Trochetiopsis ebenus - St Helena Ebony

Found in Atlantic Islands Glasshouse at Chelsea Physic Garden

The current wild population numbers just two mature individuals and three juveniles. The juveniles may have self-seeded since 1980, when the site was discovered. Prior to this, the species was thought to have been extinct since 1850.

By the middle of the 19th century, Trochetiopsis ebenus was already considered to have vanished from the island, principally due to over-grazing by goats. Cutting down trees to utilise the very hard wood also contributed to its demise. 

Over 100 years later, two small plants were rediscovered, clinging to a cliff face. An islander managed to collect cuttings which were sent to Cambridge Botanic Garden, where they were rooted and grown on for propagation.

Cuttings from these cultivated plants were distributed to Kew and other botanic gardens. Some propagated plants have been reintroduced to the wild at various sites on St Helena and others have been established in gardens there.

All plants of this species in the world are descendants of those two found in 1980. Cut off from the mainland, islands often have unique plant communities found nowhere else on Earth. However, the uniqueness of their habitats can put island plants at risk.

Overgrazing, mass tourism and invasive non-native species can wipe out a plant’s ecological niche that has taken millions of years to develop, and can be almost impossible to recreate once lost.

Trochetiopsis ebenus is on the IUCN Redlist as Critically Endangered (CR).

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