalbergia melanoxylon. Probably not renowned for its beauty, this valuable tree species produces exquisite timber used in fine carvings and musical instrument manufacture. Over the past 15 years and with support from Comic Relief and other generous donors, extraordinary efforts have been made to ensure that supplies of the timber are managed sustainably for the benefit of local people in Tanzania and the future of the species. With the help of Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative, a partner of GTC, many communities can now receive 250 times more money for their forest resources whilst managing them responsibly. You can read more at www.mpingoconservation.org and see a full profile here. What’s not to love about a story with a happy ending.
What is your #OneTreeLove? For some inspiration, see our threatened tree profiles here and share your thoughts with us in the comments and on Twitter @globaltrees.
To find out more about our projects to save threatened trees, visit the GTC project pages here.
The ArbNet website has recently been updated, making it easier to use and expanding the resources available to support the common purposes and interests of tree-focused public gardens.
The ArbNet website has been organised into new sections, allowing for quicker navigation to find the information you are looking for. ArbNet can now be used in many languages with a translation tool built into the website, facilitating its use worldwide. It is now possible to search a list of 800+ arboreta using categories such as country or accreditation level.
The Resources section has been expanded to include many more useful links and documents. The ArbNet accreditation information is now arranged in levels, making it straightforward to find specific resources to help in the accreditation process. Accredited arboreta can be identified through the Morton Register of arboreta.
ArbNet is an online resource, which facilitates the sharing of knowledge, resources and expertise between arboreta and encourages cross institutional collaborations, contributing to tree conservation worldwide. To visit the new ArbNet website, click here.