Pandanus thomensis is a Vulnerable screwpine species. It can reach 15 metres in height and is only found on São Tomé Island (Gulf of Guinea, central Africa).
Its natural distribution is restricted to the coast of southern São Tomé, where the average annual rainfall is over 2000 mm. It can be relatively abundant within this region, with its distinctive appearance making it a landmark. It is sometimes planted as an ornamental tree on the island, namely in the gardens of the capital. It can be found in the Bom Sucesso Botanical Garden, at an altitudes of over 1000 metres above sea level. Although it is easy to grow, it does not bear fruit outside its natural range.
The dried leaves are used to make mats (known as esteiras or sêla), hence its local names. It is also used for magical-medicinal purposes; a string can be tied to the aerial roots of the plant to determine the length of a person’s penis.
It is threatened by habitat loss to exotic species, such as the coconut palm tree Cocos nucifera and Indian almond tree Terminalia catappa. These exotics have been planted in much of São Tomé’s coastal regions for food, and have since become dominant in large areas of the island’s southern coast.
Image © Ricardo Lima
Did you know?
‘Dragon blood’, a resin from the Socotran Dragon tree (Draceana cinnabari), was used and traded by the Roman empire as a medicine as early as the 1st Century BC.