Conserving three endemic trees on Cape Verde’s “Island of Flowers”

Conservation Problem
With no official protection in place, Cape Verde’s phoenix palm, iron tree and a sub-species of dragon tree are exploited and face additional pressure from grazing goats and invasive species.

Project goal
Survival and recovery of three threatened endemic tree species on Brava Island, contributing to the rehabilitation of the island’s unique ecosystems.

Why these species?

Almost 80% of Cape Verde’s 92 endemic plants are threatened with extinction. This includes the Endangered phoenix palm Phoenix atlantica and iron tree Sideroxylon marginatum and a Critically Endangered endemic sub-species of dragon tree Dracaena draco caboverdeana. All three of these trees are found on Brava, the most remote and, consequently, one of the most untouched of Cape Verde’s islands.

At 64 km2, Brava is the smallest inhabited island in the archipelago. While it has not faced the same levels of tourism development and desertification as the rest of Cape Verde, the fate of its flora remains highly uncertain. It has no official protected areas, its three threatened tree species are all exploited (leaves and fruit from the palm, timber from the iron tree and resin from the dragon tree) and they, and the rest of the island’s unique flora, face grazing pressure from goats. Invasive species cover large areas of the island and there is evidence of hybridisation between a non-native palm and the endemic phoenix palm, which could lead to a loss of valuable genetic resources in the future.

Critically Endangered Cape Verdean dragon tree. Credit: Biflores

Critically Endangered Cape Verdean dragon tree. Credit: Biflores

What are we doing about it?

In partnership with local conservation organisation Biflores – Cape Verde’s first and only flora-focused conservation NGO, and Brava’s only conservation organisation – we are working to better understand and manage the main threats to Brava’s threatened trees. Where invasive species are smothering or outcompeting individual trees, we will remove the invasive species and, where possible, plant an endemic tree in its place. We aim to improve natural regeneration by working with livestock owners to develop sustainable grazing management plans and by installing fencing around the most threatened trees. Through outreach efforts with local stakeholders, we seek to boost the profile of these special trees within local communities and encourage people to take action to conserve them.

Surveying a fruiting phoenix palm. Credit: Biflores

Surveying a fruiting phoenix palm. Credit: Biflores

Key achievements:

A scoping project in 2019 provided crucial data about the distribution of the three species. Across the island, 401 target trees were recorded: 84 of which are phoenix palm, 127 are the Cape Verdean dragon tree and 190 are the iron tree. Armed with this information, we can now prioritise our efforts to protect the most important areas for each species.

Contact details

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

Did you know?

Nearly 2,500 trees are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List – likely to go extinct unless urgent action is taken now to save them.